While on a hotshot run to Saskatchewan I was able to make a quick stop in Coronation Alberta and snapped off a single picture of the town’s grain elevators. This was late 1997 or early 1998 and while there was no snow on the ground, it was cold and frosty. The nature of the business I was in is GO-GO-GO!! and so this was all I was able to capture before tight schedules had me back on the road again.
It’s not much, but I took a good shot of the elevator line up that still existed at that time. Before long they would all be gone.
In my picture we can make out three elevators, two with annexes, although in an older picture I have seen (date unknown) a fourth elevator can be seen. In that picture its some distance from the others and is painted in Alberta Wheat Pool light blue.
Of the elevators seen on my visit, the first one is painted for the Alberta Wheat Pool, the second one with the bulge and the leaning annex was United Grain Growers white, but without the UGG sign (as I recall). The furthest one was AWP blue (update below).
Also note there is a fourth small elevator seen in my pictures, just visible to the far left. It’s back from the tracks and I assume it was a seed cleaning plant or some such structure.
Seen on this annex side of the first elevator is what looks to be a coal shed (not 100% certain but it looks like others I have seen). These were once very common and many elevators often had one attached. In the early years, especially in rural areas, coal was the fuel of choice for heating and cooking. It was brought in by boxcar and hand shovelled (yes, hand shovelled) into the storage shed through a small door, for later distribution to customers. Most of these lasted into the 1950s, some into the 1960s and a few even made it into the 1970s. By that late date however, there were few people using that dirty smelly fuel. Any sheds that survived after did so by pure luck, perhaps finding use as storage.
To find a coal shed at such a late date is so cool and just down the rail line, in Consort, I came across another, or what I believe is another. Two in one day! There is a link below to see that one.
Coronation’s elevators were all demolished by 2002.
The rail line here, the former CPR Coronation Subdivision, came through town in 1910. Like most grain dependant lines not much happened and not much changed as the years past. Diesel replaced steam, passenger trains stopped running, covered hoppers replaced boxcars, but all the while the grain moved. By the 1990s though the major railways wanted out of the grain gathering business. The lines either lost money or a best made a tiny profit and it was certainly not enough to keep them interested.
With that in mind in 1992 this section of track was sold to the short line Central Western Railway. This company operated a web of grain dependant branch lines radiating outward from Stettler and was even home to a tourist train.
However, even the lower operating costs afforded the smaller more efficient railway could stem the tide and each year saw car loadings drop. The face of the industry was changing and small elevators were being closed en masse, replaced with larger inland terminals, usually some distance away. By the late 1990s grain had stopped moving altogether along this line. There is some conflicting information as to exactly when – some say the line closed in 1996, but I have seen photos showing grain cars spotted at these elevators as late as 1998. Was it possible they were being loaded or where they just being stored there? I can’t say for certain.
In any case with no more customers the line was used to store excess private owner freight cars, into 1999 at least (again, some photos found prove this). It was then pulled up, sometime between 2000-2002 I am told or around the time the elevators were demolished.
The Central Western Railway eventually retrenched to Stettler using some of the stubs of the various (by then abandoned) rail lines it owned to store cars. It otherwise had no customers and I believe the company is now dissolved, although that tourist train mentioned still runs on part of the line. Interestingly Google Earth shows stored cars on those stubs mentioned earlier and perhaps these are now switched out by the tourist railway?
It’s so sad knowing what you’ve photographed is long gone. It makes you feel older of course but it’s also a melancholy thing – yet another town loses some of its soul and the very things that made it what it was, the elevators, the railway, are all gone. Grain still rules but now it’s trucked long distances to those large inland terminals we spoke of earlier.
This picture was scanned from a 35mm print.
Update: December 2013. We have more information about the lineage of these elevators. Two of the structures, the one in the foreground and I believe the one furthest belonged to Alberta Wheat Pool (after 1998, Viterra) and were built in the early 1950s and late 1960s respectively (not sure which one is which). The middle one I believe belonged to the United Grain Growers and was built in the 1960s on the site of an earlier circa 1910s elevator. Some of this data is speculation however and may be subject to change and further updates.
On this same trip I shot some other grain elevators and a coal shed in the nearby town of Consort and to see them, go here…
Prairie sentinels – Consort Alberta.
To see a coal mine historic site not far from Coronation, click this link…
Diplomat mines shovels and draglines – 1997.
If you wish more information on this place, by all means contact us!
Date: Late 1997 or early 1998.
Location: Coronation, AB.