The small community of Rosedale Alberta is located in the scenic Red Deer River valley near Drumheller and is home to one relatively modern wooden grain elevator. This imposing structure, today is in private hands, yet it’s still painted in the colours of its former owner. Until recently there was an abandoned but completely intact railway line that passed by the structure, but it had been pulled up in proceeding weeks prior to our visit. Just missed it!
As traditional wood-cribbed grain elevators go, this one is fairly new, having been built in 1982. This was late in the game for this style of elevator, the basic pattern of which goes back to the early 1900s! Whether built in in the 1910s or 1940s, or any other date up to the 1980s, they all were alike in overall layout and appearance (new ones were generally larger though, like this example) and and were constructed similarly of wood. The design was proven and this accounts for its longevity.
A half dozen years after this one was built, the wood-cribbed elevator design was abandoned – only a few had been constructed in the province since 1980 anyway. New facilities from around 1990 on were always much larger and were built of concrete and/or steel. And instead of being located one in each town, they were built far apart. Each “high throughput” inland terminal, as they are called, replaced huge numbers of small town grain elevators, most of which were then quickly torn down. Some might say this was progress…
By the way, a Rosedale area farmer today would have to travel over a hundred kilometres to take his grain to market. Progress, huh? Somehow I’m not convinced.
The original owner of the structure was the Alberta Wheat Pool or AWP. A farmer owned cooperative, this firm was at one time the largest grain handling company in the province and almost every town that had rail service had a “Pool” elevator.
The AWP merged with the Manitoba Pool in 1998 becoming a firm called Agricore. In 2001 the United Grain Growers was folded into the mix, the resultant firm becoming known as Agricore United. It was around the time of this second merger that the elevator was closed.
What happened to the structure in the next couple years is not known. By about 2005 its status changed and it’s listed as being privately owned. Presumably a local farmer uses the building for grain storage or cleaning. Many old grain elevators, instead of being torn down, have been repurposed this way.
We took some time to climb up to the prairies above to see what the building looked like from there. I’d say amazing! From this lofty postilion not only did we have a good view of our subject, but also of the lovely picturesque valley it’s located in. Stunning!
Going back to the early 1920s there used to be an earlier elevator in Rosedale. This structure belonged to Alberta Pacific Grain and was closed down in the early 1930s.
You’ll notice an arrow on the railway side of the building. A grain elevator siding was always built on a slight grade and the arrow told you which way it sloped (it points down). Empty cars would be spotted to the right or up side in this case, which would allow them to roll left and out of the way as each was loaded. This was once common way to move rail cars about. Sometimes a they’d use a winch system, an old tractor to push the cars, or for big facilities, a locomotive to move them about.
At the peak, in the 1930s, there were over 1700 traditional wooden grain elevators in the province, the majority of which were torn down in the 1990s and early 2000s. Today, about 250 remain. Some are still being used as designed, a good number have been saved by local farmers who use them for storage, some are museums, and a few are simply abandoned.
The rail line that once passed in front has recently been pulled up, after sitting unused for a number of years. This was a former Canadian National Railway line, built in 1914 by predecessor Canadian Northern Railway under the charter of the Alberta Midland Railway. This line came in from a point east of Edmonton and and via a connecting line, also from Saskatoon, before passing through Rosedale on its way to Calgary.
The last through trains to use the line around here were in 2008. Some local runs, I understand, continued for a couple years after. Since then, until it was pulled up only a month or so prior to our visit, the tracks and other infrastructure remained in place but was otherwise quiet.
The reason this line was abandoned was partly due to insufficient traffic, but more so was because of high operating costs associated with the steep grades in and out of the Red Deer River valley, and numerous bridges needing maintenance (about 60 of them) in the Rosebud River valley. It’s understood the later have not been removed suggesting the railway is still not finished with the line. Anyone in the know care to comment?
Rosebud is located just east of Drumheller and is home to perhaps 300 people. At one time coal mining was a big employer in the area.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September, 2014.
Location: Rosedale, AB.