What a huge difference a couple short decades make. Back in the 1990s when the first photo in this then and now series was captured, Vulcan Alberta had a huge and much celebrated grain elevator row. It was giant – count them – there are five singles and three sets of two (known as twins). When we return to that same spot today, we find all that’s left is but a single structure. Where there was many, now there is one. It’s amazing just how much has changed. It’s mind blowing.
The building seen in both photos belongs to Pioneer Grain, aka Richardson Pioneer, a long time and good sized player in the Canadian grain industry, and is still in use. I question its future however, just a gut feeling since nothing official has come from the company, given that the firm has recently taken possession of a modern and much larger concrete grain terminal south of town. I would guess that facility is able to handle by itself the volume of grain being moved by the company here. Disclaimer: my assumption could be horribly wrong.
This building is believed to have been built in the 1980s (records are vague) and replaced an earlier and much smaller elevator that stood on the same spot since the 1910s. As you can see, its been modified since the old photo was taken. New steel bins have replaced part of the structure on the left side and other changes have been made.
We’ll touch on the other elevators seen in the old photo only briefly. Information on them is spotty at best and rather contradictory in nature, depending on the source, and if we can’t do it right, we don’t want to do it at all. Plus we know their histories are complicated, potentially swelling a report such as this to massive proportions. We’re already too long winded (they say)!
In the 1990s photo, the elevators were owned (l to r) by Pioneer Grain, Pioneer Grain, Parrish and Heimbecker (P&H), Cargill Grain, Cargill Grain, P&H, with the final two groupings belonging to the Alberta Wheat Pool. Each building is painted up in its respective company colours. You could always tell who owned an elevator by this alone.
All the grain firms mentioned in the paragraph above are well known and long established, some still in business, others not. An old photo from the 1960s show many of the elevators owned by other firms. It was not odd for these buildings to change hands many times over the years so this is no surprise. Notable grain companies represented in the past include United Grain Growers, Federal Grain, National Grain and some smaller ones.
Of the elevators seen in the old photo, save for the one still standing, most date from the 1910s-1960s and all were torn down not long after the then photo was taken. The 1990s and early 2000s was a time of great change within in the industry and the prairies lost a huge number of these buildings around that time. Look how much the skyline of Vulcan changed after that event! The Alberta Wheat Pool pair of twins were the last to fall. At that time a firm called Agricore owned them (AWP was folded into that company in the late 1990s).
To the right of the current structure (old photo), we see a gap, which was the location of yet another elevator torn down at some unknown date between the 1960s and 1990s. At the peak, if we include that building, Vulcan had twelve elevators arranged in nine groups (and were known far and wide as “nine in a line”), the largest number of prairie sentinels in any one town, period. More grain moved out of Vulcan than anywhere else on the prairies. The sheer volumes being moved in the old days, via those elevators, was so large that it’s almost hard to comprehend. The shipped train load after endless train load.
Most of the elevators seen in the old photo have attached annexes in an amazing variety of sizes, shapes and styles. Theses were almost always added well after the main structure was built and were a cheap and simple way to add extra capacity to a facility.
Mention is made of two big elevator fires happening in Vulcan, one in 1917 and the other 1971. Presumably these burned structures were rebuilt or replaced afterwards depending on the damage. Details are sketchy.
Beside the grain elevator seen here, there are two high throughput concrete terminals just south of town. Each has a capacity that certainly must rival or even surpass all the elevators seen in the old photo combined.
The railway line though Vulcan was built in the 1910s and today is still in operation. It’s the CPR’s secondary line between Calgary and Lethbridge and see’s a modest number of trains per day. Vulcan as a town founded with the coming of the railway.
Our now photo was shot using a special technique we’ve developed over the years and no cropping or shopping of it was done to help things line up. We do it the hard way and get it right, in camera.
The then photo is compliments of and copyright Keith Hansen. Thanks Keith for allowing us to use in this report. If you have an old photo like this showing something from the old days, that you’d like us to use in a then and now report, contact us and we’ll gladly put it to use. We’ll visit the location seen, take a shot showing what it looks like today, and document it all on this website.
To see more grain elevators, go here…
Prairie Sentinels – Woodhouse Alberta – Vandervalk Farm.
Prairie Sentinels – Neidpath Saskatchewan.
Prairie Sentinels – Three Hills Alberta.
Prairie Sentinels – Arrowwood Alberta.
If you wish more information on what you’ve seen here, by all means contact us!
Date: March, 2015.
Location: Vulcan, AB.
Article sources: Book: Wheat Country – A History of Vulcan and District, local residents.
The location seen in these photos is publicly accessible.