May 2, 2014
It is moving into that time of year when one of the best things that anyone can do for themselves in Canada is to drive across the glorious golden Canadian prairies. Punctuated with small and sometimes tiny Prairie communities, these towns and villages are like a home without a fireplace if they do not have at least one grain elevator.
The grain elevator stands, like a lighthouse on the ocean, as a sentinel, guiding the weary traveller to a much needed gas and toilet break. The first grain was built in Manitoba in 1879 and by 1933 there were 5758 dotting the prairie landscape. Used for storing grain before being shipped on freight trains to sell, grain elevators and the number of them along the railway in each community indicated the size and prosperity of a community.
With the constant decrease of rail lines has come the near-demise of grain elevators. Although many have been demolished, heritage groups on the Canadian prairies have been working to maintain some of these landmarks. This has resulted in saving some of the elevators. In Inglis, Manitoba, due to federal government support, the five elevators there have been declared a national historic site.
In the 1980s, I wrote an article about the people of the tiny Ferland, Saskatchewan village working together to save the grain elevator there:
January 12, 1983
Ferland saves Pioneer
by Tanya Lester
The Pioneer Grain Elevator in Ferland is still in operation due to the lobbying work done by the Ferland Elevator Retention Group.
Aime Fournier, the group’s president, said now that the Pioneer Elevator is continuing to operate in the town, there will be further pressure to increase the elevator’s grain handling to its 500,000 or 750,000 bushel capacity.
Mr. Fournier said the elevator is presently losing a third of its business because of inadequate grain storage facilities. He said younger farmers, who cannot afford to wait for grain sales, have been hauling their grain to other towns when there is no room at the Ferland elevator.
Pioneer officials claim plans to increase the number of grain bins will get underway in the spring, Mr. Fournier said.
Originally, the Ferland Elevator Retention Group formed when Pioneer was planning to close the elevator in the town. “If we would have lost the elevator, then we would have lost the town,” Mr. Fournier said.
If the elevator had closed, the businesses in town would have lost income from the farmers. The town would have also lost the elevator taxes. Mr. Fournier and others did not want to lose the town where they were born and raised.
With the signatures of 39 farmers indicating their wishes to keep the elevator open, the Ferland Elevator Retention Group began talking with Pioneer officials.
Mr. Fournier said they told the officials if the elevator was closed, Ferland area farmers would boycott Pioneer elevators in any other town to which they would be forced to haul.
Mr. Fournier talked with Otto Lang, Pioneer vice-chair and finally told the president of Pioneer that he had a month to make a decision concerning the fate of the elevator. The farmers had already approached Cargill and N.M. Patterson to build an elevator in the town.
Finally, in February 1981, Pioneer decided to build a new elevator leg and move two elevators together to improve the grain storage capacity. New scales also added to the improvements.
The “new” Pioneer elevator opened a year ago in February while the official opening was held in June. After seeing the elevator in operation for a year, Mr. Fournier said although improvements are still needed, it is “300 per cent better than what we had before.”
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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester is available on amazon.com where you can read the first few pages and/or purchase it. You can also buy the book from the author when she is in your community.