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Manitoba History: Historic Sites of Manitoba: The Grain Elevator Countdown

by Gordon Goldsborough
Winnipeg

Number 85, Fall 2017

The MHS is compiling an inventory of historic sites around Manitoba as an encouragement to tourism and management. Some sites in that inventory are featured in issues of Manitoba History. Eds.

Once a dominant element in the agricultural landscape of southern Manitoba, wooden grain elevators are an increasingly rare commodity. In the 1960s, there were over 700 of them. Today, as a result of grain company consolidation, increasing acreage of individual farms, and improvements in the provincial road network that enables fleets of trucks and semi-trailers to haul grain much farther than was ever done a generation ago, there are fewer than 50 corporate elevators. Most of the surviving wooden elevators are in private hands, used mostly to store grain rather than to receive it for shipment.

In 2014, retired surgical nurse Jean McManus began driving around the province with her husband Tighe, intent on photographing every one of the survivors. In the course of her quest, Jean captured unique views of over 100 elevators and offered copies to the Manitoba Historical Society to become part of our growing collection of information on historic buildings. Jean’s enthusiasm and industry motivated me to dig into archival records for two of the larger grain companies of the 20th century: Manitoba Pool Elevators, whose records are held at the S. J. McKee Archives at Brandon University, and United Grain Growers at the University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections. I found names of workers at each of the elevators operated by these companies through the years, photographs of the elevators taken by the construction crews who maintained them, and scores of internal reports. Combined with summaries of federally-licensed elevators compiled annually by the Canadian Grain Commission going back to the 1920s, I was able to write short “biographies” for each of the elevators that once existed in Manitoba. These biographies, illustrated with photos from a variety of sources, are published weekly in collaboration with The Manitoba Cooperator in a series called “This Old Elevator.”

Timber! In September 2013, Winnipeg photographer Morgan Turney captured the final moments of the elevator at Marquette. The demolition technique is akin to felling a tree: the equipment operator chops at the base of the elevator until it topples.
Source: Morgan Turney

In 2017, three wooden elevators were demolished—at Morris, Meadows, and Killarney—and several others are in imminent danger. We believe it is imperative to document these disappearing prairie icons before they are mostly gone. To keep track of the dwindling number, I have created the Grain Elevator Countdown (linked here) on the MHS website. Go there to see an interactive map of the remaining elevators. At the time of this publication, the count stands at 137.

We thank Clara Bachmann for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

We thank S. Goldsborough for assistance in preparing the online version of this article.

Page revised: 7 January 2021

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