In May 2014, Connie and I were on a grain elevator tour of southwest Saskatchewan. We took in so many “prairie sentinels” that we still have not tallied up the number we saw. I thought it would be best to write the reports on them in the order they were visited, however, as it tuned out that’s not so practical. Some require more research then others and this would have caused the flow to stall. So instead of in an organized form, we’ll present them in a here-and-there random order. I guess it really doesn’t matter anyway.
Today’s subject is a lonely grain elevator found in the small Saskatchewan town of Cadillac, located some 60 kilometres directly south of Swift Current.
This structure dates from 1958. An earlier elevator, from 1917, once stood on the same spot. I understand some of the mechanical components from the old structure were reused in the new. The building received some renovations in the latter part of the 1970s. At some unknown date afterwards some steel bin annexes were added to both sides of the structure, increasing its capacity. The west one appears newer than the other two.
As built, the structure belonged to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (SWP). It’s not known exactly when it was last used by them, but some have suggested it was in the late 1990s or early 2000s, or thereabouts. The elevator appears to be in private hands now and perhaps is used by a farmer or farmers to store grain. A couple grain trucks parked at the site further suggest this.
Interestingly, this elevator still bears the old SWP mineral red colours. Starting in the 1960s the various grain companies, this one included, adopted new paint schemes that were unique. This was used as a way to visually separate themselves from the competition. The Pool (as it was often called) choose a silvery-white colour at that time. I wonder why this elevator was not repainted when the 1970s renovations took place?
The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool was formed in the mid-1920s. At the same time it took over the operations of the Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Company (SCEC). The earlier “vator” that once stood where the current structure is, was in fact built for the SCEC and was acquired by the SWP (as were all SCEC elevators across the province) during that transaction.
Both the SWP and the earlier SCEC were farmer owned cooperatives. The Pool went on to become the largest grain handling firm in all of Canada and just about every town with rail service, across the province, had at least one elevator belonging to the company. The SWP merged with a rival in 2007 and in that it lost both its name and its cooperative status. By then most of the iconic small town wood-cribbed prairie grain elevators were gone (sold, abandoned or simply demolished). Their replacements are often large inland terminals, located in a few strategic places. Now a farmer has to sometimes drive hours to deliver their grain.
There is still an intact rail siding in front of the elevator. The company who owns the track here, the Great Western Railway, lists Cadillac as a producer car loading site although for some reason the Wheat Board does not. Producer cars are loaded directly by the farmer bypassing any agents, handlers or brokers. With that being said, it’s then possible that the elevator is used to load rail cars, perhaps every now and then. Producers often reuse old elevators for just this purpose.
The Great Western Railway was formed in 2000 and operates a number of branch lines in the area (several 100 kms worth). By the 1990s, the CPR, the original owner of the track, was no longer interested in running low (or no, or negative) profit grain branch lines. They’d either sell them to more efficient short line operators (some lines) or abandon them altogether (most lines). The main commodity the GWR carries is of course grain. There are many producer loading sites along the line (some using old elevators). They also handle petroleum products and like many short line railways, they store surplus rail cars. The rail line arrived in Cadillac in 1913 and was along what’s known as the Shaunavon Subdivision.
In the past there used to be as many as seven grain elevators in Cadillac. Hard to to believe! There is pretty much zero physical evidence to show they ever existed however. No remains, no depressions where they once stood…nothing! Only some old photos showing them and perhaps the memories of those who worked at and used the facilities.
Many of the other elevators early on belonged to a number of small and obscure grain handling companies, who in many cases owned one or perhaps a few elevators at most. Later many of these were acquired by larger firms like United Grain Growers and Pioneer Grain. By the 1970s, the only companies operating here were the SWP (our elevator) and Pioneer (3 elevators). By the mid-1980s Pioneer sold its remaining two elevators to the Pool, who subsequently tore them down. All that was left, was this one.
Seen parked beside the elevator is a pair old grain trucks. One is a 1973-81 era tilt cab model Chevrolet, the other, also from that maker, is a C-series conventional that could date from 1973-89. The former is a fairly rare model while the other is probably the most commonly seen (old) grain truck we come across. We see them all the time, many still working hard. It looks like both of these are still being used. While old trucks like the ones here can still find employment on some farms, the ever-growing size of most operations means that grain often travels from the farm to the terminal in full sized big rigs pulling super-b-train bottom dump trailers. Economies of scale dictate that.
We found a small cat living in the Cadillac elevator, or rather she found us. She’d purr and meow and follow us around, and seemed very content, but would not allow us to get too close. Many “wheat kings” often have a resident cat, who are usually brought in to help keep mice under control.
Cadillac was founded around the time the railway arrived and today is home to around 70-80 people. In addition to this grain elevator, there are a number of interesting buildings into town, a wonderful old school being one. We’ll save therm for another trip. Reluctantly, we often had to bypass something interest for the sake of keeping a schedule.
To see some other Alberta and Saskatchewan grain elevators we’ve explored, follow these links…
Prairie Sentinels – Pennant Saskatchewan.
Prairie Sentinels – Prelate Saskatchewan.
Prairie Sentinels – Delia Alberta.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Cadillac, SK.