As traditional style wood-cribbed grain elevators go, this example, located in the small prairie town of Stavely Alberta, is both huge and relatively new. Towering over a very busy highway, this massive “prairie sentinel” is seen by thousands of passing motorists each and every day but I doubt many pay it much mind. Except for a few, people like BIGDoer.com crew, who find these buildings incredibly fascinating. Yea, but I guess we’re odd that way.
Built in the early 1980s this was a very late example of this style of structure, the overall design of which goes back to the early 1900s. Yes, it shared much in common with elevators built decades and decades (and decades) earlier. Sure it had modern and more efficient machinery and was larger then most, but how it was constructed and how it operated and even how it looked was little changed.
The last wood-cribbed style elevators were built in the mid to late 1980s only a few years after this one. Soon after they’d start to fall, small and antiquated (even the newer ones) almost overnight replaced by modern super-sized inland grain terminals. Today’s version is made of concrete or steel. No wood to be seen.
The end of small town elevator (and nearly every town on the plains had at least one) roughly coincided with the demise of the prairie branch line network. The two went hand in hand. Starting slowly, in the early 1990s, and ending about ten years later, most of these structures and the rail lines that served them would be gone. It happened quickly. Now all elevators, those big ones we just spoke of, are along railways main lines and are located at wide intervals and instead of loading a few cars here and there, they can fill an entire train in almost no time. Progress?
This grain elevator is quite big, for the era and is taller and wider than most (officially it’s a “double composite” style). It’s reflects the large volumes of grain moving from the immediate area.
The original owner was the Alberta Wheat Pool, traditionally the largest grain handling firm in the province. Once a farmer owned cooperative, it merged with a second grain firm in 1998 becoming the company Agricore. That firm only owned the building for a year or so before closing it in 1999.
Shortly afterwards, a local farmer bought the building and today uses it for grain storage. The structure is in fine condition and I would expect it’ll continue to see use for some time. It still wears the old AWP green/blue colours. In the meantime, Agricore, the last company to own the building, has been merged out of existence.
In addition to this building, the Pool (as it was frequently called) operated two other elevators in Stavely. These were closed in the 1980s and 1990s. It was not unusual for a grain company to have more then one elevator at any one loading point. The reasons are many – expansion of business, take overs, accusations and so on.
Other elevators also used to stand in Stavely, the last of them destroyed around the turn of the last century. Notable operators, in recent times, beside the AWP facilities mentioned include two elevators belonging to Pioneer Grain, a long time participant in the Canadian grain industry. In earlier days Alberta Pacific, Home Grain, Ellison Milling, United Grain Growers and Searle Grain were also represented, all well know firms to one degree or another and long since out of business.
Most of these other elevators were constructed in the 1910s and 1920s.
Mention is made of two elevators fires happening, one in the late 1920s and another in the early 1940s, where two buildings were destroyed. These types of structures were prone to fire and great care was taken to prevent them from going up in flames. Even so, every now and then, some burned to the ground. Given the how flammable grain is, it was inevitable.
The track that once ran in front of the elevator was the CPR’s MacLeod Subdivision branch that ran south from Calgary to a connection with the company’s east/west southern mainline in Fort MacLeod. Built in the 1890s, the line closed and the rails pulled up around the year 2000.
The town of Stavely was founded just over a century ago and has a population of about five hundred. Seen in behind the elevator in the photos is the local hotel, still operating, and town offices, both very interesting brick structures in themselves.
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Date: March, 2015.
Location: Stavely, AB.
Article sources: Book: Butte Stands Guard – Stavely and District, local residents.
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