For over a century, wooden gabled grain elevators, known as Wheat Kings, have defined the Canadian prairies. They are faintly anthropomorphic, with a pointy head, sloping shoulders, and stout torso. But one by one, they are vanishing, going the way of the small-town railroad station and manned lighthouses.
The first grain elevator sprang up alongside the tracks of the newborn Canadian Pacific Railway at Gretna, Manitoba, in 1881-four years before Riel’s Northwest Rebellion. By 1933, close to 6,000 grain elevators dotted Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. These simple and durable railside appurtenances became focal points in prairie social and economic life.
But the consolidation of small farms into mega-farms and the abandonment of railway branch lines spell the end for the traditional elevator. Today’s farmers increasingly ship their grain by long-haul tractor-trailer to regional “high-throughput grain handling centres” where super-efficient, steel and concrete plants each do the work of a dozen old-style elevators.
Fewer than 1,200 prairie cathedrals remain standing, a handful may survive as heritage artifacts. The rest will succumb to demolition crews.
Flickr Set: I Love Grain Elevators