Today we’re looking at the elevator row in Arrowwood Alberta. The date is 1997 and I’m doing some hotshot deliveries on the backside of the Siksika First Nation, not that far away. There are pump jacks inside the boundaries of the reserve and my load, spare parts, needs to be dropped off at a number of them. Thankful, after a scary run in with an out of control frothing pack of “reserve dogs” (essentially domestic dogs abandoned by their owners, who’ve turned feral) I make my way here to calmer waters to do something I’ve wanted to do for some time. That is to shoot the five elevators that stood in town.
I make my way to to the west edge of the line and shoot away. Then I realize I’m on my last frame and have no more film, so I’ll have to settle for a single shot of the elevators. How many times have I run out of film this way? Thank goodness for digital!
Starting in the foreground, we see three elevators painted in the colours of the Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP). Further down is the white one, whose owner I did not record (damn me) with the final one painted Parrish and Heimbecker (P&H). The former represents one of the big players in the industry, while the latter, one of the smaller. Both companies exist to this day, Parrish and Heimbecker as an independent company, while the AWP has been merged with other companies (several times in fact), becoming Argicore, Agricore United and finally Viterra. The AWP elevators lasted long enough to have the Agricore signs applied.
Without a doubt, at least some of these elevators had previous owners. It was not uncommon for one to change hands, through acquisitions or mergers, although I have zero data as to the lineage of these five. This invites further research, or if you are a reader of this blog and wish to add something, by all means do so (use the comment form at the bottom of this report – also see update below).
Of those seen, the the white one was gone at some time between my visit and 2001. I have seen a picture from that later date, the next oldest one I could find outside my own, and it shows it gone by that time. The others managed to last a little longer, falling at various times between 2001 and 2003. The last to go was the P&H, which looks to have stood unit fairly recently. One from this row still stands, the one in the foreground which is now privately owned.
The rail line here, along the CPR’s Lomond Subdivision, arrived in 1925 and for the next five years this was the end of steel for the branch, which took a very circuitous route in from the mainline connection at Suffield Alberta. In 1930 the line was extended further west, eventually connecting with the CPR’s Aldersyde secondary line that travelled north/south between Calgary and Lethbridge. With this new connection trains could originate further west than before, which was likely more efficient.
As was the case with many prairie branch lines, in the years that followed nothing much happened here – passenger service ended, diesels took over, but all the while grain and other commodities moved up and down the line. Near the end, grain was the only product being shipped out. Even that couldn’t last though and by the late 1990s the tracks were rarely used. They remained in place for some time after, but only for the storage of surplus cars.
Finally pulled up in 2003, a section west of here remains today, a stub travelling as far as Mossleigh (and a bit beyond), the next town west of here. It’s not exactly clear when the last grain was shipped, and I have yet to see a photo from ANY era showing ANY rail cars being loaded here. Can someone chime in on this?
While there were settlers here before the railway, it was the coming of steel that really gave birth to the town. This makes it’s a late comer in that respect. The rail line west of here, which as mentioned dates from 1930, was also a late comer and this means it was one of the last CPR lines built during the great railway boom. Starting at the early part of the twentieth century, construction of new branch lines proceeded at an incredible pace before it all ended with the coming of the great depression.
Most of the lines, the later built ones in particular, were made with wild abandon and little regard to sustained profitability. If two houses were built next to each other, it was considered a town and a such merited a rail line. A crazy statement that reflects the devil-may-care attitude of the day. In fact many lines were built before the towns, with hope that a population would soon follow the railway.
Later, I am sure the railway came to regret most of these lines, but due to government regulations, could not dispose of them until relatively recently, mass abandonments not happening until the 1990s. By then they were pulling lines up with the same furor that built them – a reverse boom.
Concurrent with that and a catalyst for the rail lines being abandoned, changes were also taking place in the grain industry and the iconic small town elevator was replaced by large inland terminals that could load a whole train in one pass.
With these losses a town also surrenders something more, its heart perhaps. Changes in the industry have been killed the very things that brought about their birth.
This picture had me thinking, throughout the 1990s at least I never saw a single train on the line or even a grain car on a siding, and I travelled the area a lot. Pictures by others from that same era never seem show anything either. Odd.
Update: December 2013. We have researched the various elevator’s lineages although we don’t have many answers. Of the three AWP elevators seen, we know they could have been built in 1924, 1925, 1928 and/or 1978 (a late one – the one in the foreground…I think). Note, we have four dates but three elevators, so one was dismantled before my visit. Of the other two elevators, we still don’t know much and research continues. We always welcome input from our readers too.
This historic site is not far away from Arrowwood…
Doukhobors in Alberta – Anastasia Village
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Location: Arrowwood, AB.