It’s hard to imagine the effort it would have taken staff at the Board of Grain Commissioners for Canada (now Canadian Grain Commission), to gather the statistics reported in what became the Grains Statistics Weekly.
The number of country elevators in Western Canada peaked at 5,758 in 1933. In January 1921, when the publication began, presumably the number was lower but still in the thousands.
Rural roads were poor and most winters navigable only by horse and sleigh.
Telephones were scarce, but elevators were served by rail, and the rail brought mail and the telegraph.
Some grain statistics were sent via the telegraph, Jim Blanchard wrote in his book A History of the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) 1912 to 1987.
“I think it would have been a big effort every week to get it (the Grain Statistic Weekly) done,” CGC statistician Kevin Morgan said in an interview Jan. 19.
“My predecessors, I am sure, would have been in regular contact with grain companies taking their numbers,” he said.
Today a lot of the statistics come from the grain companies, as well as CGC inspectors.
“We get a lot of information from grain companies as far as railway cars arriving at terminal elevators,” Morgan said. “That’s all computer generated and all really, really good information in terms of quality.”
While gathering that data a century ago was a huge task, the fact they went to the trouble to do it demonstrates how important the information was, Bruce Burnett, director of markets and weather for MarketsFarm, said in an interview.
“Obviously the biggest change is computers and their ability to handle this stuff,” he said. “I think a lot of the mechanics here have not changed over the years.”
Grain is still delivered to elevators, weighed, blended and shipped out in rail cars to export terminals and then unloaded and loaded onto ships. The size of all those things have changed, but otherwise it is still the same.
“With computers and automation that has changed how quickly the data can be shared,” Burnett said. “In terms of preparing the reports there would have been rooms full of people doing it, not only at the grain commission but at grain companies themselves because it was important for them to understand how much grain they bought and how much grain was in store and how much grain should be shipped.”