Alberta grain elevators
digg TOP
  Posted February 26th, 2014 by Zdenko  in Edmonton, Travel | 3 comments

Traveling Alberta

By: Zdenko Kahlina & Westworld magazine

Grain Elevators – will they survive?
Between Edmonton and Viking there are a number of sites that have grain elevators still standing by the highway, representing real rural areas in Alberta. I took pictures of the new mega grain elevators that are replacing old-fashioned wooden elevators from the past.

Another One Bites The Dust… Out of service and located in the small town of Brookdale MB.

Typical wooden elevator in the prairies

Not that long ago grain elevators were being built in just about every town along the railroad on the Canadian prairies. The grain elevator spelled prosperity to the town and region where they were located. Quickly they became the commercial and social centers for the new “Last Best West”. Rows of brightly colored elevators became cultural landmarks, a symbol of greatness for the productive prairies.

Another wooden elevator by highway 14

These days the old-fashioned Prairie sentinels are gradually being replaced by mega elevators made of concrete and steel. These high-tech storage sites can hold up to 10 times more grain than a typical wooden elevator and are fitted with the latest grain sorting and cleaning machinery.

New mega elevators made of concrete

As a new century unfolds, these same elevators are being demolished as fast as they went up! With the loss of the physical structures comes the loss of history associated with them, the loss of a spot on the horizon that identifies a community, a region and a way of life. AGES sees the need for progress, but they also ask “’what about the legacy”? What are we leaving future generations? How will we know how for we have progressed if we don’t know where we’ve been? AGES says “Let us preserve some of our history, our heritage, and leave some of these beautiful prairie sentinels for the future.”

The Cheadle Grain Elevator
Around 1985, Cheadle lost the last of its grain elevators as well as train and tracks that ran past. More houses and residents slowly started to fill the dusty roads and voids within the community. Very little changed Cheadle until after the year 2000, when another expansion of residential homes followed on the West side of Cheadle while some later developments followed on the East side after 2005. With many residents of Calgary looking to the smaller communities as a way of escaping the problems of large city living; Cheadle’s population is expected to grow significantly in the coming years. Some residents have worked very hard to get Cheadle back on the map. As of April 2009, James Gosteli’s efforts, to add a sign to the Trans Cananda Highway 1, have proven successful with the addition of 2 signs for East and Westbound traffic. Satellite mapping companies, such as Teleatlas, have now included Cheadle and its Streets in their GPS map data so that it will not be forgotten in the future.

Hold that elevator
Source: Westworld, By: Judy Larmour

Like many Albertans, Stan Eichorn will never forget the tremendous screech of tearing wood as track hoes clawed at the heart of his community, or that moment of disbelief when Stettler’s Alberta Wheat Pool elevator eventually toppled. As the honeycomb of wood bins split open and dust rolled out in great choking plumes, he knew he was witnessing not only the loss of an icon but the end of an era.

So when Stettler’s 1925 Parrish and Heimbecker grain elevator and feed mill were slated for demolition in 2003, some eight years later, Eichorn took action – though “people questioned my sanity,” he says of his decision to buy the elevator and its coal shed, one of only two remaining in Alberta. “It was my 94-year-old uncle who told me what the shed actually was,” he admits, “and how grain elevator agents also sold coal that they weighed on the scale in the elevator.” A successful agrologist who returned to the family beef operation a decade ago, the energetic 60-year-old was struck by how quickly our collective memory can forget a way of life.

A spurt of elevator construction in the late 1920s signified the peak of Alberta’s agricultural boom, and by 1934, 1,755 elevators were dotted along the province’s rail lines, linking communities whose lives revolved around the grain industry. But by the late 1990s, branch rail-line closures, the end of the Crow Rate (fixed, pro-rated freight charges for transporting grain) and shifts in the industry’s economy of scale were signalling the demise of the wooden country elevator – that proud symbol of Alberta prairie and parkland. By 2005, less than 150 of the 27-metre-high behemoths loomed on their original sites, most of them inactive. Today, large, concrete, silo-type structures have, for the most part, replaced the traditional gable-roofed wooden grain elevators. The lonely relics of past glory that remain have either been modifed for continued use in the grain trade and are privately maintained by farmers or, in the case of only a precious few, are preserved as museums and interpretive centres. Still others stand weather-beaten and abandoned in various states of disrepair.

