Our history: A bird’s-eye view of Austin

The storage archives of the Manitoba Agricultural Museum hold a number of items that the museum cannot display due to lack of proper display facilities.

One of the pieces is the promotional booklet Austin, Manitoba The Sort of Home You’ve been Looking for printed by the Austin Board of Trade circa 1912.

A photo in this booklet, labelled “Bird’s-eye view of Austin, Manitoba,” shows the museum elevator in use. A photo of a museum artifact in use is rare.

The elevator in the photo marked Western Canada Flour Mills Co. Ltd. was built in 1905 and sold to Manitoba Pool Elevators (MPE) in 1938. Sometime after that the elevator became an annex to another MPE elevator in Austin and used as an annex until 1975.

In the late 1970s, the elevator was donated and moved to the museum by MPE. As the driveway, scale and associated equipment had been removed when converted to an annex, MPE rebuilt the driveway to wagon standards and installed a wagon scale with built-in wagon lift that MPE found at Grandview.

Up to this time it was thought that this elevator had been built with the three-quarter-length cupola it currently features as no one could remember a different cupola on it.

However, the photo shows a much smaller cupola centred on the top of the building. Many early elevators were built to this design. However, the small cupola was cramped and larger cupolas were introduced to provide more space for the leg and gerber. By the 1920s, full-length cupolas were a standard design feature of elevators.

Another obvious change is the siding. As built, the elevator had wood clapboard installed and painted with red oxide paint. MPE began installing pressed tin tiles as siding on many of its elevators in the 1950s to reduce maintenance costs, which is probably when this elevator was tinned.

The photo is also interesting as it shows that the elevator in front of the WCFM elevator was built to a noticeably different design. The cupola runs, not at a right angle to the tracks, but parallel to the tracks.

There were a number of early elevators built to this design which differed in other aspects from the standard design that was emerging in 1905 when the WCFM elevator was built.

The main body in this early design was rectangular where the main body of the standard design was square. The driveway was not enclosed but merely had a canopy over the scale and pit.

In the promotional book there is a photo of the Peoples Flour Mill at Austin which featured an elevator of this design beside the flour mill.

Another interesting item in the photo is the large square structure in front of the rectangular elevator. Looking at what can be seen of the construction, it does not appear to be an annex. And annexes in this time period seem to be rare, probably because the technology to fill and empty them at the time was neither developed fully and costs at the time did not warrant annexes. But if is not an annex, what is it and why was it built so close to the elevator?

The Austin promotional books are being printed for sale at the museum. So drop by, pick up a copy and spend the day looking over the museum collection including the museum elevator, currently the oldest elevator preserved on the Prairies.

Who knows, maybe the booklet will persuade you to move to Austin.

About the author


Alex Campbell is a dedicated volunteer and Member of the Interpretation Committee at the Manitoba Agricultural Museum. http://ag-museum.mb.ca/



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