The last grain elevator in Dodsland Saskatchewan is a massive wood structure that dates from the late 1950s. This one is rather interesting in a way, at least in today’s world, as it still stands alongside an active rail line and it’s still used to load grain cars. These factors, together, tells us we’re looking at something special and out of the ordinary here.
Rather than photograph it normally, three quarter views from all four sides (which is becoming is boring), our creative juices told us to mix things up a bit. A number of junked cars, RVs and big trucks were located not terribly far away, in a field, which could be used to help frame the structure in a more interesting manner. And it worked.
This elevator originally belonged to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (SWP) and was one of, and the last of, three facilities they owned in Dodsland over the years. Constructed in 1959, it’s a composite style (simple terms: it’s wider) with an attached annex. In terms of capacity, it was four times larger than any previous grain elevator the SWP had here, and remained in use by that firm until the early 2000s when it was sold.
The Pool, as it was called, was at one time the largest grain handling firm not only in the province, but the entire country. Founded in the 1920s as a farmer owned cooperative, it was merged out of existence in the mid-2000s.
Prairie West Terminals which today is part of the Canadian Wheat Board, has owned and operated the elevator since the Pool sold it. According to the company website, the Dodsland facility (they have others) is used to process Barley, Canola, Flax and Lentils and has space for twenty rail cars. None were seen on our visit.
Beside this elevator, the Pool, recall, had a couple other facilities in town. Other firms that used to operate here included Federal Grain and Searle Grain. Both these firms, in the past, once owned one of the other SWP elevators mentioned. All the old elevators were gone by the 1980s.
At the peak (1920/1930s) there were several thousand wood-cribbed grain elevators scattered across Saskatchewan. Every town that had rail service had at least one. No matter when built, be it in the 1910s or 1920s, or decades later, they all shared similar forms of construction, even if they did grow in size over the years, and functionally wise, were much the same. The wood elevator design was long lasting and was carried into the 1980s before finally being made obsolete by concrete or steel facilities. Even so, many old ones lasted a long time.
Most traditional style wood grain elevators still with us, of which there are about four hundred and change in Saskatchewan, are used by private individuals, farms or farm groups, to store grain. Most sit next to abandoned branch lines. A few, like this one, still find use as designed and fill rail cars. These sorts of old school facilities are few and far between, but interestingly we earlier explored a similar elevator, in nearby Plenty, still in use and owned by the same PWT firm.
The track passing here belongs to the CPR and dates from the early 1910s (the town was founded around that same time). This line is the company’s Kerrobert Subdivision, which runs from its namesake town a bit northwest of Dodsland, to a point just east of Plenty. At one time the line extended further yet, heading to Rosetown and beyond, and while some track remains in place, it’s not used.
Trains run sporadically on the line, mostly depending on market conditions. Good timing, we caught a train earlier this same day, working a large concrete grain terminal a bit to the east.
Dodsland, a sleepy little backwater of a town, is home to around two hundred people and recently celebrated its 100th anniversary.
We shot from a junk yard of sorts, with permission, and some of the more interesting vehicles seen will appear in a separate report soon. A funky old motorhome and a late 1960s era (or thereabouts) GMC heavy duty truck help add foreground interest to the shots presented here.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2015.
Location: Dodsland, SK.
Article sources: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool records, CPR archives.
All photos were taken from private property, with permission.