FALLING NUMBER: More wooden grain elevators bite the dust in Manitoba

Just 133 wooden country elevators remain in Manitoba, says a Manitoba 
historian who also estimates about 40 per cent of these are now abandoned

Rural Manitoba lost one more wooden grain elevator last week with the demolition of a United Grain Growers site at Birch River (above).

The building was owned by the RM of Mountain which took possession of it in a tax sale after its private owner passed away.

Equipment operators rolled in March 5 after council deliberated on what to do with the huge, dilapidated wooden structure.

This wasn’t an easy choice to make, but the condition of the site had become too much a liability for the municipality, said Mountain’s chief administrative officer.

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“There was some concern of it being a fire hazard right in the middle of town,” said Paige Larocque.

“We’ve had a few incidents where someone did try to light it on fire. Council just wanted to eliminate that risk and that’s why it decided to get rid of it.

“It was a very difficult decision,” she added. “I know a lot of people in town feel it’s a landmark.”

Birch River’s elevator is just the most recent to come down. Since last May Manitoba has lost another half-dozen elevators.

A former Manitoba Pool Elevator at Clanwilliam, also unused, was demolished last month. Last April a Paterson elevator at Morris came down and another Paterson site was demolished at Meadows in July. In May the Manitoba Pool Elevator at Hathaway was demolished and another former UGG site at Killarney came down in September. The Central Grain facility on Archibald Street in Winnipeg was also demolished last summer.

The Clanwilliam elevator site was demolished in February 2018.
photo: Darryl Holyk

A Manitoba historian with an avid interest in country grain elevators, and keeping tabs on the condition of those that remain, says it’s likely just a matter of time before a lot more are gone.

Gordon Goldsborough — who supplies the photos for this newspaper’s ‘This Old Elevator’ series — now counts just 133 wooden elevators still standing in Manitoba. He has been assessing the condition of these remaining sites with information provided by readers and during his own visits and travels in rural Manitoba.

It looks to him right now as many as 40 per cent of those last standing sites are no longer in use, Goldsborough said.

“What that says to me is there is a very large number of elevators that are probably not long for this world.”

Goldsborough’s contacts with municipal officials and landowners, plus notifications through social media, help him keep abreast of which ones are next due for demolition.

He’d hoped to get to Birch River to document the deconstruction, but word came too late, he said.

“I was hoping to get up there and see it happen.”

He visited the Clanwilliam site last summer to take photos and it was obvious its days were numbered, he said.

“The Clanwilliam site was in pretty rough shape,” he said. “It had been thoroughly vandalized and there was pigeon poop all over the place. It was pretty obvious it had not been maintained for quite a long time.”

Another view of the rubble of the Clanwilliam elevator.
photo: Darryl Holyk

Goldsborough has set up an online site ‘Manitoba Elevator Countdown’ where these last 133 elevator sites are mapped and hopes people will look at it and contact him with updates on sites, including more pending demolitions.

He won’t be surprised to learn there’s fewer than 133 left, he said.

“By publicizing this list I’m sure there’ll be someone who will say, ‘you’ve missed one,’ and I’ll find out about another that’s come down.”

Goldsborough arrived at his 40 per cent abandonment figure after determining about 50 per cent remains still actively used as grain storage facilities.

Another 32 per cent was “obviously abandoned,” he said.

“The remaining percentage I couldn’t tell.”

This former Manitoba Pool Elevator at Clanwilliam, Man. was disused and in very rough shape last year, says the photographer who captured this drone footage July 30, 2017.
photo: Gordon Goldsborough

Last ones standing

The Manitoba Historical Society website has a map link to the Manitoba Elevator Countdown. The countdown includes only wooden elevators, not the concrete ones. Symbols on the map denote what type of site it is, museum sites such as Inglis at Plum Coulee are in pink, one elevator in green is not at its last commercial location but still stands at a Hutterite colony. Clicking on a symbol on the map brings up an information page for a particular elevator.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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