Mossleigh Alberta lays claim to not one, but three classic wooden elevators and this must be one of the last original elevator rows left in Canada*. All appear in good condition, with one recently being re-sided. I kind of ignored the latter, since it no longer looks original and does not seem to fit in that well with the others.
All three are labelled P&H (Parrish and Heimbecker), one of the smaller players in the Canadian grain business. I am not sure if all or any were always property of that company. Elevators can change hands and it’s always possible other grain companies owned them earlier. It’s also possible there were additional elevators in the row belonging to other grain companies, although I could not find any real evidence of that (updates below).
One of the elevators still has a coal shed attached. Back before natural gas and electricity, houses were often heated with this fuel and they even cooked on it. The coal would be brought in by boxcar and shovelled into the shed, were it could then be distributed to local households. That is still exists is amazing. In our adventures, we’ve only found a few of these sheds.
The rails came through Mossleigh in 1930 and the town is along the (now abandoned) CPR Lomond Subdivision. In the west this line connected with the Aldersyde Subdivision secondary mainline just east of Blackie, and the Suffield Subdivision, a branch coming in from the east, at Lomond.
When built, this rail line represents one of the last constructed during the great prairie branchline boom. Started in the early part of the 20th century, momentum built up and by the 1920s lines were being constructed in every corner of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. If there was a town or even a unincorporated grouping of people, no matter how small, it would get a rail line and elevators.
It was all over by 1931, with little or no construction after that date. The depression set it, and perhaps so did reality. It was clear many of these lines would never turn a profit and maybe at that time both major carriers (CNR and CPR) came to that realization. Later, many of these lines would be a financial burden, but even so, mass abandonments did not happen until the 1980s (government regulations being a hurdle). Now there are very of these lines left in operation.
The track here was used until around 2002, although after that date for a number of years anyway the first few dozen kilometres of the subdivision were used to store excess cars. Google’s satellite view which are a few years old confirms the presence of rail cars on the line north east of Mossleigh. Where the actual tracks ended is unsure at this point but by the next town down the line (Arrowwood), they have been pulled up. Beyond Arrowwood, it’s just a bare roadbed.
For the time being, the rails remain from a point off CPR’s Aldersyde Subdivision to a spot east of Mossleigh. Will they be used again for the storage of cars? Doubtful since the tracks and crossings are in bad shape. Will the tracks get pulled up? Who knows, but for the time being, this represents one of the few abandoned lines where the tracks still remain.
When these elevators were last used to load grain cars is unsure. They may have stopped when the rail line closed or it could have been earlier. As long as I can remember, as far back as the early 1990s, when passing thought Mossleigh, I’ve never recalled seeing railcars in front of the elevators.
Update: December 2012. I had a feeling that P&H was not the original owner of all of the elevators and this author has recently seen a picture of the Mossleigh three from 1985 that has cleared this up. Starting from the south, the picture shows that they belonged to and were painted for P&H (In traditional P&H silver not the yellow-ish shade seen today), Pioneer and United Grain Growers. It’s not clear when P&H took over the other two, although it must have been before the mid 1990s. I have been visiting the place since that date and they were labelled and painted the same then as they are today. The image mentioned was seen in the book “The Palliser Triangle, A Tale of the Canadian Grasslands” by the author JF Garden.
Of course, regardless of how they were painted in the 1980s it’s likely that some of these elevators were at one time the property of a predecessor company and dressed accordingly. It’s not unusual for an elevator to be owned by many organizations over the span of its life and they often wore many different coats of paint throughout the years.
Update: May 2013. The lineage of the Mossleigh grain elevators has been cleared up. One was built for P&H, one for Pioneer which was later taken over by P&H, and finally one was built for the Searle Grain Company, later UGG and finally P&H. All were built in 1930 but it’s not clear exactly when they changed hands. A forth elevator used to sit here (UGG) but it was destroyed by fire in the 1960s.
Update: September 2013. It’s understood that plans are in place to use the track that remains along the subdivision for some sort of tourist train, operating out of the nearby Aspen Crossing campground/garden centre complex. Time will tell if this will come to fruition – Aspen Crossing as it turns out, does have some rail cars sitting on a section of subdivision track just west of Mossleigh.
* Technically, an elevator row is defined as four or more in a line. There are only two “official” rows left in Canada, a preserved line in Inglis Manitoba and another in Warner Alberta. The latter is not a protected site, although many are trying to make it so in an effort to save the structures. Mossleigh only has a trio but given that the rarity of even three in a row, we’ll include it anyway, probably to the chagrin of the purists.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: September 2012.
Location: Mossleigh, AB.