Aug 152013
Delia AB grain elevator

Delia Alberta is a small community located just northeast of Drumheller. It sits along an abandoned Canadian National Railways line (tracks still in place on our visit) and was once home to a good number of grain elevators, all nothing but a memory today save for one, the subject of this report. This town’s last prairie sentinel stands alone, one can imagine, waiting for a train that will never arrive.

(May 2016: this post has been fixed – see the comments section – thanks Al.)

The building was constructed in 1940. A wood annex, an addition that increased an elevator’s capacity, was put in place in the 1950s. The metal bins, more capacity yet again, date from the 1980s and 1990s. The latter replaced a 1916 built elevator that once stood on the same property (acquired by Pioneer from another company). This smaller building was “twinned” with the current structure when it was built, acting as sort of annex for it. This was not unusual. Grain elevator firms were frugal and would reuse as much old infrastructure as possible.

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The elevator was built by Pioneer Grain Company, one of the older established and bigger players in the Canadian grain industry and still in business today (as Richardson Pioneer). Remaining in the hands of that company it was sold to private interests in the early part of this century. Had this not happened, it would have no doubt been torn down like nearly every other old wood elevator on the prairies. The new owners have repainted into nice green colour and it appears well kept. It’s assumed that this individual or group, who must farm nearby, uses the structure for grain storage.

At some point, in an attempt to be more efficient, the elevator was set up to load two sets of tracks at a time. Capstans tugging on cables helped moved along the strings of cars as they were filled.

Along with this elevator the town was once home to at least seven others, built in the period 1913-1929.

In addition to this elevator Pioneer Grain had two others in Delia at one time, all acquired by taking over the operations of other already established grain dealers (all small companies). These elevators are all long gone.

Beside Pioneer, Alberta Wheat Pool had a large presence in town, also owning several elevators, some from predecessor companies. A couple of these survived to be painted for successor companies, Agricore (later Agricore United). All the other grain elevators in Delia were gone by 2002, one them in spectacular fashion by burning to the ground.

The rail line the elevator sat along is the former CNR secondary mainline that once travelled between Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, through Delia, then Drumheller, before finally ending in Calgary. The steel arrived in 1913/1914 concurrent with the founding of the town. This section of track has been abandoned for a few years now. At one time, it was a busy line.

Oddly, the track has not been pulled up which is unusual for an abandoned line. They typically like to salvage the rails up as soon as they can. There has been occasional talk of a private company reopening the line, but so far it’s only talk. Even though the rails are in place, by now they have deteriorated badly, so even if a new company takes a stab at it, it’d take a lot of work and money getting the line back in shape (May 2016: the rails were lifted since this report was published).

These tracks do add an interesting dimension to the photos we shot. You can almost imagine a train arriving any time now.

After photographing the subject of this report, we take some time to walk around Delia. To soak it all up. This elevator lines up with main street giving one a view that is very rare today. At one time, you could visit any small prairie town and at the end of Main Street, the main business thoroughfare, where it intersects with Railway Avenue (nearly every town has streets so named) would be the grain elevators.

The only thing missing from our photos is the train station (long gone) that is usually located where Main Street ended. BTW, this author has seen photos of the Delia’s at exactly this spot.

Walking about we find some other interesting things to photograph – an old service station, the town’s cenotaph, that sort of thing. We also found a second elevator at small seed cleaning plant.

Delia is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2014. For the first couple years of its existence, it was known as Highland. It’s noteworthy in that in 1920, it was the first community in Alberta to elect a female mayor.

To see some other grain elevators we’ve visited over the years, click the links below…
Alberta’s oldest grain elevator.
Prairie Sentinels – Queenstown Alberta.
Prairie Sentinels – Oblerlin Alberta.
Mossleigh elevators.

If you’d like to know more about this place, by all means contact us!

Date: August 2013.
Location: Delia, AB.

Delia AB old rail line

Delia’s last grain elevator with the abandoned CNR rail line passing in front.

Delia AB grain elevator

Waiting for a train that will never come…

Delia Alberta grain elevator

For extra storage there are large steel bins on one side…

Grain elevator Delia AB

…And an older wooden annex on the other.

Delia ex-Pioneer elevator

The main structure dates from 1940.

Delia AB Main Street

Looking down Delia’s Main Street (being repaved) with the elevator in back.

Delia old gas station

An old service station.

Delia AB elevator

There is also a seed cleaning elevator here.

Delia AB cenotaph

Delia’s cenotaph.

Main Street Delia

A once common scene in small prairie towns – a grain elevator at the end of Main Street.


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13 Comments on "Prairie Sentinels – Delia Alberta"

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Robert B
Robert B

Very fascinating story. Delia is definitely on my “must see” list the next time I am in Alberta. Keep me posted as to what happens with the CNR line; it would be nice to be able to rent a velocipede and “ride the rails” as long as the line is inactive.

Danny J
Danny J

Chris you should do a book, really.


Amazing photos!

Kyle 1965
Kyle 1965

I was born in Delia, in 1965. We moved out when I was still a toddler, so I don’t remember anything but I’d sure like to return. The ghost railway, tracks in place, is eerie.

Al Doktorchik
Al Doktorchik

The elevator in this article was built in 1940…
The annex on the west side was built in 1955…
The elevator that was built in 1916 was attached to the existing elevator…
It was tore down in 1986, and the first steel tank was erected…
In 1992, a second steel tank was added…
Also in 1986, a new driveshed and office was added…

I know this, because I was the last Manager of this elevator…
I operated it from 1974 to 2001, when it closed…

Dave Burke
Dave Burke

(via Facebook)
We like taking the back road through there when we’re going to Hanna.

Jack Fuller
Jack Fuller

In 1956, one could ride a CNR passenger train between Calgary, Delia, and Winnipeg – with sleeping and ‘buffet-parlor’ cars.