Aug 212013
P&H Three Hills

Three Hills Alberta has two standing grain elevators, a massive ex-Alberta Wheat Pool and an ancient ex-Parrish and Heimbecker. Standing directly across from each other, these two create a grain elevator canyon with the CNR’s north/south Alberta mainline passing right through the middle.

Of the two, the AWP is in private hands and so its future seems reasonably assured but the other appears abandoned and who knows what that could mean. At the peak, the town was home to eight different elevators representing other well know grain companies such as Pioneer Grain and United Grain Growers. Most were built in the early years – 1910s-1930s.

We’ll start by taking a look at the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator, this is #2, one of five elevators that the company maintained in town. Some were built by them, as this one was, and others were bought or inherited from other grain companies – mergers and acquisitions being the norm in the Canadian grain industry.

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With that many elevators, AWP must have been doing a good business here. A farmer owned cooperative, the organization dates from 1923 and was for most of its history one of, if not the biggest of the grain companies in the province.

This huge structure is by wooden grain elevator standards a fairly new one, having been built in 1967. It may seem odd but grain elevator design remained fairly static for over sixty years and traditional wood framed elevators, looking much like those from the 1920s only perhaps larger, were being built as late as the 1980s. The design was that good, or perhaps the grain companies were unwilling to change. Who knows? Constructed with integral annexes, this structure was able to handle and process a large volume of grain compared to it’s smaller brethren.

This elevator was apparently closed around the turn of this century, concurrent with that company opening a new high throughput concrete and steel elevator north of town (technically Equity Alberta). By then the company had merged with another, the Manitoba Pool, and was known as Agricore – Agricore United after 2001 – and this elevator lasted long enough to get an updated sign on the road side, evidence of which can be still be seen. An older AWP sign is still extant on the railway side however.

Now in private hands, it’s presumably used for grain storage by whom ever owns it. It could use a coat of paint, but otherwise seems pretty well kept.

This elevator was the last built in Three Hills, not counting that newer one outside town mentioned earlier.

Sitting directly across form it is a much older elevator. This one is pained for the company Parrish and Heimbecker (P&H), a long time, if not small player in the Canadian industry. This company still exists and owns and few large concrete elevators in various places across the west. They don’t own this one however, even though it’s still lettered for them.

Like many P&H elevators, it is clad in metal sheeting, and painted in silver. It’s super shiny in the direct sunlight, almost like a beacon.

The main structure was built right after World War One with a number of annexes added over time, the wooden one of course being the oldest. The steel ones are much newer. Also, there is a third annex on the road side of the elevator. After being closed by the parent company, it operated for a time as the Country Grain and Feed Mill. From the looks of they have been closed for a couple years.

Rules of exploration: show respect, don’t trespass and take only pictures.

This elevator leans and sags in places, not surprising given its advanced age. The wooden annex is tilting slightly towards the tracks while the elevator itself is doing the same in the opposite direction.

It’s not clear when this elevator last loaded rail cars.

Three Hills is somewhat odd in that there were two parallel elevator rows on opposite sides of the track – I know of only a hand full of towns who had such an arrangement. Usually the entire row would be grouped on one side or the other. In the case of Three Hills, most were on the downtown (P&H) side.

Passing between these structures is the CNR’s Three Hills Subdivision, part of its north/south mainline travelling between Edmonton and Calgary. This line was built by the Grand Trunk Pacific in 1914. That company and some of it competitors were later folded together, forming the giant CNR system in the early 1920s.

This line is home to at least a couple freights per day, some of them jumbo 150+ car super trains. I was hoping for some to show so I could photograph them framed by the elevators, but I had no such luck.

I took time to visit the high throughput elevator north of town – I did this first actually. Oddly, it seemed rather deserted looking and the tracks leading to it were rusty and looked unused, as though the place was closed. Maybe it was just shut down for summer vacation? It was built in the late 1990s and can load a huge number of cars on four parallel loading tracks.

The town of Three Hills was founded around the time the railway came through and today it appears to be doing well as a community.

To see some other grain elevators we’ve documented, please follow these links…
Prairie sentinels – Big Valley Alberta.
Prairie Sentinels – Kirkpatrick Alberta.
A Prairie Sentinel falls – Torrington Alberta.

If you’d like to know more about the subjects seen in this post, by all means contact us!

Date: August 2013.
Location: Three Hills, AB.

Equity AB grain elevator

The high throughput elevator just north of town.

Three Hills elevator

Alberta Wheat Pool #2.

Three Hills grain elevator

A grain elevator canyon!

Three Hills AB grain elevator

The ex-P&H with both wood and steel annexes.

Three Hills Alberta Wheat Pool

This massive beast is fairly new by wooden grain elevator standards, having been built in the 1960s.

Three Hills two elevators

Looking north down the CNR’s north/south Alberta mainline.

Three Hills AB elevators

The P&H is quite a bit older than the other, the main structure having been built right after World War One.

Three Hills elevator sign

Peeling paint and faded lettering.

Grain elevator Three Hills

This elevator is in private hands.

Elevator Three Hills

There have been a lot of additions to this structure over the years.

Three Hills AWP and P&H

At the peak another half dozen elevators kept these two company.

P&H Three Hills

P&H – Parrish and Heimbecker a long time player in the Canadian grain industry.


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8 Comments on "Prairie Sentinels – Three Hills Alberta"

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Amy and William
Amy and William

Beautiful photos, Chris! I visited these elevators with my husband back in the 1980s. It was a busy place back then. Gorgeous! Keep it up!

Kyle 1965
Kyle 1965

Wow, they are some nice vators! I have to get back down to that area and do more exploring.

Phil Moore
Phil Moore

Oh wow! That town has two elevators! I must go!

Luella Kowalsky
Luella Kowalsky

Castor has an elevator as part of its museum complex..