Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, Big Valley

Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator (DSC_5353 Historic Resources Management Branch).
Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator (DSC_5353 Historic Resources Management Branch).

Today’s blog post will no doubt please all of our railroad and grain elevator enthusiasts out there in the ether. On August 27, 2012, the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator in Big Valley was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. This grain elevator has heritage significance due essentially to the fact that it is…, well, it’s a grain elevator. These once dominant, landmark structures in rural Alberta have become iconic symbols, speaking to the province’s agricultural, social and railroad transportation history. This particular elevator also contributes to the cultural landscape of Big Valley, aiding in the visual communication of the community’s history as one of the province’s busiest railroad divisional points.

Wood-cribbed grain elevators such as the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Big Valley were once a dominant presence in the lives of most rural Albertans. These imposing, structures stood out on the horizon and could be seen from miles around. They were essential facilities for the sorting, storage, and transportation of grains and, as such, they also served an important social function as meeting places for area farmers. Although there were some variations in elevator design, size and services, they remained consistently similar in basic design and form over the years. This Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator was a relatively late addition, being built in 1960, but it shares much with its earlier predecessors, notably its vertical orientation, gable-roofed cupola, shed-roofed drive shed with earthen ramps and overall lack of fenestration.

(DSC_2647 Historic Resources Management Branch).
View of the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, Big Valley (DSC_2647 Historic Resources Management Branch).

In 1912, Big Valley had been selected as a divisional point on the Canadian Northern Railway’s (CNoR) Battle River Subdivision. At one point it possessed a large railyard and a number of important railroad maintenance facilities and storage areas for fuel, water and freight. Largely supported by the railroad, Big Valley was a bustling centre with a large population. In the late-1920s, Big Valley’s boom period came to an end when the divisional point was moved to Mirror on the former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line.

Although the 1960 Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator was built long after the Big Valley’s glory days as a divisional point, its presence adds to the interpretation of the community’s railroad heritage, particularly when considered together with the presence of other designated historical resources, such as the historic CNoR railway station and the remains of the roundhouse and frequent visits by the Canadian National Railways 6060 steam locomotive.

More information on the Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator in Big Valley can be found on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.

Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator

Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator, Castor

When the Canadian Pacific Railway began to survey a grade west from Lacombe to Kerrobert, Saskatchewan in 1904, a number of prospective farmers began to apply for homesteads on land just off of the rail grade.  By 1906, interest began to subside, for the line had not gotten east of Stettler. In the spring of 1909 however, the government of Alberta announced lucrative bond guarantees for the extension of branch lines, and, during the following summer, construction activity was intense throughout the province.  This included the CPR line east from Stettler to the Beaver Dam Creek. Here, at the end of steel, a station was erected and a townsite subdivided called Castor, the French word for Beaver.  As the agricultural hinterland instantly filled up with settlers, the community of Castor became an agricultural boom town. In November 1909, it was incorporated as a village, and, in June of the following year, it became a town with over 500 people, holding all the commercial and social facilities required of a farming center.

Among the necessities for such a town were grain elevators.  As early as June 1910, it was announced that the Alberta Pacific Grain Company was building at Castor, Halkirk and Tees.  The 35,000 bushel structure at Castor would be completed later that fall.  During the winter of 1910-11, local farmers were able to market their grain.  In an unusual move, the elevator was located on the same side of the railway track as Main Street.  In 1913, the rail line was extended eastward past Coronation, eventually reaching Kerr Robert.  This gave Castor a direct line to the grain terminals at the Lakehead.  As a result, three other elevators were soon built, and Castor soon began to benefit from the high grain prices of World War I.  Indeed, by 1917, the original Alberta Pacific elevator was proving too small, and so the Company constructed a larger one, designed to store upward to 45,000 bushels.

Although Castor soon began to decline as a community, its population dropping to 625 by 1941, the elevators continued to survive, being in the center of such a rich agricultural district.  In 1967, The 1917 Alberta Pacific structure was taken over by the Federal Grain Company, and, in 1972, by the Alberta Wheat Pool.  Its most recent owner/operator was the United Grain Growers, which closed it down in the mid 1990’s in favor of a larger and more efficiently run concrete structure in the district.  The structure survived however and was eventually acquired by the Castor & District Museum Society, which is attempting to undertake its restoration.

The historical significance of the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator in Castor lies in its provision of structural evidence of the method of storing and marketing grain in rural Alberta during most of the 20th century.  This structure is particularly important in that it dates from 1917, a period in time when crops were bountiful and the demand for wheat was high because of the war in Europe.  It is important also for the role it played in the development of Castor, a community which sprang to life in 1910 with the arrival of the railway, and continued to serve a large agricultural hinterland, the existence of which depended upon the marketing of grain.

Written by: David Leonard, Historian

Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator.

Alberta’s Wooden Country Grain Elevators

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.

Rowley Grain Elevator Row, Provincial Historic Resource

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)
Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator Site Complex, Meeting Creek, Provincial Historic Resource

Additional statistics:

  • 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)
Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator, Paradise Valley, Provincial Historic Resource

For a list of communities in Alberta with designated and non-designated elevators, please click here.

Please Note:

  • 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.

Additional Information:

Written by: Dorothy Field, Heritage Survey Program Coordinator