The town of Forestburg, located in central Alberta, is home to three very nice wooden grain elevators. These types of structures as we all know are pretty rare, but this group in some ways is quite unique and interesting. For one they all sit alongside a still active railway branch line – let me tell you, these are few and far between. And second, one of them is still used to load grain cars. An old style elevator still in use? Yup, none too common these days. Sounds like some great subjects for a report on this website.
We’ll take a look at these structures under dark and gloomy skies.
The track here is a former CNR branch line, built in the mid-1910s by a predecessor company. This stretch is around a 100km long and arrow straight save for a single curve on the west end and travels a southeasterly route from the town of Stettler, through Forestburg, to the community of Alliance at the end of track.
Forestburg is also headquarters for the Battle River Railway, who since 2010 have owned most of the line. This author was fortunate enough to join the BRR for day (October 2014) and to read about that trip, check the link at the end of the text. The enginehouse for the railway is situated just west of these elevators.
The biggest of the three elevator in town, a large single composite style (named for the integral wing on the one side), was built in 1980 for the Alberta Wheat Pool (or AWP or simply the Pool). It replaced a much smaller elevator built in the 1920s that also belonged to that same company. The unattached annex seen on the west side was built in the 1950s and used to sit beside the old elevator, but was kept when the latter was torn down and incorporated into the new structure.
Adding an annex, simply a large ancillary storage bin, was a quick and easy way to increase the capacity of an elevator and was quite common.
When this structure was built, the wood crib style of construction was nearing its end, the overall design of which goes back to the early 1900s. Soon, new and modern concrete elevators would take over, but until the mid-1980s the wood elevator was king when it came to new construction. BTW, the last wood one constructed in Alberta dates from 1988.
When the Pool, a farmer owned cooperative founded in the 1920s, merged with a rival in the late 1990s, the resultant firm, Argicore took over operation of this building. The capsule-shaped ghost sign from that company can still be seen on the building’s rail-facing side. In 2001, Agricore became Agricore United, and later still, in 2007, it morphed into a firm, via yet another merger, called Viterra. It’s believed the elevator was closed by them sometime between those last two mergers. The Pool and later its various incarnations was the largest grain handler in the province.
The building today is in private hands and remarkably is still being used to load rail cars. It’s also houses the offices of the Battle River Railway.
The next elevator we’ll discuss is the most easterly one. It was built in the late 1920s for the firm Searle Grain. That company was acquired by a rival in the late 1960s (mergers and consolidations were very common in the industry), Federal Grain, who only a few short years later sold out (its AB operations only) to the AWP. The old biffy and fuel storage shed are still in place.
The elevator was closed in the early 1990s and subsequently sold off. Today, it’s owned by an individual or farmer and is used for grain storage. Lots of elevators survive because they are used this way.
Data on the last elevator, the smallest of the trio by far, is at best a bit spotty. If we’ve done our research right, and to be honest, I’m a bit worried we haven’t, it may be a former Searle and later Federal Elevator (with some other earlier owners) which is briefly mentioned in local history books, and constructed in 1915, the year the railway came through.
At some point, but after the AWP acquired the building, it was converted to a fertilizer elevator (smaller sized facilities like this were occasionally re-purposed this way). They function essentially as a grain elevator, except the product managed was granular fertilizer instead, brought IN by truck and not train and distributed to local farmers. The building today, I understand, sits empty and has been like this for some time. It seems in pretty good shape though.
All three elevators still wear the AWP blue/green, or a bluish variant, used by that firm from the 1970s-1990s.
Further west of the elevators is a row of bins, not seen in our photos, used to load grain cars producer style. They are so named because the farmer fills the cars directly, bypassing any grain handling firms. Most grain hauled by the BRR, it’s biggest commodity in terms of volume, is loaded at producer car sites like this.
In times past, there used to be other grain elevators in Forestburg, most built in the early years. Firms represented include Pioneer Grain, Alberta Pacific Grain, United Grain Growers and a number of others. All of these were gone by the early 1990s.
These three elevators are one of a couple hundred wood cribbed examples left today in Alberta, from a total of over seventeen hundred at the peak in the 1930s. Very few today are used in the traditional sense to load rail cars. Most instead are used by farmers to store grain, some are incorporated into museums, and a few are simply abandoned.
Forestburg was founded in the early part of the twentieth century but it was with the coming of the railway, in 1915, before it hit stride. Today the town’s population is something around eight hundred.
To read about the Battle River Railway mentioned, go here…
A day with the Battle River Railway.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2014.
Location: Forestburg, AB.
Permission should be requested prior to visiting the places we’ve shown here.