Apr 072017
Buffalo Slope Elevator

The small community of Magrath Alberta is home to a nice and varied collection grain elevators from various eras. There’s four here, down over there where the tracks used to be. A couple are traditional wood “prairie sentinels”, one’s a fairly modern, albeit modest sized, concrete silo type elevator. And the last, which will garner a great deal of our attention, a strange monolithic beast of futuristic design, the very first experimental “Buffalo” elevator, many decades old.

First, the town. It was founded around 1900. Most of the earliest settlers here were aligned with the Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS, practitioners called “Mormons”). The location is a few dozen clicks south of the city of Lethbridge. Magrath’s population sits at about two and half thousand, with more on farms in the general area. Agriculture is big business here.

Grain Elevators of Magrath: four here, including an experimental Buffalo design. Researched, Written and Photographed by Chris Doering and Connie Biggart. Additional Research by Jason Sailer. (BIGDoer/Synd)

The oldest elevator here, well the wood structure at its core, dates back a full century. It’s painted in Parrish and Heimbecker colours, the firm’s logo still displayed on its sides. Originally built for the Ellison Milling Company in 1917, it was acquired by “P&H” when that firm took over all of Ellison’s operations in the ’70s. At some point P&H put in the metal “annex” bins, as way to increase capacity. The wood one on the opposite side, is older (probably 1920s-1940s era).

Scroll down for photos and to comment.

Ellison was a fairly small player in Canadian Grain Industry and most of their elevators were clustered in a area of Southern Alberta. Parrish and Heimbecker had a bigger network, covering all three prairie provinces, but was still considered a modest sized firm. P&H is still very much in business but they don’t own this elevator any more. It was sold to a farmer, who uses it to store grain, sometime in the early 2000s. This farmer actually owns three of the four elevators seen here today. And he even had another here, but it burned down some years back.

Buffalo 1000 Elevator

The “Buffalo” Elevator in Magrath Alberta.

Next in line through time, is another wood elevator dating form around 1937 (the wood annex, we’re not sure). It was built for Alberta Pacific Grain, a company with a decent sized network of grain handling points across the province. Alberta Pacific was folded into its parent company, Federal Grain, in the latter half of the 1960s. Soon after, early 1970s, the Alberta Wheat Pool, the province largest grain handling firm, acquired all of Federal’s Alberta assets, including this building.

Later still, in the 1990s, the Pool was folded into the firm Agricore, who closed down the facility soon after. Empty for a bit, in the early 2000s, it was sold to the same farmer who owns all but one of the other elevators here. It’s used to store grain until price or market conditions are favourable.

While the building wears “Pool” colours, old Alberta Pacific lettering can be seen on one side, a very faint Federal Logo on another and on a third, the that of its last commercial owner, Agricore. It’s got some identity issues. The building, and the other wood one discussed, are two of perhaps two hundred and some change left standing today, down from a high of some eighteen hundred. A lot are used as grain storage facilities by local farmers. Like these ones.

Next youngest, in age is the Buffalo elevator, known variously as a Buffalo Bin, Buffalo Slope or Buffalo 1000, or some combo therein (another identity crisis). The name comes from the firm that designed it, Buffalo Engineering. The very first in a line of experimental grain elevators, in two distinctly separate models, “field tested” by The Alberta Wheat Pool. It’s made of concrete and not wood, a first, and rather groundbreaking on paper. Built to address the shortcomings of wood elevators in a modern world, the Buffalo was larger, more efficient and speedy in processing grain; and safer – fire was always a big issue with the wood ones.

From the start there were problems.

The precast panels used to construct most parts of the elevator were ill-fitting. The gaps between them, can be quite wide, often so wide that all the caulking the world couldn’t fix them, which allowed grain to leak out the bins. The problem is still there today. Second, the slope was not quite steep enough impeding grain flow at times. Three 1000 series were built over the next couple years before they abandoned the design. One other issue – they were costly.

Still, the Buffalo 1000/Slope/Bin should not be seen as a total failure. The ones built remained in use by the “Pool”, who commissioned them, for some time. Even into the Agricore era. In fact two of the three constructed are still extant and used to this day, the one here and another in Northern Alberta. I guess it wasn’t a total wash.

At the turn of the century, Agricore sold it to P&H, who only used it for a few years, who then sold it to that farmer fellow who keeps popping up. The building is well used and holds a lot! Grain leakage still happens.

A separate different looking Buffalo elevator design also made of concrete (but mostly cast this time) was developed from lessons learned from this earlier model. Even so, it also went pretty much nowhere. Three of these “2000” models were built in the 1980s, two of which still exist. Team BIGDoer visited one. See: Buffalo 2000.

The final elevator in Magrath belongs, interestingly, to the local Church of Latter Day Saints and we believe it operates as some sort of cooperative. Little information can be found on it – we called around and got pretty much nowhere. It’s believed to have have been built in the 1990s however (other reports say as far back as the late 1970s). If more should come to light, we’ll update things here. Something to add? Speak up!

This elevator is made from slip-formed concrete, a modern technique of construction oftentimes used in building grain elevators today – most modern ones are larger than this however.

Interestingly, the elevators here are not arranged in a line on a single long siding as was the norm. Instead there was two rows, each across the from the other.

Grain Elevator Magrath AB

Across the old rail line, this traditional 1910s era wood elevator.

There used to be other elevators in Magrath. Some dated back to the early 1900s with most gone by the early 2000s. One belonged to Ogilvie Flour Mills. I’m on the board of a group saving the very last wood Ogilvie. See: Ogilvie Grain Elevator Wrentham Alberta. That farmer, he comes up a lot doesn’t he, had one additional elevator here (ex-P&H, built 1918), that went up in flames, in spectacular fashion, in 2006. Didn’t we touch on elevator fires earlier? A fair number of wood elevators were lost this way over the years.

