British Columbia! Endless forests, precipitous peaks, bears, lumberjacks, bears eating lumberjacks, raging rivers, a moose, a squirrel, all things wild. No arguments here! But what’s this in Creston? Grain elevators, aka “prairie sentinels”…here in the mountains – emphasis on mountains? What the? Aren’t these associated with the vast (and very flat) plains of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba? What in the world are they doing here, seemingly out of place in this very un-prairie like setting?
Thought you’d never ask…
Creston, founded in the late 1890s and home to about five thousand people today, is located in a wide mountain-flanked valley in the East Kootenays, southeast corner of the province. The extensive lowland areas down by the Kootenay River, as it turns out, are incredibly fertile and perfect for growing things. Things like…you guessed it…grain. All it took is some reclamation of the land, it was swampy, or even mostly under water, and boom, we have a new breed of mountain grain farmer. The first harvest was in the mid-1930s.
Of course, they needed a way to get the product to market and shortly after the two grain elevators seen here were built. They look just like and are built just like the thousands and thousands of others found in the three “Prairie Provinces” to the east.
The location of the pair is just west of downtown Creston, right along the CPR tracks and overlooking the river valley where the grain was grown. The mountains make a nice backdrop.
The elevators date from 1935 and 1936 respectively or 1936 and 1937 respectively, depending on the source, and it’s unclear which of the two came first. Records are sketchy and down right contradictory at times. Any readers who really know, like have stuff to back it up, please speak up.
The most westerly one was built for the firm Midland & Pacific Grain a one-time small player in the Canadian Grain Industry. Later, in the 1950s, they were folded into the much larger United Grain Growers network. UGG, for short, was merged out of existence just after the turn of the last century. This elevator was closed long before that however. Records, variously, say this happened sometime in the 1980s.
Ever since it has stood empty and with the passing of time looks in rough shape – although given these buildings are constructed like battleships they’re often structurally sound even if haggard in appearance. The old United Grain Growers markings, and those of the earlier Midland and Pacific if you look close, can still be seen on the railway-facing exterior wall. This building’s future, at best is uncertain, and there is talk it may come down. Made of 2x6s stacked flat, one atop the other, and with huge cross-beams and a billion nails, it won’t give up the ghost easily.
The second elevator was built for the Alberta Wheat Pool. That firm, a cooperative, was the largest grain handler in Alberta, and even had a few outlets in BC. They continued to use the building into the 1980s (reports are not exact), when it was closed. For a time, it was used by a local farmer to store grain, a fate that befell many “saved” elevators. The Pool, as it was called later merged with rival after rival starting in the 1990s (including in 2001, UGG) and of course is no more.
Today the elevator is in owned by someone, who it’s believe is hoping to save the structure (there have been many attempts over the years to save one or both). Further, I understand they hope repurpose it but know nothing more beyond that. We called the contact number we had for them, but never could connect. Regardless, let’s hope they’re successful. If you’re them, please, chime in!
This elevator pair can be found on the Nation’s Trust Canada, 2007 Top Ten Most Endangered Places List. These guys monitor structures that are threatened.
There are and were other grain elevators in the valley. One is just west of town, which we saw off in the distance but can’t find anything about. It’s not near the tracks. There was one more (United Grain Growers, 1937, now gone) a bit north in the town of Wynndel. By the way, the only other grain elevators in BC could be found in the northeast quadrant of the province, quite some distance away, where the mountain give way to fertile rolling hills. There may have been as many a dozen or two of them up that way over the years. A few remain.
The railway line passing the elevators belongs to the CPR and dates from the 1890s. It once spanned all of Southern BC but has been cut back extensively since the 1970s and is a shadow of its former self. Today, a couple/few trains per day keep the rails sorta shiny. The elevator siding must have been pulled up a loooong time ago.
The #3 Highway runs right past the two structures. You can’t miss them if passing through Creston.
The elevator in nearby Wynndel before it fell…
Wynndel BC Grain Elevator.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: July, 2016.
Location: Creston BC.
Article references and thanks: The Creston Museum, NationalTrustCanada.ca, Alberta Wheat Pool records.
The elevators can be viewed from public property.