Lonely Skyscrapers

Mirroring Eichorn’s struggle against time, the town of Alliance is another important bulwark against a vanishing way of life in Alberta’s rural communities. Here, Agricore United still operates its traditional 75,000-bushel wooden elevator, built in 1957 by the Alberta Wheat Pool. “The Alliance elevator is certainly not obsolete,” says Gord Lewis, the town’s elevator agent for 35 years. “It pays its way, handling about a million bushels a year,” and enables locals such as Mary Wold to travel only 13 km to haul their grain, unlike farmers elsewhere. “We’re really happy about it,” says Wold as she dumps grain from her truck over the pit on the elevator’s work floor, just as she has done for decades. So is Alliance mayor Muriel Fankhanel, who notes that without the Agricore elevator, “taxes would go up.” Just as important, though, is that Alliance has preserved what has been lost elsewhere: the elevator as the soul of the community. This is what Stan Eichorn and others involved with Alberta’s burgeoning heritage grain elevator movement are fighting for. And thanks to their efforts, a growing number of restored symbols of rural pride are opening their doors to the public, each with its own story, history and memories.

The small community of Scandia took an early lead in resisting this loss of the past when, in the late 1980s, the local Eastern Irrigation District (EID) Society restored a 1927 Wheat Pool grain elevator on its original railway site as part of an outdoor agricultural museum. Today, EID board member Holly Johnson recounts how, in 1934, the Bow Slope Shipping Association built its stockyards near the town’s Alberta Wheat Pool elevator and how before the stockyard scale house was built, animals had to be weighed on the elevator’s scale. “Imagine flocks of sheep being driven up a ramp into the elevator while the men struggled to keep them corralled,” she chuckles. Its stories like these that bring history to life, she says, and why oral-history interviews with former elevator agents are so important.

Another One Bites The Dust

Another success story can be found in Mossleigh, where three elevators owned by Parrish and Heimbecker (P&H) were meticulously maintained by elevator agent Reno Bexte, a fervent believer in the preservation of elevator history. When P&H wanted to close two of the three in 2000, Bexte encouraged his cousins Ian and Eric Donovan to purchase both, and “we jumped at the opportunity,” says Ian. “Out on the prairie, most of the old elevators are missing. But now, as you come over that hill, you see a little gem.” The Mossleigh structure is indeed a treasure, a minimally modified elevator row from the early 1930s. Painted the mustard shade characteristic of P&H, it has a rare, octagonal annex built for wartime storage in 1941. But the Donovans’ commitment in Mossleigh also set an example for others in the community. When P&H finally closed its doors here in 2006, management of the company’s third elevator was taken over by Monty Beagle, owner of nearby B&B Agriculture Service. And today, “we have a pact among the three of us,” says Ian Donovan: “None of them will ever go down.”

Stan Eichorn is not the only Alberta farmer to buy an elevator, either. A short distance northwest of Drumheller, on an abandoned branch rail line through Kirkpatrick, the Andrew family uses its 1928 Alberta Wheat Pool elevator – a dramatic silhouette against the stark landscape of the badlands – for grain storage. Farther north, in the lush parkland at Bentley, cars line up on the grass behind the now privately owned 1977 Alberta Wheat Pool elevator during the local fair and rodeo each August. The elevator acts as the movie screen for the community’s old-fashioned drive-in.

Vermont elevator in the winter

Unfortunately, given that grain companies prefer to demolish rather than sell their elevators, not all communities or individuals are successful in their attempts to preserve them. Those who are must generally overcome significant obstacles. So back in 2003, when Stan Eichorn first approached Parrish and Heimbecker about purchasing the Stettler feed mill and elevator (the last P&H-owned feed mill still standing in the province), he was delighted to find the company receptive. Specialists in the animal feed business, P&H opened the building in 1920, and its 80-kilogram bags of chop had been a mainstay of mixed farming in the area. But the mill had been closed for some time and, its equipment gone, was slated for demolition along with the elevator. The elevator’s machinery was in running condition, though, and Eichorn soon had a deal. The elevator was his for a dollar, and P&H threw in the $12,500 it would have spent on demolition to support Eichorn’s dream of turning it into an interpretive centre. Two years later, Eichorn founded the P&H Elevator Preservation Society, now 80 members strong, to take over ownership and development of the heritage site.

However, heritage designation of historic structures usually requires ownership of the land as well as the building, with the land on which grain elevators sit generally owned by a railway. And, as Eichorn has discovered, acquiring land from the CPR or CN can be a long and tortuous process. Still, he remains undeterred. “Somehow it’s going to work,” he says of his upcoming plan to buy the land from CN. For inspiration he turns to fellow elevator preservationist Bob Caine, who, starting in 2000, led the Alberta Legacy Development Society’s campaign to save the former Alberta Wheat Pool elevator at Leduc.

