Saskatchewan

Future of grain elevators uncertain as one of the last repairmen retires

Manitoba's George Payette is one of the last grain elevator repair workers on the Prairies.

Grain elevator repair work is a 'dirty, dirty' job, George Payette says

Grain elevators were a common sight in Saskatchewan and the rest of the Prairies during the 20th century. This one was photographed in Carey, Man. (Jean McManus )

George Payette has been working with grain elevators across the Prairies in one way or another for more than 40 years, and as he edges toward retirement, he doesn't know of anyone else who will continue the work.

Payette started his own company in 2004, based out of Roseisle, Man., and has been working with a small crew of his own maintaining the towering structures.

"What I love about it is I'm able to help people keep [the elevators] maintained to the best of our ability," Payette told CBC Radio's The Morning Edition on Tuesday. 

Grain elevators were a common sight in Saskatchewan and the rest of the Prairies during the 19th and 20th centuries. By 1890, there were roughly 90 primary elevators in the province and the number reached as high as 6,000 during the 1930s.

Nowadays, people are more likely to see elevators as derelict landmarks or tourist attractions rather than functioning agricultural structures. Many elevators have been decommissioned or demolished in Saskatchewan since the 1990s.
Many elevators have been decommissioned or demolished in Saskatchewan since the 1990s. This one was photographed in Haskett, Man. (Jean McManus )

There are not many people in the business of elevator repair. Payette said his business is the only one he knows of, though there is an Alberta-based one that provides grain elevator restoration.

"It's a dirty, dirty job," Payette said.

The job often involves run-ins with wildlife, rodents, and getting into some situations that may make others anxious, such as heights or crawling under an elevator that has been lifted for foundation restoration. 

It's not cheap to repair the structures either.

Still, Payette said it is nice to see the elevators maintained as prairie landmarks, even if they are getting fewer in number.

"It is kind of sad but, you know, there's not much you can do about it." 


With files from CBC Radio's The Morning Edition

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