The railway used to run past these elevators. I don’t know if the LDS facility was used to ship out grain by rail, but the others seen here were. The line, originally built narrow gauge, came through in around 1900 and was known as the St. Mary’s River Railway Company, one of the “Galt” lines. The CPR took over around 1912 and converted the track to standard gauge. The line (CPR Cardston Subdivision) ran from Stirling in the east, connecting with the CPR’s north/south secondary line there, west to Cardston and for a time beyond. It was always a grain branch although other products, mostly related to the oil and gas industries, were also carried. The branch was mostly abandoned in the early 2000s although some track east of Magrath remains in place.

Enough talk, more pics please…

Some of our favourite wood grain elevators…
Skiff Alberta ex-Parrish & Heimbecker.
Prairie Sentinels – Mossleigh Alberta.
Prairie Sentinels – Neidpath Saskatchewan.

If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!

Date: January, 2017.
Location: Magrath, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Historic Resources Management Branch of Alberta Culture and Tourism, Alberta Wheat Pool Records, Jason Sailer, Book: Challenging Frontiers – The Canadian West.
The grain elevators are private property. BIGDoer.com visited with permission. They can be viewed from public roads.

Buffalo Slope Elevator Interior

In the Buffalo, the view down the driveway.

Buffalo Bin Elevator

The interior is divided into bins – this chart lists assignments.

Buffalo 1000 Controls

The panel that controls it all.

Buffalo Grain Elevator Interior

Deep in the bowels…

Buffalo Elevator Interior

Gravity and machinery work together to move the grain around.

Inside a Buffalo Elevator

The entire Buffalo structure is made of concrete (most pre-cast panels).

Grain Elevator Interior

More machinery inside the Buffalo.

Interior Buffalo Elevator

The building dates from 1980.

Buffalo Grain Elevator Inside

It was the first of three experimental elevators built to this design.

Cats 4 Lyfe Magrath

Tags from Magrath’s most notorious street gang.

Buffalo Slope Elevator

Known by many names: Buffalo 1000, Buffalo Slope or Buffalo Bin.

Buffalo Elevator Loading Station

Where the rail cars were loaded.

Buffalo Elevator Trackside

The building is huge!

Buffalo Bin Elevator

Workers tied into the gantry when loading rail cars.

Jason Sailer Photography

Hanging with fellow elevator aficionado Jason Sailer.

Buffalo Elevator Magrath

The street-side view.

Parrish and Heimbecker Magrath

P&H or Parrish and Heimbecker once owned the building.

Alberta Pacific Grain Magrath

Next door, the ex-Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator from the 1930s.

Federal Grain Magrath AB

An old Federal Logo can still be seen (barely).

Grain Elevators Magrath Alberta

Agricore also owned the (1930s) building for a time.

LDS Elevator Magrath

This “Latter Day Saints” elevator.

Magrath AB Grain Elevators

It was tradition to have the town’s name displayed on the building’s side.

Grain Elevators in Magrath

In the past there were more grain elevators here.

Grain Elevators of Magrath

All four still standing today can be seen in this view.

Latter Day Saints Elevator

The “LDS” Elevator is the newest.

P&H Elevator Magrath

Backside of the 1910s elevator – metal bins are much newer.

Magrath Buffalo Elevator

The buildings rim the now empty railyard.

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28 Comments on "Grain Elevators of Magrath"

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jason sailer
jason sailer

An fun day! Great to have you along!


Love the photo showing all 4 elevators. Strange looking thing, the Buffalo Bin.

Steve Boyko

Great coverage of Magrath! It has such an interesting variety of elevators.

Francesca Williams
Francesca Williams

So interesting!!!

Ivy-Jean Horn-Vanden Dungen
Ivy-Jean Horn-Vanden Dungen

I drive by these beauties 4 times a day, love them!!!

Jim Bilodeau
Jim Bilodeau

Chris and Connie the Heritage Council is making a travel Alberta app, Have you thought of adding your pictures and locations to that?

Doug Drown
Doug Drown

That (the Buffalo) is a very cool piece of architecture!

Jack Burton
Jack Burton

Beautiful photos. I miss these prairie giants.

Stewart Papke
Stewart Papke

(via Facebook)
Answered my questions from a drive through the other day! Thanks!

Ed Jessop
Ed Jessop

My hometown was next down the line and all the grain elevators have been gone for a long time now.

Jason Sailer
Jason Sailer

A fun day exploring! Thanks for the shoutout. Love the B&W photos.

Frances Aarts
Frances Aarts

(via Facebook)
Loved driving through the prairies. Each small town with the name on the elevator.

Ed Kolla
Ed Kolla

(via Facebook)
It was a landmark of the prairies. Every town with a railway had some and the name of the town, village, or Hamlet was on every elevator.

Bob MacMillan
Bob MacMillan

I was recently reminded of this “first precast concrete grain elevator” and did a little research and found your website. I was the crane operator that operated the mobile crane during the first 3/4 of the construction. I was employed by Atlas Crane Service, the Edmonton branch, and operated a 75 ton Lima model 700TC lattice friction crane. Atlas Crane name changed to Gwil Crane Service in 1988, the Alberta Gwil operation was sold to Sterling Crane in abut 1994 or 1995. If my memories are correct each “tub” weighed 13 tons, construction was sometime in the mid 1980s, again if my memory is correct. The engineer on the job was Norm Neufeld, the second site supervisor was a gentleman named Jim.