There used to be many grain elevators in the tiny community Arrrowwood Alberta, now there is one. In this post we explore how those iconic structures looked a couple decades back, and now with all but one of them gone, how that same location appears today. The change, as you’ll see, is rather dramatic.
Arrowwood was founded in the mid-1920s (a rather late-on-the-scene town), with the coming of a Canadian Pacific Railway branch line. Located some hundred clicks roughly southeast of Calgary, today it’s a sleepy burg with a population of around two hundred. As it’s always been agriculture fuels the local economy, although the oil and gas industry also provides employment. Many people in town are retired.
This then and now is rather interesting in that we incorporate two views of the same subject, taken from two very different angles, with photos coming in from two different sources. One was taken by us, the BIGDoer.com crew, in 1997. The other was sent in by a reader – a big thanks and shout out to Tom Dudones. Outside the date, we know it was captured about a year after our visit, so 1998, no background information accompanied it. That’s not all that important anyway. Notice one elevator has vanished in that short span of time.
Seen in the old images are many elevators. All date from the mid to late-1920s, save for the one still standing today, which is much newer (more on it below). Starting in the 1990s they were torn down one by one until but a single example remains.
Here’s some brief history of each, starting with those now gone…
Starting in the east (far side our pic, close side the other) is the yellow elevator. It once belonged to Parish and Heimbecker (P&H) a small but long time player in the industry (founded 1909), and wears their colours. This one was standing until a few years ago and for the last decade was privately owned. A cut out spider-man could be seen scaling its walls at one time. It used to be a former Alberta Wheat Pool facility, earlier Federal Grain and earlier still Alberta Pacific Grain, acquired by P&H in the 1980s.
The lineage of the white structure has not been completely verified. The colours suggest it once belonged to United Grain Growers, they did have an elevator here after all. But…it’s listed as having being closed in the 1970s, so how did the elevator last into the 1990s? Can any of our readers clear this up? We don’t think it’s the old Pioneer Grain Company elevator which we know once stood somewhere close by. The time line and other details don’t really seem to fit.
United Grain Growers, or UGG, was one of the larger grain handling firms around and their elevators could be found all over Alberta and the other prairie provinces. Founded in the 1910s, they merged with some rivals in the early 2000s and are no more.
The smallest elevator was an Alberta Wheat Pool facility (or AWP), converted in the 1970s for fertilizer use. It was inherited from a small operator in the late 1920s. Beside it is another Alberta Wheat Pool facility. They owned the building since it was new. It was not all that uncommon, by the way, for a grain firm to have multiple elevators at any one loading point.
The Pool, as it was usually called, was traditionally the largest grain firm in Alberta. Founded in the 1920s, they merged with many rivals throughout the late 1990s and well into the 2000s (UGG mentioned earlier for example, was added to fold in 2001). The last couple years they operated, the AWP elevators in Arrowwood would have operated under the Argricore umbrella, the AWP’s first post merger incarnation.
There used to be a couple other elevators in Arrowwood, all long gone, but they’re that not that important for this write up. One was an Alberta Pacific later Federal Grain facility, the other last belonged to Searle Grain. The next elevator discussed stands where they once did.
The last elevator in Arrowwood is also the newest built. It’s from the late 1970s. While larger than its former neighbours, all of which were quite a bit older, you’ll notice that it in many ways appears much like them. The grain elevator design was remarkably long lived (early 1900s to the late 1980s!) and remained fairly constant over those years. Yes, no matter when built, they all shared similar wood cribbed construction, functionally were much the same and even visually looked alike, although later ones were often bigger.
Today’s grain elevator are ginormous concrete and steel affairs. The closest one to Arrowwood is quite some distance way but can still be seen from town. It’s that big! There used to be about seventeen hundred old style wood elevators in Alberta. Now there is about two hundred and fifty left. Most were torn down in the late 1990s or early 2000s. The great purge.
Of those left, the vast majority, just like the last one here, were purchased by farmers to be used as grain storage buildings (they’re perfect for this and often came cheap). A few outlying elevators are still used by commercial grain firms to load rail cars, some have been converted to museums, a number were simply abandoned. Every year, a couple fall. Most remain where built, often along side an abandoned railway line.
Arrowwood’s last grain elevator was built for the Alberta Wheat Pool and is still adorned in their old company colours.
The railway arrived in Arrowwood in the mid-1920s and closed down in the early 2000s (a nearby section, built in 1930, was retained for surplus car storage and later a tourist train operation). The track looks in fine shape in the 1990s image, but was little used at that time. This author drove oil-field truck back then and passed these elevators quite often but never once saw a train on the line, nor ever any rail cars on the siding.
This stretch of track was the CPR’s Lomond Subdivision. That railway and competitor Canadian National (and predecessors) built a huge network of grain gathering branch lines, much like this one, across the prairies provinces. Most were laid down in the period 1910-1930 and were gone by the late 1990s or early 2000s, victims of changing markets, consolidations within the grain industry and no doubt many other factors. So many lines lost.
We invite our readers to send in old photos to be used in these then and now posts. Images can show a street scene, some building, grains elevators like this, or whatever. We’ll then revisit the location, shoot a similarly composed image and then write about it on BIGDoer.com. You’ll get credit too!
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: October, 2015.
Location: Arrowwood, AB.
Article references: Book: Furrows of time – a history of Arrowwood, Shouldice, Mossleigh and Farrow, 1883-1982, CPR records, Alberta Wheat Pool archives.
Our shots were taken from public areas or with permission.