Deep in the south west corner of Alberta is the former town of Raley, home to the province’s oldest grain elevator. Built in 1905, this old timer sits along an abandoned rail line. Looking rough and neglected, I doubt many passers by (what few that do pass by) realize the significance of this old weather beaten structure. It’s just an old abandoned grain elevator after all…just like any other…dirty, dusty and infested with birds. That may be true, but knowing that it is the earliest example of the archetypal prairie sentinel left, and that in spite of being forgotten and abandoned, it survives – that’s what makes interesting.
Not only the oldest, it’s also one of a few left standing in the province that are still in Alberta Pacific paint. This company ceased to exist in the 1960s! While the building looked rough, with peeling siding and broken windows (all were broken) and inside there is bird poop everywhere, structurally it seems pretty solid – not that I am any sort of building engineer. The beams seem straight, the joints tight and underneath the base solid. How long however before time and the elements take their toll?
Celebrating it’s 108th year in 2013, this grain elevator sits along an abandoned rail line. This track was the CPR’s Cardston Subdivision, a branch line travelling from a junction at Stirling Alberta, heading west the subdivision’s namesake town and beyond.
Prior to the CPR this track was under the control of the Galt Enterprise’s North Western Coal and Navigation Company (plus successors and subsidiaries) who had a number of railway lines in the region, the main one being between Lethbridge and Dunmore near Medicine Hat.
The Cardston section was built in the early 1900s to tap the vast agricultural potential of the area and was constricted under the charter of the St Mary’s River Railway Company, a “paper” company. Interestingly it was built to the odd and uncommon (in Canada) gauge of 3ft, which all the original Galt lines used. Nearly every other railway in the country was built to standard gauge, or 4′ 8 1/2” and this difference soon lead to many operating problems for the railways. The main challenge was the interchange of freight headed off-line. It had to be transferred from the narrow gauge cars, an expensive and labourious affair.
The Galt Enterprises Lines were leased by the CPR starting in the 1890s and for a time kept some of their identity. Almost right away however, the narrow gauge track was converted to standard gauge, a project that took many, many years to complete. Until 1909 in fact. Complete CPR control did not happen until 1912.
In addition to the Cardston line, there was actually a junction at Raley, with a second line extending south to Kimball. This section was constructed at the same time as the Cardston branch but only lasted a few years before it was abandoned. In the 1920s, the CPR built a new branch south from Raley to Whiskey Gap that used some sections of the old roadbed. This line was abandoned again in the 1970s, and one of the last trains to travel it was a steam train used in the movie “Days of Heaven”.
Like most prairie branch lines, the decades passed by without much changing. The trains came and went and it was a sleepy line, just like most others that relied on grain. Significant amounts of it moved, with most of it coming from some of the larger towns along the line – Raymond, Magrath and Cardston. Raley was never more than a minor shipping point.
As the years past the line suffered from deferred maintenance and train service became unreliable at best. The railways became disenchanted with the money loosing branch lines and did everything in their powers to rid themselves of them – only government regulations kept this from happening faster. The last train passed here around the turn of the twenty first century.
Raley’s grain elevator operated up to the the early 1970s. Built for the Alberta Pacific Grain company, this organization was folded into the Federal Grain Company in the 1960s. Not long after, in 1972, the farmer owned Alberta Wheat Pool bought out Federal’s Alberta operations, including this elevator. Not longer after, it was closed having never been repainted. Afterwards it may have been used for storage by private individuals for a time. The rail siding, while unused for years, remained in place until the line was fully abandoned.
Th annex we see was added in the early 1940s.
Peering inside, we see that some parts of the elevator have been removed, the lifting mechanism and grain pit in particular. Other parts are in place but damaged, like the bucket belt. Stapled to the wall of he elevator are a number of old signs and notices. All the windows seem to be missing and lots of birds can be heard and seen flying about inside.
In addition to this elevator, a number of others stood in Raley. One was demolished in the 1930s – an Alberta Wheat Pool built in the late 1920s, while the other two lasted into the 1970s. No real evidence of them could be found in the tall grass.
It’s likely that Raley was never more than a small village, a tiny dot on the map if you will, easily missed. There was a school and at least a few houses I presume, but it’s unclear if there was ever any stores, hotel or other such businesses. If there was there seems to be no evidence of them. Today, a couple farms are located nearby.
Another grain elevator still in Alberta Pacific colours, also abandoned, is located in Dorothy Alberta in the Red Deer River Valley near Drumheller.
Only two other pre-1910 grain elevators exist in Alberta as of 2013. One is in DeWinton De Winton Dewinton near Calgary (no one seems to agree on the proper spelling of that town) and another up north in St. Alberta.
It’s not clear what the future holds for the province’s oldest elevator. I am not sure if anyone owns it or if its simply abandoned. In any case, it will soon need some TLC or it will succumb to the elements and neglect. Fortunately it seems fairly solid, but how long can it last in this condition? I hope that someone has plans for it.
If you wish more information about this place, by all means contact us!
Date: June, 2013.
Location: Raley, AB.