An article by Chris & Connie.
We’re crazy in love with old grain elevators and even though a lot of them have been lost over the last couple decades, Saskatchewan is still home to many. One of these can be found in the in the tiny middle-of-nowhere burg of Fiske, in the western part of the province. It’s a nice one, but of course all of them are, and is sort of special in that it’s still being used. More on this further down.
This was not a planned stop for us. We were in the area for another job, saw it from the highway and just had to take a look, even if it was to be a quick one. We only had a few minutes. Run, click, run, click, run, click…you get the idea. Still, we got a nice 360 degree view of it. If we’re in Fiske again, we’d love to track down the owner to see if we can get the full tour, a nice slow one at that. Any chance you’re listening?
The elevator once belonged to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. It was outlet #330, of approximately twelve hundred scattered across the province. If they were just numbered randomly or if there was some sort of order to it all is not really clear. We don’t see a pattern.
When this one was built is not known. Records, which seem to be awfully spotty and very sparse at best, mention “Pool” successor, the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company having constructed an elevator here in 1914. But it can’t be this one, that we can say with a reasonable certainly. We think it’s too big to be from back then.
We suspect this one was a replacement elevator, built later, likely on the same chunk of land as the 1914 structure. It has features that suggest it’s from 1950s-1970s era . Of course we could be wrong. When we assume…
Regardless of when, the building had always belonged to the Pool. It’s common for an elevator to change hands over the years, that was just the nature of the business. That this one never had that happen is sort of interesting. Not super odd but still worth noting.
The elevator has two annexes. These were usually added later, say if business was good and additional capacity needed, or reused from other facilities. They can take many forms and come in many sizes. These appear older than the elevator itself and (hunch mode on) may have come from that earlier facility we assumed this one replaced. We’re making a lot of guessed here, which we don’t like to do. Anyone in the know out there? (side note: there was a grain truck in the elevator loading bay but no one seemed around to answer any questions – we called out).
In the early 2000s the Pool shut down the facility. It then taken over by a local farmer who uses it for grain storage. Holding on to product, much like playing the stock market, a farmer can be rewarded with higher prices down the road. Or sometimes the opposite, it’s a risk of course. Many old grain elevator still standing have found a new purpose as temporary repositories, much like this.
The track in front belongs to the Canadian National Railways and was built about a century ago by predecessor Canadian Northern Railways. This line once traveled all the way between Saskatoon and Calgary, with many offshoot branches. Now it’s been cut back on the east side to the Alberta border. A sleepy stretch of track, the railway’s “Oyen Subdivision” it’s mostly grain that’s hauled on the line (and always has been), along with some petroleum products added to the mix,, It sees trains a few times per week we’re told. The elevator still has the old siding still in place (or mostly so).
Thee metal framework seem above the loading station, track side, supports a safety line workers filling cars would tie into.
At one time there were two other elevators in Fiske. Both were built in the early years with one lasting into the 1990s.
The Saskatchewan Wheat Pool dates from the 1920s. Recall, the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company spoken of a few paragraphs above was an earlier incarnation (and was founded in the 1910s). Regardless, it was a farmer owned collective for its entire history. The largest grain handling firm not just in Saskatchewan, but the entire country, it ceased to be in the 2000s after merging with a rival. At one time nearly every single town in grain growing regions of the province (so the entire southern half) with rail service (meaning most) had a Pool elevator. The company was that big.
At the peak there were several thousand traditional wood grain elevators in Saskatchewan, built from the the early 1900s all the way to the 1980s (the design changed very little over the years) belonging to a huge number of firms. Now there are something short of five hundred left in the province, most having been replaced by giant “inland terminals”. Of those still standing, as is the case with this one, many are used by farmers, farm groups or small cooperatives for grain storage (they’re designed for it and can often be bought for a song). Some have been converted to museums, some simply abandoned and a modest number are still used by commercial firms for rail car loading.
Every year a few more of them are demolished, having outlived their purpose.
Fiske was founded around the time the railway arrived (so near a hundred years ago). Never growing that large, government records show it being home to around a hundred people today. Given the small number of houses seen on our brief tour of the community, that seems like an overestimate. But what do we know?
Saskatchewan is known as the land of living skies. Our pictures confirm that!
Suggest a story! If you own or know of an old building, piece of machinery or other interesting subject that you think BIGDoer.com should document, email us! Also, if you’re connected to this elevator, we’d love to hear from you too. We love to clear up those gaps in its history.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2015.
Location: Fiske, SK.
Article references: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool records.
The elevator and train tracks are not public property.