Calgary

Nanton grain elevators granted historic designation

The designation ⁠— a form of legal protection that helps to recognize and protect historic places ⁠— means the elevators will be eligible for more funding and grant opportunities than they were before, from both the provincial and federal government. 

The appointment means the site will have more access to provincial and federal funding

After being saved from demolition, Nanton's grain elevators — two that are twin structures and one that stands alone — have received a Provincial Historic Resources designation. (Submitted by Leo Wieser)

At 95 and 93-years-old, Nanton's grain elevators have held a steadfast place on the prairie skyline through most of Southern Alberta's recent memory. 

On Saturday, after housing many a bushel between them over the past decades, the threesome were officially granted designation as a provincial historic resource. Two of the elevators are twin structures, the third stands on its own. 

The designation ⁠— a form of legal protection that helps to recognize and protect historic places ⁠— means the elevators will be eligible for more funding and grant opportunities than they were before, from both the provincial and federal government. 

Leo Wieser is president of the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Center. He said the historical stamp will be pivotal in making necessary repairs possible, and will also help to further develop the site as a tourist attraction. 

Wieser receives a dedicated plaque on behalf of the Government of Alberta, today at a celebration for the grain elevator's designation (Helen Pike/CBC)

"The designation is fantastic because it means legally that the lands and the elevators themselves are protected," said Wieser. 

"We are now officially starting to work with the province of Alberta to sustain this site and to ensure that it has a future."

Wieser noted that the efforts to get the site its designation had been underway for ten years before it was finally granted. 

A landmark saved

The three remaining grain elevators were once part of a row of seven. After the last of these was decommissioned in 2002, they all faced demolition. 

But thanks to the efforts and donations of the citizens of Nanton — about 90 kilometres south of Calgary — and the surrounding area, three of the landmarks were saved, and restored to their original paint colours. 

Sitting on the former Canadian Pacific Railway Macleod branch line, only 500 metres away from the historic site of the CP Rail station, the elevators are some of the last remaining examples of 20th century industrial architecture in the province. 

Also on site is one of the Alberta's last remaining coal sheds. 

Wieser hopes that those who visit the grain elevators also take time to check out the town of Nanton, where he said there's a great candy store. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Roger Reid, MLA for Livingstone-Macleod, said he remembers many trips to the local grain elevator during harvest season with his grandpa when he was young. 

"The elevators were an important part of our daily life ... for those of us that grew up in Southern Alberta, grew up on farms," said Reid.

"[They're] part of what helped build our province as agriculture grew."

Reid said that while the ancient structures can be challenging to maintain, it's important to preserve at least some of them. 

He added the historical designation is a tribute to the community spirit of Nanton, and that it will act as a trigger to move intentions for the site forward. 

Future plans in motion

Since the three elevators were saved, they've acted as a site for movie screenings and have had colourful light shows projected upon their walls. Most recently, the elevators were lit up in the colours of the Ukrainian flag. 

Wieser said they aren't stopping there. 

"We are in discussions of how to make this space more vibrant, to make it more of a centre for engagement so that we can bring more people in to enjoy the space in a way that they can stay for a while," said Wieser. 

There are some practical matters that need to be seen to first, like necessary restorations to the coal shed and the grain elevator doors, said Wieser. But aside from that, Wieser says they have their sights set on hosting film events, puppetry shows and even opera singing at the site.

"It's really exciting and the tourism potential is vast," said Wieser. 

In the meantime, he hopes that passersby stop to take in the grain elevators (or book a tour in advance) and take a detour to Nanton for a coffee while they're at it. 

He only warned potential visitors of a group of feline friends who have made the site their mice-hunting grounds. 

Wieser said the cats aren't quite friendly enough to pet, but are well-cared for in exchange for their mousing abilities.

With files from Helen Pike

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