In February one of our Facebook fans asked how many grain elevators still stand on the Alberta horizon. Dorothy Field, our Heritage Survey Program Coordinator has compiled some statistics.
The twentieth century saw the rise and fall – literally – of the wooden country grain elevator in Alberta. As rail lines spread across the province, grain elevators sprouted like mushrooms after a spring rain. The high water mark for wooden country grain elevators was in 1934. New elevators were added in every decade, but this has been exceeded by the rate of demolition or closure ever since. Check out the following “index” of Alberta’s wooden country elevators, called “elevators” for short in this list.
Number of elevators in Alberta:
- in 1934: 1,781
- in 1951: 1,651
- in 1982: 979
- in 1997: 327
- in 2005: 156
- in 2012 on railway rights-of-way: 130
Number of communities with:
- at least one elevator: 95
- 2 or more elevators: 26
- 3 or more elevators: 7
- 4 or more elevators: 1 (Warner)
- Number of elevators in Alberta’s longest row: 6
- Oldest remaining elevator: 1905 (Raley)
- Number of remaining elevators that pre-date 1910: 3 (Raley, St. Albert, De Winton)
- Newest remaining elevator: 1988 (Woodgrove)
- Decade with the largest number of surviving elevators: 1920s (33)
- Decade with the second largest number of surviving elevators: 1980s (26)
- Decade with the fewest (after pre-1910) number of surviving elevators: 1940s (5)
- Number of elevators that have been designated a Provincial Historic Resource (PHR): 13
- Number of communities with at least one elevator designated as a PHR: 10
- Oldest designated elevator: 1906 (St. Albert)
- Newest designated elevator: Leduc (1978)
For a list of communities in Alberta with designated and non-designated elevators, please click here.
- Grain elevators that have been moved off railway rights-of-way – to a farmyard or a museum, for instance – are not included in these statistics.
- Grain elevators located on railway rights-of-way where the rails have been torn up are included in these statistics.
- Concrete or steel elevators are not included.
- Elevators used for other purposes, such as seed cleaning or fertilizer storage, are not included.
- Most of these elevators were last documented by the Heritage Survey in 2005. It is possible that some of the elevators on the list are now gone.
- Check out the Royal Alberta Museum’s online exhibition, “Finding Our Way Home”
- View records for designated grain elevators on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.
- Explore the online Heritage Survey database, which has records for over 700 grain elevators.
- Read “Alberta’s Grain Elevators: A brief history of a prairie icon”, a Government of Alberta booklet, on the Alberta Grain Elevator Society website.
- Read an excellent 2008 article by Judy Larmour on the Alberta Motor Association website: “Hold that Elevator”
Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator
39 thoughts on “Alberta’s Wooden Country Grain Elevators”
I know you mentioned this list was last updated in 2005. For the record, McNab was demolished at some point in December of 2010 and the elevator at Farrrow was destroyed by the owner (fire) in December of 2011.
I will always regret not seeing the McNab elevator — it was in such a nice location tucked away in the small valley. At least I made a special trip to see Farrow back in July, not knowing it would be gone before the year was out.
Hi Dan, Thanks for helping us update our records – we appreciate it. It is always sad when another one falls. Brenda
Are the photos copywrited? I am an artist, painting in acrylics and oils. I have some photos of my own but I am asking for prmission to paint from your photos?
Ive been doing my own research on Alberta’s elevators since 2002 and completed my first book in 2007. I am presently working on updating the book for Xmas 2012. Please check out my website at the address above for more info.
Jim A Pearson
Thank you for the heads up about your book. We look forward to checking out your material.
My dad was the operator that night the delia fire happened. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org I can tell you what happened
Where can we find the years of the wooden elevators in Alberta
Hi Linda! The 2012 book has the year of opening for every grain elevator I could find using the Canadian Grain Commission database and the local history books. It’s available in hard copy or on pdf. Contact me at email@example.com for more info!
This article is so important. I will never forget boarding a plane for Edmonton at London, Heathrow, to find a picture of a burning Alberta elevator on the cover. I had been living abroad for a few years and the sense of loss pictured on that cover page was great. Thank you to everyone who is bringing spirit, mind and will to these marvellous architectural elements of our recent past. How and why was the dessimation allowed to happen – like a silent prairie ghost, desecrating our monuments when we were not watching.
Note to Jim A Pearson of Delia, Alberta: I am so eager to see your ” Vanishing Sentinels”. Please keep us posted. My dear mother’s name was Delia — so our family has a special spot in our hearts for your little town.
Thank you for sharing your story, Jane. I think all prairie residents in both Canada and the USA have an affinity for grain elevators — ex-pats included! You have likely echoed their sentiments.
I’m curious about the one statistic: ‘Number of elevators in Alberta’s longest row’. Vulcan once had nine elevators in their row up until the early 70’s (“Nine-in-a-line”). Would that not constitute the ‘longest row’, or are there some conditions I am unaware of?
Just wanted to say to Pearson, love your website, and Dr. Ross, love your books!
The statistics shared in the blog post pertain to remaining grain elevators, so yes, Vulcan would not have been mentioned. However, I did speak with Dorothy, our Survey Program Coordinator, and she is confident that nine grain elevators in a row would have been the highest number, in Alberta. Sexsmith, AB would have been Vulcan’s ‘competition’.
