Neidpath is a tiny ghost town on the vast Saskatchewan prairies and is home to a pair of fine looking grain elevators that are the subject of this report. Abandoned for decades, these old structures have seen better days, but it’s that very thing, that they are so run down and weather beaten that makes them so attractive. It’s beauty in decay. Every since we saw our first photo of the two years ago, we’ve been itching to see them for ourselves and in May of this year we got our wish.
I dare say these could be the most photogenic elevators we’ve ever seen. Even those somber gray skies seen during our visit could not detract from their beauty. This visual appeal no doubt explains why they are photographed often. Search Google for yourself and see.
We won’t touch on the town itself in this report and instead will write about it later. It’s interesting enough to merit its own article.
Neidpath was incorporated as a village in the early 1920s (with the coming of the railway) although people had lived in the area, a small number of them anyway, before that time. It never was a terribly large place population wise. By 2014, it was home to one. While documenting our subject, we ran into this person, the very last resident in town, who was retiring and preparing to move to the big city a few weeks hence. As of the writing this article, the population has shrunk to zero. Will the last person to leave Neidpath please turn out the lights! We’ll speak of this fellow, Marshall, in that upcoming article.
Both the elevators seen were built in 1924 and closed in the early 1980s (some sources say ’81, others ’82). When built the most easterly structure belonged to Pioneer Grain and never changed hands during its history – I mention this as it was extremely common for these buildings to be bought and sold over the years or acquired via mergers and that this one remained under the same ownership for close to sixty years could be considered almost odd.
Pioneer Grain is a long time, but only moderate sized player, in the Canadian grain industry. They still exist today under the name Richardson Pioneer. The elevator is painted, well parts of it are, in that company’s orange colours. If it’s orange it’s a Pioneer.
The second elevator was built for the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company, a farmer owned collective. That firm, only a couple years later, morphed into the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, sill farmer owned, which would go on to become the largest grain handling firm not just the province, but all of Canada. They were merged out of existence less then a decade ago.
At some point, the SWP sold the elevator to Pioneer Grain. No one I spoke with was able say when that happened. It’s still being researched and if any of our readers know, we’d love to hear from you. It’s still in the old SWP mineral red colours. Pioneer added their logo when it was acquired by them but otherwise did not repaint the building.
Both elevators once had annexes (ancillary buildings used to increase a facility’s capacity). I understand these were added in the 1950s. They’re all gone now but when that happened is unknown, although some concrete foundations remain.
Both elevators also retain their offices, although one is close to falling down. These also housed the drive engines (both gone), which had to be kept isolated from the main building account of them being a fire hazard. Grain dust + spark = BIG BOOM! The buildings are connected via a walkway, which also (underneath) contained the machinery drive system. Also of interest are some secondary “out” buildings. These sheds were used for fuel and oil storage (again isolating things was a fire deterrent) and the biffy.
The west most elevator is missing the roof and walls over the driveway where the wagons and trucks would unload. In the orange elevator the belted lifting buckets were scattered about. Even though the buildings have not held grain for many decades, you can still smell it.
At the peak there were four grain elevators in Neidpath. Not much is known of them, like when they were built or even town down. It’s believed one belonged to Federal Grain and the other Pioneer (formerly Western Grain, nee Beaver Elevator). Some people I spoke with mention one of these, believed to be the Pioneer, burned down in the 1950s and was never replaced. By the way, it was not unusual for a firm to have more then one elevator in any one town, via mergers or acquisitions, or as a way to increase capacity.
As of 2014 there are just over four hundred traditional wood grain elevators in Saskatchewan, down from several thousand at the peak. A number of them, like these ones, are outright abandoned and as such are threatened. Who knows what will happen? Shoot’em while you can.
The old rail line here once belonged to the CNR, it’s Gravelbourg Subdivision, and was built in the period 1912-1924. It was started by predecessor company Canadian Northern and traveled from Avonlea south of Moose Jaw, eventually finding its way to Swift Current. Neidpath was reached around 1922 (some sources say 1920) and for a time was the end of track. This section, from Swift Current though Neidpath to nearby Hodgeville was abandoned in the early 1980s. Interestingly, this author has found records showing the CNR wished to rid itself of the line as early as the 1960s (it was never that busy, so never that profitable) but government red tape prevented this from being approved for close to twenty years!
This (branch line was built during the great railway boom of 1900-1930. Every town, no matter how small, it seems, had a railway line built to it with little regard as to its sustainability. In fact, they often built the track in hopes that towns would spring up around it. Government regulations (recall that red tape mentioned earlier) meant that abandoning a line was a long, drawn out and near impossible task to complete and from the 1950s to the early 1990s, few were torn up because of that, even though many were money losers. That this one was allowed to be closed during that period tells just how bad business was (it was also lightly built which further complicated things). New rules after the mid-1990s made the process easier and as a result the period 1995-2005 saw the wholesale abandonment of most lines.
The section from Hodgeville to Avonlea, where it connected with another line coming in from Moose Jaw, is still in place but has not seen a train for years. It was last under CPR ownership, who acquired it from the CNR in the mid-1980s.
An old locomotive turning wye (a triangle shaped arrangement of tracks) can still be seen to the south of the elevators. Recall, the railway once terminated here and this sort of facility was necessary as steam engines, unlike diesels, are directional.
To see more of the the town, go here…
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2014.
Location: Neidpath, SK.