“It was pretty tense,” says Caine of the Leduc society’s struggle. “There were times when we thought we were done for, that there was no way around the financial obstacles.” First, the preservation group raised a $20,000 bond in the fall of 2000 for Agricore United to cover the company’s lease with the CPR. Caine then approached the CPR, a convoluted process that took him from Montreal to Winnipeg to Calgary. Finally, more than 12 months and $110,000 later (and after an arduous appraisal process and logistical complications that included easements to give the CPR access to the rail line and struggles to obtain mortgage loans and member loans with indefinite payback schedules), the society was able to buy the land and seek heritage designation. “It was nothing short of a miracle,” says Caine, who still takes delight in the fact that former premier Ralph Klein attended the elevator’s heritage designation ceremony on May 15, 2003.

Obviously, restoring an elevator and opening it to the public as a heritage site or museum is a major undertaking, one that requires vision, planning, stamina, perseverance – and money, lots of it. Yet communities are increasingly rallying behind their heritage elevators, and the provincial government – by way of the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation – is doing its part through significant funding for grain elevator conservation. But even so, says Eichorn, it remains a costly business, one best undertaken in phases with endless bouts of fundraising. As Ernie Halun, president of the group now in the process of preserving the Krause Milling Co. grain elevator at Radway, says, “We just take it one step at a time. We’ve cleaned the elevator and restored the exterior paintwork, hired a heritage consultant to research its history and prepare an interpretation plan. Next we need to raise funds to install sprinklers for fire suppression and to put the plan in place. Only then can we open our doors.”

Lorraine Foesier of the Rowley Community Association is equally familiar with the ups and downs inherent in the process of preserving grain elevators. “We were really rolling in 1988,” she notes, when the three grain elevators in Rowley – a tiny hamlet that is a museum in itself – were used as a backdrop for the Canadian film Bye Bye Blues. Back then, Stettler’s Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions train brought thousands of visitors to the town. But recently, the train’s route was shortened (its last stop is now Big Valley, 28 km away), problems with vandalism have been discouraging and Rowley’s elevators, designated as heritage buildings by the province in 2003, require immediate re-roofing. The timing is unfortunate. As Foesier points out, Alberta’s boom economy means the costs of meeting Canada’s national standards and guidelines for conservation “are rocketing and it is harder to find contractors to do the work.” Nonetheless, even after 20 years of fundraising and hard work, Foesier’s passion for grain elevators is infectious and her dedication unshakable. “Somebody has to look after them,” she declares.

Surprisingly, perhaps, there are people ready to do just that across Alberta. The geometric patterning of the solid-wood cribbing in Mayerthorpe’s 1966 Federal Grain Company elevator was what caught Doug McDermid’s attention the first time he saw its interior. Today, McDermid is president of the town’s Country Elevator Society, formed in 1997, and is working to restore the elevator and develop its annex as an interpretive space – with solar LED lights in the cupola to welcome evening travellers. Ninety-year-old Hilbert Lechelt, the town’s grain buyer from 1949 to 1974, is one of many residents who are more than happy about the project.

In its heyday, “it was a nice elevator,” Lechelt recalls, with bins that had hoppered bottoms – meaning the grain didn’t need to be shovelled as it did in the older elevator where he began his career. As for stories, “I’ve got plenty of them,” he adds, like the day a storage annex was moved alongside the elevator in 1972. “Do you know what they used to move it along the rails?” he asks. “Soap. And the kind that worked best was Ivory.”

Back in Stettler, Eichorn puts a pot of coffee on in the office where the agent once bought grain and farmers purchased supplies, discussed crops and the weather or played a round of crib. He knows his group has a decade-long project ahead, but “we’re in it for the long haul,” he insists. Phase one has seen the building stabilized and the roof’s cedar shingles and coal shed’s siding replaced. (“We spent two years finding drop-siding to match the original,” notes Eichorn.) Next up: two thirds of the roof and the flooring in the three-storey feed mill need replacing.

Although it’s still in the early planning stages, the mill floor will eventually serve as a display centre for showcasing the rich history and importance of agriculture in the area. Eichorn already knows that the elevator’s site in Stettler has one major advantage: the 25,000 people who ride the vintage Alberta Prairie Railway Excursions train each year who will hopefully visit the elevator as part of their heritage experience. As he sees it, “the grain elevator is a beacon: it attracts people to learning about the past.”

Historian and heritage consultant Judy Larmour lives on a grain farm near Rimbey.

Silo Visionaries
The province-wide Alberta Grain Elevator Society (AGES) welcomes all new members; – the only qualification is an interest in grain elevators. The organization shares information, tackles technical conservation issues and promotes grain elevators as an educational venture and tourist attraction. “It’s grassroots network groups like AGES that are so important in advocating strategies and lobbying for financial support for the preservation of grain elevators as a national symbol,” notes Natalie Bull of the Heritage Canada Foundation, opening speaker at the AGES annual conference earlier this year. To sign up: http://www.grainelevators/

Elevator Action
For more information about historic and currently operating grain elevators, the following communities are home to entertaining and enlightening museums and interpretive centres.