Milo only has one left now, the older one was demolished in 2011 or 12, Stettler used to have three plus a seed elevator, they are now down to one plus the seed elevator, McNab was demolished as well..
I forgot to mention Chancellor has an elevator and it seems to be missing from the list.
I know it has been a while since the list has been updated but here are towns that recently lost their elevators.
– Barons now only has the Seed cleaning elevator standing the other two were just demolished recently.
– Arrowwood now only has one standing
– McNab is now gone
– Blackie lost their last elevator this year
– Farrow is now gone
– Grand Prairie lost theirs in 2011
That is all I could think of off the top my head.
Hi Cody, Thank you for the great information! I have forwarded your comments on to the coordinator of the Alberta Heritage Survey Program so that she may record/follow-up on your info. We appreciate that you took the time to give us an update. Cheers!
Just wanted to let you know that my updated book Vanishing Sentinels 2012 update will be completed by the end of February 2013,and I will let you know when it will be available!
Jim A Pearson Vanishing Sentinels
Hi Jim, Thanks for the update on your book. Good luck finishing things up!
I have an old book that has a picture of Provost Alberta, and there are at least 12 elevators visible in this picture, which is early-mid 1970’s
Thanks James. Do you have a bibliographic reference for this book? We’d be interested in looking at a copy.
Yes, it is in Sophie Hickens’ “Still Standing II:The Grain Elevators of Northern Alberta”. Today there are none left in Provost! Unreal!!
Actually, its an “old photo” in a recent book (Hickens’ 2 elevator books are not that old…)
Is Raleys elevator older than the one @ Warner that is of the older, small style, like the one @ Fleming Sk. that burned down last year?
Thanks for your question, James.
The Raley elevator was built in 1905, making it the oldest extant elevator in Alberta. The oldest elevator in Warner was built in 1913.
Flemings Lake of the Woods was built in 1895, making the senseless arson of this historic site even more tragic.
There must have been an “overlap” where the older, smaller ‘vators with 4 sloped shoulders were still being built, along with the bigger ones w/2 sloped shoulders…
Bad enough to be knocking them down with cats and back-hoes, some clown torches the oldest one!!
Where would I find a photo of a Searle Grain elevator. My Dad worked at the one in Mintlaw and in Busby.
Thanks for your comment, Gloria. For more information on wooden grain elevators, you could search the Alberta Heritage Survey Program database. Some of the entries don’t have digital photographs (yet) so contact us with the survey number if you’d like us to search the files.
The Royal Alberta Museum also has an on-line exhibit about grain elevators in Alberta called Finding Our Way Home that may be of interest to you.
I have a photo of the Mintlaw Searle which was moved to a farm east of Blackfalds (reprinted yellow), and the Rowley Searle and the Gartly Searle now located on a farm east of Munson,. I also have photos from a few in Saskatchewan (St. Walburg and Waitville). As far as I know, only 3 Searles remain standing in Alberta, with 2 remaining in Saskatchewan.
I also have an old photo of Busby with the Searle and UGG elevators from Sept 16, 1960 which I think I got from the Busby history book.
Jim A Pearson
1. Google “Searle Grain Elevators”, under “images”; some are printable straight from the images. 2. Used bookstores and/or book sales are good places to find older “Canadiana” books that often have good pics of Elevators.
I’m working on a photography project and looking to photograph grain elevators in Alberta. Can anyone direct me to towns that still have their elevators as of this date, Jan 2, 2016?
Thank you for your comment. Below is a list from late 2015. Good luck with your photography project!
Alberta Communities with Wooden Country Elevators
Total of 14 PHRs (Provincial Historic Resource).
NOTE: other elevators exist, but these are the ones that are still on their original locations.
Andrew – at least one PHR designated elevator
Big Valley – at least one PHR designated elevator
Castor – at least one PHR designated elevator
De Winton (x2)
Grassy Lake (x2)
Hines Creek (x2)
Hussar (1 maybe 2)
Leduc – at least one PHR designated elevator
Mayerthorpe – at least one PHR designated elevator
Meeting Creek (x2, 1 PHR)- at least one PHR designated elevator
Milk River (x3)
Paradise Valley – at least one PHR designated elevator
Radway – at least one PHR designated elevator
Rowley (x3, 3 PHR)- at least one PHR designated elevator
Scandia – at least one PHR designated elevator
St. Albert (x2, 2 PHR)- at least one PHR designated elevator
Three Hills (x2)
Are you telling me that Warner now only has 4 elevators? There were 6 there, 5 years ago…if that’s true, that is a major disgrace for our province, and a travesty and cultural loss for our country, as, with 6 elevators, WE had “Canada’s Last Row” (Inglis Man. only has 5…)
Yes, that is the case. Two of the elevators were taken down in late 2014. This article has more information: http://www.albertafarmexpress.ca/2014/11/25/demolition-at-warners-famed-grain-elevator-row/
Great – thank you!
Sent from my iPhone
Does anyone remember Peter Schmitz who operated the Sprice Grove Searle Grain elevator until 1952? I am his youngest son Bob Schmitz and live in Fremont Hills, Mo. Would love to have a picture of that elevator. Many memories of horse drqpawn wagons bringing in loads of grain.