We’ve obtained two late 1970s era photos showing the impressive grain elevator row in Innisfail Alberta, perfect fodder for a BIGDoer.com then and now post. My how things have changed and on visiting the same location in 2015 we see that almost everything single thing in the old images is now gone. It’s startling! Even with that, we’ve found a couple small bits and pieces here and there to help tie the eras together.
Innisfail is a modest sized community founded well over a century ago and is home to around eight thousand people. It’s located in Central Alberta south of Red Deer and is situated along the busy #2 highway. In addition the CPR’s Edmonton to Calgary secondary railway line passes right through the heart of downtown.
The old images were taken in 1979 and 1978 respectively,
Clearly the area is productive for farming and witness the huge number of grain elevators seen in the old photos, all painted up in the respective company colours (mostly) of the firms that owned them. These include ones belonging to the Alberta Wheat Pool, or simply the Pool (one white, one blue/green), United Grain Growers – UGG (three white) Pioneer Grain (orange) and finally, Cargill Grain (green).
You’ll notice that some firms had multiple facilities here. That’s not terribly usual given all the mergers and acquisitions that went on in the industry. In fact it happened so often, elevators or elevators firms changing hands that is, that tracing the lineage of any one structure is often hard (it was here and we’re not completely sure exactly who owned what and when in many cases). The one Pool elevator is white which is not company colours, suggesting it once belonged to the UGG.
Of the firms mentioned all were big players in the Alberta grain industry, save for Cargill. They only had a small number of outlets across the province. Pioneer, today known as Richardson Pioneer is still with us, as is Cargill, to a degree – they still have a small presence. AWP and UGG later became merger partners of sorts and are long stricken from memory.
All these building date from the 1920s and were closed and torn down by 2000. Many prairie towns lost their old wooden elevators by the turn of the twenty first century, due to huge changes taking place within the industry.
The tiny elevator in the foreground, first old photo, is for fertilizer storage. It was not used to load grain cars.
Seen today in Innisfail is but a single operating grain elevator. Unlike the ones of old, it’s not made of wood, and is simply a collection of steel bins, interconnected with pipes. Ugly but functional. This facility dates from the mid-1980s (we think) and was loading a few grain cars on our visit. They used a front loader to move each as it was filled.
Elements that help connect the old pictures with the new are few, but are there if you look close. In the first photo series, the little shed far left (partially behind a grain hopper in the old photo) tells us were at the same spot. That’s it. That’s all we have…but it’s enough. How that’s for a dramatic change?
In the second series, we used the tree and power pole on the far left to confirm our location. Of course the layout of the rails helps too, but only marginally so. Again, not much to work with.
In this second old photo we see a couple of things of interest. Note the town’s train station, that square utilitarian brick structure. It replaced an earlier wood depot further down the tracks and when captured, was still in use. Passenger service on this line would end in the 1980s and the station torn down afterwards.
Also of note is the grain cars being loaded on the track to the left. The reason for this is not clear. Perhaps this was an early example of producer loading? That’s where a farmer loaded grain directly bypassing any agents or elevator firms. I guess it’s possible.
The railway line seen dates from the 1890s and belongs to the CPR. It sees a moderate number of trains per day running between Calgary and Edmonton or various points in between. Several branches also provide traffic.
Most of the photos used in these then and now reports are sent in by our readers. Thanks to Keith Hansen (his pics are under copyright), a long time train photographer, who allowed us use of these ones. We’re no strangers and he’s sent us other photos in the past to use this way. If you’d like to contribute a “then” photo, contact us for instructions
Lining up these photos was a bit more difficult than one might except, given there was so little seen to connect the two eras (without common elements, the job admittedly is mostly guesswork). Even so, I think we did well. As always, we line up our shots in camera and do not rely on post production cropping.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: May, 2015.
Location: Innisfail. AB.
Article sources: Books: Innisfail – 75 years a town, 1903-1978 and Candlelight years – a history of Innisfail & districts pioneers, CPR archives.
Our photographs were shot from public property.