Queenstown Alberta is a tiny little hamlet in the proverbial middle of nowhere, a town no bigger than its dot on the map, and while on an oil field hotshot run (my job at the time) I took a little time out to photograph some of the few things left standing there. Those being the Federal grain elevator and the old garage. This was in the spring of 1997.
While practically a ghost town, the gas fields near Queenstown seemed to be humming with activity back then and I made numerous trips into the area. The nature of that business means your are always on the go and so while I passed by here many times, I only had he luxury of stopping once. And even then I had to jump out, quickly take my pictures and be on my way. I came and went flash mob style.
These used to be many grain elevators in town, five or six (a lot for a small town), but on my visit only three or four remained (going by memory). For some unexplained reason I shot only the one. I can likely attribute that to the very limited time I had, for the road called. Or maybe I was just being sloppy. Or maybe the others did not inspire me. Or maybe, as was often the case, I ran out of film and had no backup roll. Pick one.
I am not sure choosing this elevator was a conscientious decision, but if it was, I picked the most interesting of the group. You see, this one was painted in the colours of Federal Grain, a company which had not existed since the early 1970s. Taken over by the Alberta Wheat Pool at that time, this one was obviously never repainted, making it a real rarity by this point.
This Federal joined at least two or three other AWP elevators still standing here in 1997 – I did not record the number I saw and to determine that referred to pictures from others taken around that time showing Queenstown’s elevators. At one time there was one more here owned by Pioneer Grain and perhaps even one more yet again – a picture from 1983 shows the roof of a sixth, but it looks small like it was a seed cleaning plant.
I’ve researched a great deal but the lineage of this elevator is still mostly unknown and so we can only make assumptions. Was it built in 1925 when the rail line here came through, perhaps later? When was it torn down – when the rail line was abandoned or some other time? All these things are a mystery right now, but I am sure further research (which sometimes takes a long time) will turn up new information. I am not sure if the elevator was vacant at by the time of my visit. Judging by how little used the road in looked, I would say probably yes.
In the late 1990s it was still possible to find the occasional (very occasional) elevator pained for the Federal Grain Company. These organizations were a frugal sort and only repainted if it was absolutely necessary. Today, only a couple Federal grain elevators still stand across the prairies, all privately owned.
Mergers and acquisitions area common place occurrence in the Canadian grain industry and Federal Grain was no exception to this. It joined with or took over many companies over its history, including such notables as Alberta Pacific Grain and Searle Grain (in 1943 and 1967 respectively). In the early 1970s, as was mentioned, 1972 to be exact, it was folded into the respective Wheat Pool of the province the elevator stood in – so Alberta elevators became Alberta Wheat Pool, Saskatchewan becoming Saskatchewan Wheat Pool and Manitoba elevators, Manitoba Wheat Pool.
For some reason, as mentioned, I did not photograph the other elevators, but strangely I did shoot a snow fence that protected the CPR line. Clearly winter is tough here, as hinted at by these fences. They are to protect the train line from the build up of wind driven snow.
This line, by the way, is the CPR’s Lomond branch which ran from a point south east of Calgary, meandering along and passing through many small towns, before ending in Vauxhaul further southeast. In earlier times, it extended further east (as the Suffield Subdivision), connecting with the CPR east/west mainline east of Medicine Hat. It was cut back over time. It’s not clear when the last trains passed here, I’ve been told variously the late 1990s or early 2000s.
Oddly, I never once saw a train on this line, or even a car spotted at an elevator and for a time I was making regular visits to places close by and passed over it often. By the end I am sure service was sporadic at best. Like most prairie branch lines it must have been a money loser. It died, like all the others, due to changes taking place in the industry. Small town elevators were forsaken being replaced by huge inland terminals.
Also seen here is the much photographed Queenstown Garage, the last remnant of any businesses left in town. It’s quite a popular subject with photographers judging by how many pictures one can find of it online (including some of mine). I have not been able to find much in the way of history on the building. Not terribly surprising really, but who knows what I may turn up in the future. Things have that way of happening. Note the old car sitting in front of it.
I am so glad I was able to visit Queenstown before the elevators were gone, even if I only caught one of them on film. I, like others, thought that the rail line and elevators would last for ever and so was a bit sloppy in documenting of them. They’d be there next time after all. Changes in the grain industry certainly caught us off guard, and when the elevators started falling en masse, we were left scrambling. I missed a lot of opportunities earlier on and really regret that.
These pictures were scanned from 35mm slides.
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Date: Spring 1997.
Location: Queenstown, AB.