We’re at the corner of Main and Railway in the tiny village of Harris Saskatchewan documenting a wonderful old grain elevator. The heavens above are a gorgeous blue (Saskatchewan is the “Land of Living Skies”) and are near perfect. Losing ourselves in the moment we wander about the structure for am hour or so, snapping pictures and jotting down notes and simply taking it all in. We’re in happy land.
Harris is located some eighty clicks southwest of Saskatoon. Founded in 1909, it has a population of two hundred and thirty people, give or take. Like most small prairie communities, it’s laid out in an orderly fashion, with downtown being located right next to the train tracks, reminding us how important that form of transportation once was.
Tied to the railway, was the building we’ll be looking at today, a massive “prairie sentinel”, the tallest thing around, located opposite the old train station (long gone) on the “other side of the tracks”. This is Harris’ grain elevator.
The structure dates from 1925 and joined a good number of other elevators that were once located nearby (more on them shortly). The annexes, those large rectangular buildings flanking each side, date from a later period, but exactly when is not known. We’ve spoken with many locals and others in the know and heard build dates from the 1930s-1960s tossed around, with every one saying something different.
We’ll continue to research and if our loyal readers know something more exact, we’d love to hear from them.
An annex was a quick and easy way to increase the capacity of an elevator and were so common that most such buildings received one or more of these additions over the years. The two seen are of reflect two completely different designs and capacities.
The owner of the building from the time it was constructed until about 2001, was the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (or SWP). This farmer owned cooperative is no more (merged out of existence in 2007), but for much if its history was the largest grain handling firm in all of Canada. Every town, big or small, across the province, those with rail service that is (so, most of them), had a “Pool” elevator.
On closing, the SWP sold the facility to a private individual, a farmer who uses it to store grain. Many elevators were saved from demolition when repurposed this way. Even though a railway siding runs in front of the building (evidence shows there used to be two) grain cars are not loaded here.
This building, like most old-school elevators that once existed in the province, is wood-cribbed and made of 2×6” boards laid flat and stacked one top the other. That’s a LOT of nails! Most elevators, whether built in the 1900s, the1980s, or anywhere in between, followed a common pattern and would look much as this one. The design was proven and long lasting and only recently did they start to make them from concrete or steel.
At the peak, half a century or so ago, there were over three thousand wood grain elevators in Saskatchewan. Now there are about four hundred and fifty left. Most are in private hands, like this one, and are used by farmers or farm groups to store grain. A small number still operate as designed and are owned by grain firms and used to load rail cars. A few more are in the hands of museums and some are simply abandoned.
The two metal girder contraptions seen at the former train loading area support fall arresting safety cables which workers would tie into when filling cars.
At the base of the elevator is a cable winch system. This would have been used to move grain cars as they were filled. Earlier they used gravity – the siding is on a slight grade and empty cars would simply be spotted up-side the slope (an arrow on the elevator points the way) and then rolled under the loading station as needed. Nice and easy.
In the 1910s and 1920s there were many other grain elevators in Harris. The only other, beside the one being discussed here, to last into the modern era was a United Grain Growers facility (they were a good sized player in the industry), which closed down just before the turn of the twenty first century.
Passing in front of the elevator is a CNR branch line (Saskatoon SK to Oyen AB), which until a half dozen years ago, used to run all the way to Calgary. This stretch of track has been in place for just over a century. Today trains run sporadically – a CNR employee, we by chance bumped into in town, was tight lipped about it.
“Any time is train time” is all we got out of him. How wonderfully helpful!
The main commodities hauled on this line include grain (naturally, as it’s always been) and oil.
The Harris Hotel, home to the Ruby Rock Pub & Grill (named after the famed Harris “Ruby Rush” hoax – but that’s another story), is located nearby and from the patio one can view the elevator nicely, and if your timing is right, a passing train, while enjoying a cold beer.
Before leaving town, we noticed an old farm truck just down the street, a 1960s/70s era GMC medium duty. It catches our attention, as they always seem to, and was definitely worth a look.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2015.
Location: Harris, SK.
Article sources: Book: Harris, heritage and homage (incomplete – missing pages), Saskatchewan Wheat Pool records, CNR archives.
The building can be viewed and photographed from public property.