My fascination of wooden grain elevators began in July 2013 just two weeks after the great flood of 2013 in Calgary, Alberta. My wife and I were on the +15 level of the BMO Centre on the Calgary Stampede grounds looking at the old posters from Stampedes past when we stumbled upon an area by the Wonton King called the Grain Academy Museum. On a lark, we decided to check it out and see what it was all about. After all, what exactly could a museum dedicated to grain have inside?
There were a few tools, relics, and cased displays of various grains inside, nothing really out of the ordinary or unexpected. What really caught my attention was this wooden model with a glass front that someone named Bob was giving a demonstration on. What Bob had there was a working scale model of a wooden grain elevator with a front cut out so that you can see exactly how the whole mechanism worked. Apparently, Bob ran one of the grain elevators up North, knew all about the in’s and out’s of them and clearly still had a great passion for them. Watching the mechanics of the grain flow was just astonishing. I’m a sucker for old technology and had dabbled in mechanical watches, but this was something else. This was hybrid wooden/electrical/gravity mechanical technology from over a hundred years ago. Watching a lot of Ancient Aliens on History Television lately, how did anyone build anything back then? After the eye-opening grain elevator demonstration, we watched the model trains and heard about the vast railway networks that’s required for grain transport in Canada. After the tour, we started talking and I asked whether there were still any around that I could go see. I had lived in various cities all my life and haven’t had much exposure to Alberta outside of Calgary, Edmonton and Banff. Nanton! Bob told me, there’s a wooden grain elevator in Nanton and you can even go inside it. Sure enough, two weeks later when we visited Nanton there was a bright orange grain elevator that I can go inside of. That’s how the 8000km journey through a large part of Alberta in the summer/fall of 2013 all started.
The inner workings of grain elevators intrigues me from a technological stand point, but on the photographic side of things, I was drawn to the idea that you could determine a time / place from a photo just by looking at it. That photo couldn’t have been taken anywhere else on Earth. Just showing that photo to someone who’ve never visited or know anything about that place, they could tell you: Yeah, that’s Nanton. I really like the grain elevators with their location painted on their side. Grain elevators are quite unique to the places that have them, the companies and logos are different and even the shape of the grain elevator can be quite distinctive. Some have annexes of various size and shapes and some now have steel bins attached. Grain elevators are somewhat analogous to the windmills of Holland to me or even castles of the various parts of Europe. Each location has its own history and story to tell. It’s a reminder of those that came before us and the way that things used to be.
Alberta Grain Elevator Tours
Want to see one in person yourself?
I know the following grain elevators are open for public tours:
Grain Elevator Calendar
An 18 month 2014-2015 calendar featuring grain elevators from across Alberta Canada is available at lulu.com
There is also a free download version available that you can take and print elsewhere.