Situated along the Canadian Pacific Railway’s busy east/west mainline, Gull Lake Saskatchewan is home to two old and very photogenic traditional style wood-cribbed grain elevators; and one newer high throughput concrete grain terminal. The former will be the subject of this report, the latter, being too new and not terribly interesting to us as a result, will not. A lovely blue sky adds a wonderful dimension to the photos, as does a passing freight train.
The first elevator seen, in recent times, belonged to Pioneer, a long time player in the Canadian grain industry. On one the annexes, the remains of that company’s trademark orange paint can still be seen. Today the structure is privately owned and is presumably used as a grain storage facility by a local farmer. Pioneer today is more commonly known as Richardson Pioneer.
The exact date the building was constructed seems to be open to debate and much of the data sourced is either quite contradictory or is downright confusing. More then one source states it was built in 1907, another in 1910 and another yet again in 1921. This invites further research and of course if any of our readers have anything to add, they are welcome to comment.
Regardless when built, the modified cupola and other “modern” elements, tell us the structure was heavily rebuilt at some point in recent memory. That much is clear. Some the of annexes seen, there are three in total, we know were built in the 1950s. These supplemental add-on structures were an easy and cheap way to add extra capacity to an elevator complex.
It’s not unusual for an elevator to change hands many times over the years and this structure was no exception. Remember mergers and acquisitions were the norm in the grain industry. Some notable owners of the building include Spencer Grain, Mutual Grain, and Western Grain. The 1907 source lists the original owner was a firm called McEwan, Dougherty and West. Pioneer Grain took it over in the 1950s and closed it in the early years of this century.
Most traditional elevators have a single loading track. This one has two. The second was likely added when the structure was rebuilt, as a way to increase its throughput and make it more efficient. The bracket supported cables seen dangling over each track are for worker safety. He’d tie his harness onto the line, which would prevent him from tumbling off the car to his death or certain injury should he trip while loading a rail car. The CPR has not pulled up the tracks even though they are not used, except occasionally to store surplus cars.
You’ll notice this elevator still has its old coal shed (low building beside the orange annex). It was very common for an elevator company to sell heating coal as a sideline business, a market that dried up in the 1950s and 60s.
As mentioned the structure is privately owned. Many old grain elevators, this one included, were saved by local farmers who’ve repurpose the buildings as grain storage or cleaning facilities. The majority of extant elevators in the province, it seems, survive because of this.
Further west down the tracks is another vintage grain elevator. Like its neighbour, there seems to be a little confusion as to when it was built. Most sources agree it was 1916, but another says it was a decade later (perhaps a typo?). I tend to believe the former. When built it belonged to a firm called the Victoria Elevator Company and even today their faded “V” logo can still be seen on the south wall.
McCabe Grain Company took over the elevator in the late 1920s. In the late 1960s, United Grain Growers purchased it and their old logo and company blue paint can be made out in places on the north, east and west walls. The UGG as it was called (not to be confused with the boot company) closed the facility in the late 1980s. Today it’s privately owned and seemly is used, well the property anyway, to store old camping trailers, a motorhome, an old truck (1967-79 Ford F Series medium duty) an old tractor, and other odd bits and pieces of machinery and the like. United Grain Growers was merged out of existence in the early 2000s, by the way.
A larger number of blue Walmart shopping carts are scattered about the property. Many were laid out in a sort of defined and organized pattern in a wheels up position. This defies explanation – a strange work of art maybe? I’m curious and would love to know more! There is no Walmart in Gull Lake.
You’ll notice the elevator is missing its cupola. Based on other photos we’ve seen of the building, this was only removed sometime in the last few years, but the exact reason why is unknown. Structural problems perhaps? I understand the elevator is owned by a person or firm (a plumbing/heating company) who either uses it as a shop or hopes to do so. I’ve also heard they planed to turn the upper half into a residence which seems odd I guess. Can you even live in an old elevator? They’ll have to like trains as dozens go by every day.
If you know anything about this elevator, or the other seen in this report, by all means drop us a line.
Just west of town is a large and modern high throughput grain terminal. We did not visit it this trip, as it’s just a little too new to arouse our interest. Perhaps in thirty years, when its under threat of being torn down, we’ll check it out. This massive structure dates from the late 1990s and it was buildings like this that replaced the traditional “prairie sentinel” we know and love.
At the peak there were once eight grain elevators in Gull Lake and this made it very important shipping point. All of them date from the period 1907-1916 and were torn down, variously, in the 1970s, 80s and early 2000s. Notable companies represented, in no particular order, include Federal Grain, the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and predecessor Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company, Pioneer Grain (second facility), Ogilvie Flour Mills, Alberta Pacific Grain and many, many others (far too many to list).
This rail line here, the CPR’s Maple Creek Subdivision, is a busy stretch of track and dates from the 1880s. While we photographed the elevators, a loooong eastbound freight flew by. Strange as it is, I have to stop what I am dong when a train passes.
At one time there were several thousand wooden grain elevators in Saskatchewan. Today, under five hundred remain. A few are still in use as designed, many are used by local farmers for storage, some are abandoned. Each year, a few more fall.
Gull Lake was founded just over a hundred years ago and today it’s home to about a thousand people.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Gull Lake, SK.