Edmonton·Video

Disappearing sentinels: 5 grain elevators worth exploring in the capital region

Thousands of grain elevators once dotted the Prairies, but now only a handful remain. Five in the capital region stand out on the historic landscape and might make a destination worth exploring this summer.

'It's the workmanship and what it stands for'

Sid Livingstone, president of the local agricultural society, inside the grain elevator in Spruce Grove. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Alberta's grain elevators, those iconic symbols of the Prairies where harvests were weighed, sold, stored and shipped by rail, are now destinations for summer escapes in the capital region. 

Sid Livingstone looks up at the wooden beams inside an elevator at 120 Railway Ave. in Spruce Grove, 30 kilometres west of Edmonton.

"It's the workmanship and what it stands for," says Livingstone, president of the Spruce Grove and District Agricultural Society.

The Spruce Grove Grain Elevator at 120 Railway Ave. is a landmark that's stood since the 1950s. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

The elevator, built in 1958, was decommissioned in 1995 and designated a provincial historic resource in 2020. It's now open to the public for the summer and is free to tour.

The elevator was purchased for $1. It sits alongside a water tower, the museum and archive buildings and a red barn.

It's a gathering place for the community on Saturdays for the farmers market and for special events like the 50th anniversary agricultural society celebrations, set for August.

"We've had people come from other parts of Alberta that have no elevators in their community anymore so they come here. It brings back memories for them," says Livingstone

'It's a great showcase of the history of agriculture'

9 days ago
Duration 1:51
Take a tour and learn more about the Spruce Grove Grain Elevator west of Edmonton, Alta.

You can see more from the Spruce Grove Grain Elevator this week on Our Edmonton Saturday at 10 a.m., Sunday at noon and 11 a.m. Monday on CBC TV and CBC Gem. 

The elevator in Spruce Grove is a prime example of the telltale sentinels of the Prairies, but there are others to see in the capital region. 

St. Albert Grain Elevator Park

Two Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators — dating back to 1906 and 1929 — are at 4 Meadowview Dr. in St. Albert. 

St. Albert Grain Elevator Park is used for public functions like the Food Truck Event on June 19 from 12-4 p.m.

Geared to Father's Day, it's a free event featuring a dozen food trucks, live music and public tours of the grain elevators and historic homes on River Lots 23 and 24 exploring Métis and French Canadian history.

St. Albert Grain Elevator Park, with the train station and two grain elevators, is right next to River Lots 23 and 24. (Adrienne Lamb/CBC)

Leduc Heritage Grain Elevator

An  Alberta Wheat Pool elevator — a 30-metre tall, 32-bin single composite wood crib design — was built in 1978 and saved by local volunteers. 

It sits at 52nd Avenue and 47th Street in Leduc, where six other elevators once stood. 

The Alberta Legacy Development Society is a registered historic site hosting community events and public tours. Learn more about the elevator is available here.

'it's pretty much exactly as they left it'

2 years ago
Duration 1:45
Take a tour with museum coordinator Kerry Atkinson of the Leduc Heritage Grain Elevator.

The Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

A half-hour drive east of Edmonton along Highway 16, the grain elevator is one of more than 40 buildings at the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a site managed by the province of Alberta.

The Bellis Home Grain Co. elevator is staffed by costumed interpreters.

It's open Wednesday to Sunday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Big picture on big Prairie landmarks

Leo Wieser, president of the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre, says Edmonton and area organizations have done a good job of preserving these historic resources. 

"There's a number of them still standing, which is fantastic," says Wieser.

Three grain elevators left standing along the railway in the town of Nanton in southern Alberta. (Lori Stuart/Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre)

"The last count that I saw was that we were getting down into the 150 range, and this compared to the 1950s in Alberta alone, we were at almost 3,000 elevators," Wieser says. 

Wieser points to the huge expense to maintain the structures and the fact many end up falling to fire, like the Lake of the Woods Milling Company grain elevator in Elva, in southwest Manitoba, in April of this year. 

Canada's oldest grain elevator — 125-year-old wood —was ignited in a flash by a single ember.

The 125-year-old Lake of the Woods grain elevator in Elva, Man., went down in flames in April. (Submitted by Troy Angus)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adrienne Lamb

Host/Producer

Adrienne Lamb is the host and producer of Our Edmonton featured weekly on CBC TV. She served for several years as CBC Radio's national arts reporter in Edmonton. Prior to moving to Alberta in 2001, Adrienne worked at CBC in Ontario and New Brunswick. Adrienne is a graduate of Western University with a degree in English and Anthropology and a Masters in Journalism.

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