We’ve spent so much time focusing on all those old wooden grain elevators that we’ve completely missed something – the huge inland terminals that reflect the current state of the Canadian grain industry and perhaps a new subject matter for this website. Maybe, just maybe, these modern hunks of concrete and steel are worth documenting too.
So let’s check one out, a building which was not on our radar to visit and was only captured, quickly and casually, as we were in the area where its located earlier this year for other business. Upon looking at the image seen in this report – it can take us months and months to sort through all our photos – we’ve come to appreciate this subject is potentially something interesting. Not old, but still worth a look. We’re now curious. Fans of vintage grain elevators, please don’t brand us traitors. We still love the old ones no less then before.
This massive terminal was constructed at the turn of the last century and is found alongside the CPR’s busy transcontinental mainline, right across from downtown Maple Creek Saskatchewan. When built the structure belonged to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and replaced an earlier and much smaller wood elevator that was from the 1910s.
The Pool as it’s often called, was formed in the 1920s as a farmer owned cooperative. It was a successor to an earlier collective and at it’s peak was the largest grain handling firm in not only the province but the country as a whole. In 2007, the SWP merged with a rival (Agricore United) forming the firm Viterra. They lost their cooperate status at that time.
Some of Viterra’s assets, in and around 2012, were purchased by Richardson Pioneer, this terminal included. A big orange Pioneer Grain sign proudly proclaims the building’s current owner. That firm, by the way, is a long time player in the industry and long ago once had a wooden elevator in Maple Creek.
No grain cars were being loaded on our visit. The industry is cyclical and as such grain only moves when demand warrants it. This terminal is set up to load three rows of cars at a time and a winch system is used to move them about.
This terminal – grain elevator here is sort of an old fashioned term – is rather odd in that it’s located inside the town’s limits. Most of these tend to get placed in more rural locations instead, since they need lots of real estate.
Not all these structures are concrete and some are made up of huge steel bins instead. This one, by inland terminal standards, is fairly modest in size. Looking at the track arrangement via Google Earth, there is roughly room for perhaps sixty or so rail cars. Some of these facilities are so big they can load an entire train of 100+ cars in one pass, without it even stopping (these are called high throughput terminals).
In the past there used to be several other wood elevators in Maple Creek, outside the original Pool wood complex mentioned earlier. Most were built in the 1910s and were all gone by the 1990s. Notable grain firms that had outlets here include Alberta Pacific Grain, Ogilvie Flour Mills, United Grain Growers and Pioneer Grain (an earlier elevator).
The inland terminal era of grain handling dates from the 1990s and replaced the huge network of wood elevators that existed before it. In the old days, there were lots of grain elevators, of small capacity, in nearly every town. Now there are a small number of terminals all of huge capacity located at strategic rail served locations, but often far from each other and far from the farmers who use them. Can we call this progress? Maybe ask the fellow who has to travel hundreds of kilometres just to get his grain to the nearest loading point.
Maple Creek was founded in the late 1890s and today has a population of a couple thousand. The town has lots of nice heritage buildings, which we came to explore. Photographing this terminal, recall, was an afterthought.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2014.
Location: Maple Creek, SK.