Wrentham Alberta, a teenie-weenie little village, the term “metropolis” never once used to describe it. In the far south of the province it was founded around a century ago when the railway arrived. The population, well, it’s a mere handful, hearty folks all, as people who dwell in these small “off the beaten path” type communities tend to be. There’s a few occupied houses here, some disused buildings, and at the far end down at the tracks, two wood grain elevators, one of which will be the focus of this here write up.
A group of dedicated people, The “Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society”, of which C&C are members has owned the historic structure for a year to two. She’s the last her kind in the province, there are no others (more in a moment) and is a real oldie (ditto, more soon enough). Members have come to tidy her up, the first step in the building’s preservation.
The elevator: it dates from the mid-1920s and was built for the Ogilvie Flour Mills. This firm, established in the 1860s, for a good number of decades in the twentieth century had a modest-sized network of wood grain elevators, a good number of them in Southern Alberta. These collection points were in support of and fed their milling facilities in various urban centres across the country.
In the late 1950s, Ogilvie disposed of their rural elevators. In Alberta, these facilities were acquired by the Alberta Wheat Pool, with most being closed down and demolished soon afterwards. Reasons? Most Oglivies were small in capacity and outdated. Then there’s redundancy…the “Pool”, the biggest player in the industry province wide, was already well represented nearly everywhere, including places these competing elevators stood, so there was no real need for them.
This one was saved however. In the late 1960s it was acquired by a local farmer, from the Pool, the fellow and his family using the structure for grain storage into the early 2010s. By then, it was the last of its kind, the last wood Ogilvie in Alberta*. The building was never repainted by the Alberta Wheat Pool and if you look close you can still see the old Ogilvie lettering on its side.
*Footnote: there’s one other Ogilvie Elevator in the province, in Medicine Hat, but it’s a giant milling plant made of concrete. It’s the only other in Alberta. There’s a couple/few wood Ogilvies in Manitoba, however.
Knowing it’s value as an historic structure, the farmer sold off the building to the Oglivie Wooden Grain Elevator Society, OWGES for short, for a nominal sum. The group’s goal is simple, to preserve the structure. While it’s hoped one day it can be used as a museum of sorts, once historical status can be granted – and it should be since it fits all the necessary requirements – for now just making sure it’s kept up is the priority.
While standing tall and proud, this towering mass of wood (2x6s laid flat and stacked, interconnected by HUGE beams) still needs a little TLC from time to time. And the team is on the scene for just that.
Decades worth of spilled grain is swept up. Old wood, bits of this and that, is loaded onto a truck for delivery to the local dump. Metal sheathing, which was often applied to these buildings for fire mitigation, is attended too. Loose pieces are re-nailed and new pieces added in places where missing. A half dozen people, shovels and push brooms, tons of effort, and at the end, one clean elevator. About as spic and span as one of these building can get. Some eight or so hours later, time for a cold one.
Look around…the place looks good. Break out the iced tea, and the BBQ ’cause we got some dogs here begging to be grilled. Congratulatory high-fives all around.
The other elevator seen in the photos in the background…it’s from the late 1960s, once belonged to the Alberta Wheat Pool, and today is owned by a local farmer who uses it to store his grain (many old elevators get used this way). We keep saying it…we’d love to documents this one some time…but it’s yet to happen. In size, it simply towers over the little Ogilvie making it look like a toy in comparison.
In times past there used to be other elevators in Wrentham – that statement could be used when speaking of most prairie towns. Click the “detailed history” link a few paragraphs below to know more.
That rail line seen in the photos? At the time we did the clean up, August 2016 (I know, far too long for this to get published), it was unused, although the track remained in place. The line, built in the 1910s by the Canadian Pacific Railway, was last used in the early 2000s. For the next decade or so it sat, the rails rusting, the roadbed deteriorating and becoming overgrown, essentially in a state of abandonment.
Then magically, some months after our elevator clean up party, a short line operator bought the track, fixed them up and put them back in service. Their line extends east from Stirling, where it connects to the CPR, to Foremost some eighty clicks away. Grain trains on “Forty Mile Rail” run a couple/few times a month. But the railway, that’s another story – we hope to document it sometime soon.
The Oglivie Wood Grain Elevator Society is always looking for members. Visit them on Facebook…Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society…or contact us and we’ll help you along.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: August, 2016.
Location: Wrentham, AB.
Article references (and thanks): Oglivie Wooden Grain Elevator Society, Cody, Kiko, Jason, Dan, Emily and of course Connie, Alberta Pool Records, OurRoots.ca.
The “last” Ogilvie wood grain elevator can be viewed from public roads.