Grain elevators important to Alberta’s past

The people of Ponoka may have noticed the disappearance of the town and area’s grain elevators which once dotted the skyline. The fate of these elevators has rarely been questioned until now.

  • Jan. 2, 2008 6:00 a.m.

The people of Ponoka may have noticed the disappearance of the town and area’s grain elevators which once dotted the skyline. The fate of these elevators has rarely been questioned until now. Jim A. Pearson has taken on a mission to research grain elevators in Alberta and British Columbia, enough research to put together a book. Remembering Alberta’s past is important to Pearson and his love of history has helped guide him to write Vanishing Sentinels, The Remaining Grain Elevators of Alberta and British Columbia.

Pearson said that as a kid grain elevators were a big part of his childhood memories and that as he grew older the grain elevators began disappear.

“Growing up on a farm as kids we were amazed at how big they were. Later we began to notice that they were disappearing but we didn’t think much about it,” said Pearson.

It wasn’t until Pearson witnessed the demolition of a grain elevator that he became interested in mapping the locations of past and present elevators. While he researched for the map the history of the elevators and places gained his interest as well and sparked thoughts of writing a book.

“I watched one being torn down one day and became interested in doing a map on it,” he said. “I then began to get into the history of these grain elevators and I just kept going.”

Pearson’s research has been hands on and conducted thoroughly.

“I did a lot of research. I went to museums, talked with people, read a lot of books and did a lot of traveling all over Alberta.”

Pearson began the maps in August of 2002 and photos in 2004.

Pearson said that approximately 1750 elevators were in Alberta and British Columbia with around 258 remaining to this day.

The causes for their disappearances vary but Pearson said that there was a rapid vanishing of these elevators when the railroads began being uprooted.

“Some burnt down, some were not kept up properly and other just were due to age,” he said. “After rail lines began being torn out the grain elevators were all of a sudden gone too. There wasn’t much notice when that started happening.”

According to Pearson’s research Ponoka and area boasted of more than five of these sentinels. There was the Wetaskiwin Produce elevator that was taken over by Midland Grain which later became UGG. There was the Alberta Pacific elevator and the Federal, which became the Alberta Wheat pool. The Pioneer elevator was built in 1906 and burned down in 1909, it was later rebuilt. The elevator remained until 1968 until it burned down again. Another grain elevator in the area was the Alberta Wheat pool that was built in 1926 which also burned down in 1951 and was later rebuilt as well.

Pearson said that in the year 2000 Ponoka had two Agricore elevators and one ex-pioneer. All of these disappeared by 2005.

Pearson has been involved with different organizations and groups to help preserve the history of these grain elevators that he believes are a major part of Alberta’s history.

“These grain elevators were the sentinels. Pilots used them and drivers too. You could always tell where you were. They were the signposts which at the end of the day showed us all the way home.”

He believes that the grain elevators are unique and should be brought to the attention of youth and the upcoming generations.

“I’ve always been interested in history but nowadays it’s like a lot of kids don’t remember these buildings when they see them. Once these elevators are gone, they’re gone. You can build a new one but it’s a lot of lumber and it would have no character or meaning. I think preserving them, in the long run, is worth it.”

Vanishing Sentinels, the Remaining Grain Elevators of Alberta and British Columbia includes information on the elevators and the rail lines that connected the elevators and is complimented by over 400 full colour photos. The book also gives information about the opening dates, owners and fate of the historic grain elevators.

Pearson produced 100 books to test them out and has pre-sold 97 in 16 days since Dec. 4.

“I only made 100 copies to see how this would work and it has been working out great,” he said. “The demand has been high and I’ll be printing more of them.”

For more information about the book, or the grain elevators themselves, call Pearson at (403) 364-3925.