Not that long ago the small community of Hussar Alberta had an pretty good size “elevator row”, a half dozen prairie sentinels in a neat little line right beside the railway tracks. Fast forward to today and all but one of those buildings mentioned are gone, and the trains, well, they no longer visit. It’s simply amazing the difference a few years can make!
The grain elevator discussed here is the third such building to stand on this same spot. The original structure, constructed in the 1960s, burned to the ground in the early 80s. Not long after work on a replacement was started, but before they got terribly far, it too went up in flames. I understand both fires were suspicious is nature.
Third time’s a charm and in 1981 the final elevator, the one seen here, was completed. It and those two earlier buildings all belonged to United Grain Growers, once a fairly big wheel in the Canadian grain industry. Founded in the 1910s, at its peak they owned and operated many hundreds of country elevators across the prairies. Often just called UGG (you-g-g), they merged with a rival in the early 2000s. Around that same time, they disposed of this building which was then sold it to a private individual, a farmer, who purchased it to store their grain.
While fairly modern by the standards of the day, this building still shares much in common with ancient grain elevators constructed many decades before. The overall look, layout, how they were built and operated, all remained fairly static over the years, all the way from the early 1900s to the mid to late 1980s! It was a proven design I guess. A typical wooden elevator could load a few to perhaps a dozen rail cars in one pass.
Starting in the early 1990s, a new style of elevator was developed, often called inland terminals, much larger in size, made of concrete and/or steel, and able to load far more grain cars in one pass (sometimes a whole train). The old wooden elevators were quickly made obsolete and most were soon torn down, having outlived their usefulness. We call this the great grain elevator cull, a period from about 1995 to 2002 or thereabouts when most fell.
Of those wooden grain elevators to survive – there was once over seventeen hundred them in the province, now there is but a couple hundred left – most, like this one, have been put to use by farmers to store grain. A few others however have been converted to museums and some were simply abandoned.
There were once many other grain elevators here in town – Hussar was a major grain shipping point for many years. The owners of these other facilities included such notable firms as Alberta Wheat Pool – historically the biggest grain broker in the province – they had several elevators here – and Pioneer Grain who had two facilities. In the old days, Federal Grain was also represented. Most of these buildings were gone by the turn of the twenty first century.
It was not unusual, by the way, for a grain company to have more then one outlet at any one loading point. A firm may have started with one elevator, and then added more, either by new construction or by purchasing a building from a rival, as the grain volumes being handled increased.
The railway that once ran through here was the CPR’s Irricana Subdivision, a branchline running westbound from the town of Bassano to its namesake community. This line came through in 1912 and was abandoned and pulled up sometime in the mid-2000s. The main commodity hauled was always grain, although some chemicals and oil and gas related products were also carried.
The community of Hussar was founded in the early 1910s with the coming of the railway. Today it has village status and has a population of some hundred and fifty or so.
Thanks to the fellow who was working at the elevator – I failed to write down his name – who saw us photographing the building and invited us in for a quick tour. We’ve been inside many other wood elevators but this is the most modern example we’ve seen so far. Looking around, clearly it’s well taken care of.
He showed us some old photos of the building taken over the years and we’ve included a couple of these shots in this report. A resident cat, many grain elevators seem to have one, wandered about as we talked. He resisted having his photograph taken though and every time the camera was pointed his way, he’d promptly disappear.
Given what the worker there said, the building is well used and maintained and seems to have a solid future. His seasonal job was to unload the trucks as they came in from the fields.
To see some of our favourite grain elevators (this was a hard list to trim down), click these links…
Prairie Sentinels – Woodhouse Alberta – Vandervalk Farm.
Prairie Sentinels – Niedpath Saskatchewan.
Ogilvie grain elevator Wrentham Alberta.
Alberta’s oldest grain elevator.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: September, 2014.
Location: Hussar, AB.
Article sources: Current and former local residents.
Permission IS required to visit the inside of the elevator shown here.