'Disappearing landmarks': The historical significance behind Sask. grain elevators
SASKATOON -- As grain elevators are brought down across the province, some are taking the time to remember the significance of the structures and their place on the prairie landscape.
Kurtis Kocay is a farmer in Saskatchewan, dealing a lot with grain shipments. He has met a lot of older farmers who reminisce about the chit chat that would go on at these elevators back in the day.
Now, he says those same farmers are watching them get torn down. The Meecham elevator was recently torn down.
“When these structures go down, its very sad. I’ve seen it before in our local town, they cried. It’s a very big loss for them,” Kocay said.
“They’re just kind of neat, they’re like a lighthouse of the prairies. The uniqueness of how they’re built out of wood and stuff. It’s sad how they are disappearing landmarks.”
Kocay said several factors came into play over the years to make the elevators obsolete.
“They open up these new large concrete terminals that are able to produce and turn over more tons and serve a larger, wider area.
“Between production-wise and railway capabilities, now they can spot 100-150 car trains. These old ones can hold only 10-15 car spots,” Kocay said.
As these elevators become less and less important, Kocay said many were left to sit and over the years they have begun to wear down to a point where many have to be demolished.
“Usually they get abandoned and usually no one wants to take them over. Farmers nowadays have storage capacity on their farms the size of these old elevators,”
“They kind of become a liability, falling apart, not maintained and cared for. That’s where a lot of the choices are to demolish them and get rid of them, which is sad.”
THE RISE OF GRAIN ELEVATORS
Bill Waiser, a local historian and author, said the elevators once served a big purpose in the province.
Without them, early farming would have been a lot more difficult.
“Farmers couldn’t haul their grain more than 10 miles to a delivery point or it wasn’t economical. You’ve got the building of branch lines, and along the branch line you’ve got a system of elevators along the line, that’s where the term ‘line elevators’ came from,” Waiser said.
Waiser said initially only a handful of companies owned the elevators, leading to a monopoly that saw grain price fixes.
“There were about 1,000 of them by the start of The Great War. Farmers constantly complain that they felt cheated by these elevators by the monopoly they had,” Waiser said.
“They established what was called the Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company. Farmers came together and pooled their resources with provincial help and bought their own elevators, farmer bought, farmer owned.”
For years after that the elevators were a staple in the agricultural industry, up until the 1950s when farms got bigger and the elevators began to lose some of their usefulness when larger concrete grain terminals began being used.
PRESERVING THE PAST
As the elevators phased out of regular farm use, they still served a purpose to people like Jack Robson, who has spent more than 20 years travelling around to take pictures of the structures, and in the past year he has decided to turn his hobby into a book.
“We started taking pictures, elevators, churches etc. But the elevators were always part and parcel a part of our lives, for a Canadian farm boy. They are pretty important,” Robson said.
Robson is working on a book with 1,200 pictures of 1,140 elevators in the province, his attempt at preserving this piece of Saskatchewan’s history.
“They were the tallest points in the Saskatchewan. They were identifiable for miles and miles and they identified there was a town there,” Robson said.
“We were agricultural. Everyone’s money was made hauling grain to those local elevators. In those elevators, there was meetings, there was coffee time. An awful lot of chit chat.”
The book will be sold at $100 to those who request it directly through Robson.
He can be reached at 306-365-2004.