• St. Albert
p: 780-419-7354

• Castor
p: 403-882-3271

• Big Valley
p: 403-876-2242

• Meeting Creek
p: 780-672-3099

• Scandia
p: 403-362-5010

• Paradise Valley
p: 780-745-2150

• Andrew
p: 780-365-3687

• Nanton
p: 403-646-5736

• Calgary Heritage Park
p: 403-268-8500

• Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village (Highway 16 east of Edmonton)
p: 780-662-3640

• Alberta Central Railway Museum (near Wetaskiwin)
p: 780-352-2257

• Heritage Acres Museum (north of Pincher Creek on Hwy 785)
p: 403-627-2082

For information about Alberta’s Grain Elevator Society (AGES), the province’s premier grain elevator preservation organization, visit

Grain Elevators and Train

Grain Elevators at Mossleigh – Alberta – Canada

Grain Elevators at Mossleigh.
Please reduce gas when entering Mossleigh, the village is so small you might miss it. Coming from the US border and heading to Calgary i made a detour in the search for these old wooden grain elevators. I knew that Mossleigh had some, but no idea how they stood in the landscape. When entering Mossleigh they stood perfect against a deep blue sky. Actually there are standing three in a row, but this Twins combination fits better in the overal composition.

Rowley Grain Elevators
The grain elevators in Rowley closed for good in 1989, a result of modern-day shift from the pioneer wooden grain elevators along the central Alberta rail line to selected “super-elevators” in larger centres. But residents saw the tourism dollar potential, and successfully lobbied to buy two elevators from the Alberta Wheat Pool for $1 each.

Less than a year before the new millennium, the last train passed through Rowley. And now the Alberta prairie town’s future may once more belong to the ghosts. In the mid-1970s, Rowley, which once boasted a population of about 500 in the 1920s, was a beat-up dying community, with rows of empty houses and businesses, and inhabited by only a few dozen prairie hardened souls. But one night, a few party-happy locals, whose liquor supply was fast dwindling, decided on a quick solution — a “B & E Party” at a boarded-up old saloon. The brazen men then got talking about sprucing up the pioneer community to make it a heritage stop for tourists. For the next quarter century, locals restored old homes and businesses and soon visitors were attracted from all parts of Alberta, Canada and the U.S. The highlight of the community’s new fame came in 1988 when a cinema production team used Rowley as the set for the hit Canadian movie, “Bye, Bye Blues”.

Here’s another photo from the ghost town of Rowley, Alberta, which we visited in July last year. We already showed you few photos from this place, which you can find in our set The beauty of Alberta Past. This time, the PP is heavy. I had to bring this photo to show something very personal to me. This is not a recording of reality as it was that day. This photo tries to portray my reality/perception/feelings while there in Rowley, engulfed by the ghosts of Alberta/Rowley past.

Attractiveness of the past

Lonely Skyscrapers
Long abandoned grain elevators at Josephine in rural Benson County, ND. View this large for a better understanding of how these old elevators were constructed, and to better see the decay taking place at the closest one.

Not Identical Twins. I’m still working on that crazy Sunday set. Lepine Grain Elevators. Just about all that’s left of the town of Lepine, Saskatchewan: two grain elevators.

Through the bushes

This is what I do for fun… Another look at those neat old grain elevators at St. Joe in western Ramsey County, and another “gratuitous pickup shot”. But this also shows what I do for fun. I explore gravel roads and photograph those things that catch my interest.






Gotta Comment?
If you've got a comment or opinion you'd like to share, send me an email or fill the comment fields bellow, with only requirements your name and email address. I might just publish you in glorious pixilated black & white! Comments may be edited for grammar, spelling and length, or just to make them better.

Submit your own stories for the Zdenko’s Corner about rides, Gran Fondo’s, having a good time traveling and/or cycling, Croatian cycling history, etc. All stories are very welcome. There are more than 400 stories already in this blog. The search feature at the top right, works best for finding subjects in the blog. There is also translating button at the top of every story so you can translate each page to language of your choice.

Send your comments to:

3 comments to “Alberta grain elevators”

  1. Comment by Gordon:

    Just wish to say your article is as astonishing. The clearness in your post is simply nice and I can only assume that you’re an expert on this subject. Well, with your permission let me grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming posts. Thanks a million and please continue the rewarding work.

  2. Comment by Rudy:

    I must say I loved this post. You describe this topic well… Grain elevators are all around us, still some people don’t even see them… it’s our history!

    I just could not depart your web site, sifting from blog to blog… I extremely enjoyed other stories on your site… keep up with good work!

  3. Comment by Fabijan:

    Fantastic website. A lot of helpful info here. I am sending it to several pals and additionally sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thanks for your effort!

Leave a Reply