All she needed was one nice photo of something that represented an iconic Manitoba scene, but what Winnipeg amateur photographer Jean McManus got into was a much larger, history-rich project.

McManus, a retired Winnipeg nurse, set out with her camera in June 2014 to take one nice photo of an old grain elevator for a photo contest she wanted to enter. 

"I retired and I was claustrophobic," she said. "I worked in a place that didn't even have windows for years. I just wanted to get out. 

"I had this picture of what I wanted to do and I went expecting the first elevator would work and it didn't, and the second didn't work and the third didn't work," she added.

It was then that she tasked her husband, whose hobby was navigation, GPS and mapping, with finding all of the grain elevators in Manitoba. 

Inglis elevators

The grain elevators at Inglis, Man., in July 2014. (Jean McManus/Manitoba Historical Society )

"By the time I got the picture I wanted, we were on a roll and just stayed on with it," McManus added.

More than 1,000 pictures and 130 locations later, she had an extensive library of the existing elevators standing in Manitoba. 

Her quest eventually drew the attention of Gordon Goldsborough at the Manitoba Historical Society. 

"Well the initial incentive is that I'm mapping historical sites of all kinds around the province, so I'm looking for things like one-room school houses and a variety of other buildings," Goldsborough said. "It was a natural extension to go on and look at grain elevators too.

'By the time I got the picture I wanted, we were on a roll and just stayed on with it.' - Jean McManus 

"What Jean had realized, and what I now realize, is that the vast majority of them [grain elevators] are now gone."
MHS has now mapped more than 150 grain elevators on their website, a far cry from the 700 that once stood overlooking the Manitoba landscape, according to Goldsborough. 

McManus has photographed 160 elevators at 132 separate locations in the province. 

To her knowledge, she has photos of all of the remaining elevators that stand along rail-road lines in Manitoba.

However, she is still seeking out a few that she has heard are still standing in private farm yards and other locations. 

She defines an elevator as a structure that has a wooden elevator at it's core. She is not photographing the new, sophisticated elevators built out of concrete. 

Race against time 

And while she enjoys the beauty of Manitoba and exploring landscapes and other features, there is a sense of urgency to capture the history of the grain elevator.

McManus has counted at least eight elevators that have been demolished since she photographed them. 

"Once we got mapping out where these were we got a little bit interested of it in a historical point. They are so expensive to maintain and they are a liability if they aren't being used," she said.

"We will have a generation in the near future that has never seen a grain elevator" - Gordon Goldsborough 

"We want to document the remaining elevators," said Goldsborough. "Capture information on them before they are gone from living memory." 

And aside from photos of the hundreds that have since been demolished, Goldsborough is also looking for any information or stories about the structures to add to the MHS website. 

"We will have a generation in the near future that has never seen a grain elevator and I think they will be quite interested to see what these look like," he said. 

"Manitoba elevators are a little bit like the lighthouses are on the east coast," McManus added. "So if you can find ways to sustain them, it's progress in our opinion."