Among my nearly annual visits to the Canadian West, 1984 was a momentous year . At Portage la Prairie, Manitoba, I spent time trackside observing and photographing the many Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) freight trains, as well as VIA Rail passenger trains that emanated from the provincial capital of Winnipeg, fifty-five miles to the east. At Portage, more lines (subdivisions) spread out. During that June visit, my genial hosts (aunt and uncle!) let me use their Toyota to visit many nearby Manitoba towns.
While the Western Canadian grain industry was contracting—undergoing major changes—I realized that the handwriting was on the wall for Canada’s wooden “country” elevators. Consequently, I made the effort to photograph them. While doing so, I noticed myriad trackside details that completed the Manitoba trackside scene. Read more
In time, the Lethbridge (Alberta district, Northwest Territories) coal mines would feed all the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) steam locomotives in western Canada, as well as the stoves of its stations and many settler prairie homes. The slogan “Galt Coal Burns All Night” was emblazoned on signage wherever it was sold; lumber yards, grain elevators, and farm cooperatives. By 1890, the North-West Coal & Navigation Company (NWC&NC) averaged 90,000 tons delivered per year to Dunmore, and the CPR wanted more. Northwest Mounted Police Superintendent Deane reported the Galt mines could produce more than 1,000 tons per day – with the possibilities for more in sight.
The Trackside Photographer is pleased to present a new gallery of photographs by Eric Gagnon.
Prairie Elegy documents the final days of Western Canada’s Wooden Crib Grain Elevators. These evocative pictures record a time 30 years ago when the iconic structures were disappearing from the prairie landscape.
Eric wrote about his trip in “Wheat Filled Wonders” which we published in June. Now he generously shares 43 additional photos taken during the 1980’s as he traveled across Saskatchewan and Manitoba, following the tracks of the Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railroads that served the grain industry. The wooden elevators are now gone.
Prairie Elegy is listed under the Galleries menu at the top of the page, or click here to view.
It was 30 years ago. Disembarking from VIA Rail Canada’s Super Continental in Saskatoon, I began a Saskatchewan scavenger hunt photographing Canadian classics – wooden-crib grain elevators. Driving off in my rented Chevy Cavalier, map in hand across the seemingly endless prairie, my plan was to visit 50 towns over three days, overnighting in Davidson and Rosetown. My subjects were very visible on the horizon every eight to twelve miles!
Most other railfans might have chosen a more elusive quarry – Canadian National and Canadian Pacific grain pickup freights still serving a sinewy spiderweb of subdivisions. But I could already see, both literally and figuratively, the massive new concrete high-throughput elevators on the horizon. In the 10 years preceding my visit, the number of Saskatchewan’s grain elevators had already been cut in half. Time was of the essence.
Among my favourite scenes from this trip were three solitary elevators: Denny, Ridpath and Leach Siding. Lettered with elevator company names or logos and not augmented by annexes or silos, these prairie sentinels stood alone in summer’s heat and winter’s icy bite, guarding their golden harvest safely inside. Characteristically, each elevator had its own unloading shed, office and elevating equipment. Each awaited the arrival of 60-ton boxcars or 100-ton covered hoppers in ones or twos, fives or tens. Each posed politely as the sun arched in the boundless sky through morning, high noon til suppertime.
Now, thirty years on, I’m sharing the results with you. These three wooden-walled, wheat-filled wonders no longer stand – all systematically toppled in the name of sheer unromanticized progress.