The elevator seen in this article is located in the tiny community of Prelate Saskatchewan. It’s the second “vator” we explored in the province this trip, and would be one of many we’d see on this glorious five day weekend. It’s located along an active rail line and according to those who own it, the building is still in use. In Alberta it’s been a long time since we’ve seen a traditional style wooden grain elevator in service like this, so documenting it was a real treat.
The skies above us boiled and rumbled while we photographed the structure, but fortunately the rain did not fall.
This elevator belongs to Paterson Grain, aka NM Paterson and Sons. The building looks a little run down, although as mentioned on the company website, it’s still being used. It’s not known how often they load rail cars, if at all. Some elevators, even along rail lines, are serviced exclusively by trucks.
This elevator’s lineage is a little hard to trace and in fact I am down right confused about it. We have narrowed it down to three possibilities, of which two seem most likely. Here’s what we know…
Saskatchewan government records says it’s from 1965. This can’t be right as the only documented grain elevator constructed that year in Prelate was for the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool (aka SWP or simply “the Pool”). Since we’ve seen pictures of it, we know it’s not the one seen here. It’s much larger and different in configuration than the Paterson elevator. I think we can safely say this one is eliminated.
It’s mentioned that Paterson, in the mid-1980s, took over the Pioneer Grain Company elevator in town. Research suggests that it was a fairly old building, perhaps from the 1920s. The one seen here is a more modern, post 1960s, design, so based upon that it’s likely not the one. Unless of course, it’s been rebuilt at some point, which I suppose is possible, it happened all the time, in which case it could look newer then it is and therefore could be the one seen here. That’s a maybe.
Lastly, it’s said that Paterson built a new elevator here in the 1970s (that same decade they torn down two older ones) Could this be it? It seems to make sense, but one thing is bugging me. For a 1970s era elevator, it seems quite small. But otherwise it fits, and it makes sense they’d keep the newest one. Hmmm.
So until we know more, it could either of the last two. That’s not a great answer, I know. Research will continue however and we always like to hear from our readers if they know more. The history of elevators is often complex and confusing, which is clearly the case here. In fact this was one of the worst in respects to that. BTW, I walked in the elevator, through the open truck door, to see if anyone was around, to ask them if they knew its history, but no one was there. I’ve emailed them too.
Its not known when the wooden annex was built. It has remnants of a red or brown paint suggesting it’s older than the elevator itself (those colours were common pre-1940s). Perhaps it was came from another elevator in town? Many were torn down over the years, some of them quite old, and perhaps they salvaged it from one of them? This is only a guess. In more recent times, a couple steel bin annexes were added to the complex.
Notice the cable strung part way up the elevator above the tracks at the loading station. Employees loading the cars would tie their harness into it, which would then arrest them if they were to fall. The top of a rail car to the ground is a long way down!
The owner of the elevator, Paterson Grain, has been around for well over a century. One of the lesser players in the Canadian grain industry, they have a modest number of elevators scattered across Saskatchewan and Manitoba. They have or had only a couple facilities in Alberta, in the eastern side of the province near the SK border. Outside this, they never really had a presence in that province.
The little tractor seen near the tracks, beside doing various chores around the plant, might also be used to move rail cars about. That is if they load cars here. Using a tractor to push cars is not unusual – not much force is needed and it works well. Other elevators may use a winch system, locomotives, road/rail trucks, or even gravity to move cars as they are loaded. The elevator has two loading tracks, although one is so buried in the weeds, that it’s hard to see.
In the past there used to be many other grain elevators in Prelate. These were operated by such well known companies as Federal Grain, Alberta Pacific Grain (I never knew they existed in SK), Pioneer, the Pool and of course at least a couple belonged to Paterson. There were also some companies I never heard of – Western Grain, Mutual Grain and Gold Grain. Many of these buildings changed hands over the years, some many times. In 1923, one of the elevators was struck by lighting and burned down.
The rail line in front belongs to the Great Sandhills Railways company (aka GSR). Prior to 2009 it was the property of the CPR. On this trip we passed a good sized GSR freight heading west, so if this is any indicator, the railway must be doing reasonably okay.
The GSR travels some 180km from a point near Swift Current on the CPR mainline, through Prelate, ending at the town of Burstall near the Alberta border. Freight handled, includes of course, grain, along with commodities related to the oil and gas industries. Freights run a couple times a week, give or take, depending on business levels.
The railway came through Prelate in 1913 and was the CPR’s former Empress Subdivision branch. This line and a connecting line in Alberta, paralleled the railway’s mainline further south. It was built of course to haul grain but it was also a handy mainline bypass route, in times of heavy traffic or blockages, since it was connected to it on both ends. Starting in the late 1920s, it also hauled considerable coal coming out the Red Deer River valley near Drumheller. There were a number of feeder branch lines off of it, but these were gone before GSR took over,
While there were no grain cars waiting to be loaded on the elevator siding, a string of stored tank cars was seen. In one of our shots, you can spot them through the elevator door off in the distance. I forgot to mention, the GSR, like many short-line railways, makes money storing excess freight cars. Nearly every siding along the line we saw was so filled. The cars may get called back to service any time, or may sit for months on end – it all depends on the business levels of the industries that use them. Either way it’s good for the railway, they get so much per car per day and then get paid to move them too.
The town of Prelate was incorporated in 1913, with the coming of the railway. Today it’s home to about a 125 people.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date of adventure: May, 2014.
Location: Prelate, SK.