As It Happens

Preserving Prairie history: Alberta group works to save iconic grain elevator

The Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society is on a mission to preserve one of the last remaining grain elevators still left standing in the province.
This Ogilvie grain elevator, located in Wrentham, Alta., was built in 1925 and is the last of its kind on the province. A group of grain elevator enthusiasts are working to restore and preserve it. (Jason Sailer)

It's an iconic symbol of rural Prairie life: the wooden grain elevator.

Now, a small group of enthusiasts in Alberta is on a mission to preserve one of the last remaining structures in the province. 

Jason Sailer, president of the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society, recently purchased a grain elevator built in 1925. It once belonged to Ogilvie Flour Mills, a Canadian milling company that operated at the turn of the 20th century.

“It’s a rare specimen in Alberta, ” Sailer tells As It Happens host Carol Off, adding that the grain elevator, located in the southern hamlet of Wrentham, is the last remaining model of its kind from Ogilvie.

You don't even notice the towns anymore because the grain elevators are gone.- Jason Sailer, Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society

Grain elevators -- large, warehouse-like structures used for storing and shipping grain products -- use to be a common feature of the Canadian prairie skyline, but have fallen out of favour over the last few decades. 

Sailer says that companies have stopped using them and that while some are sold off to local farmers, the majority are demolished out of liability fears. 

”It is noticeable when you drive by these towns,” Sailer says. “You don't even notice the towns anymore because the grain elevators are gone.”

A few are preserved for historic value, which is the plan for the Ogilvie purchase. Sailer, who first became interested in grain elevators as a child living on a farm in Medicine Hat, says he would like to restore it to what it looked like in 1925.

The eventual goal is to re-locate the structure to Galt Historic Railway Park, an open-air museum east of Wrentham. Sailor hopes it can help teach the public about how grain elevators work as well as their historical and economic significance in Canada.

“Like a hands-on, working museum model, basically,” he says. 

Jason Sailer, right, and Cody Kapcsos are the founders of the Ogilvie Wooden Grain Elevator Society, a charity dedicated to preserving grain elevators. (Jason Sailer)

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