Grain Elevator History
The Spruce Grove Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator was saved from demolition when it closed in 1995. This is the last wooden grain elevator to be seen standing along Highway 16A, going west. At one time, thousands of elevators proudly stood along the railway tracks of communities across the Canadian prairies. Of the 1600 that once defined the Alberta skyline, 258 wooden cribbed elevators remain today. This elevator serves as a testament to the strong agricultural heritage of the province and as a reminder of the economic base which still serves Albertans and Canadians.
Alberta has a proud agricultural past, and continues to have a strong agricultural foundation. It ranks second in terms of Canada’s agricultural producers, following Saskatchewan closely. While the number of farming families has decreased in the past decade, the products produced by the farmer continue to strengthen our economy. Did you know that nearly 52 million acres of land in Alberta are used for crop and livestock production; growing just over 1/3 of Canada’s major field crops? Next time you take a drive and notice the bright yellow fields of canola, or the herds of cattle grazing along the highway, think about the abundance in which we live.
Comments made by many people touring the elevator are coloured with a longing for simpler days. Often, people will reminisce about their childhood, recalling the elevator as a place they went with their dad or grandpa to deliver grain, or as a landmark representing home. Pilots of small aircraft have visited the elevator as well, and chuckle when the lettering on the side of the building, identifying the community is mentioned. They recall that in bad weather, flying low to view the elevator was one way they knew where they were – the lettering was big enough to be read from a large distance.
The construction of Grain Elevators led to the growth of services and ultimately to the growth of communities in the Canadian Prairies. Almost every community in the Canadian Prairies began with a Grain Elevator. A farmer would come to the Grain Elevator to drop off his grain and would be paid immediately. As a result, people built their businesses and general stores near grain elevators since they knew farmers would come to their business after selling their grain. Consequently, since businesses were set-up near Grain Elevators, this also influenced settlers and new comers to set-up their residences near these amenities. Over time, the communities would grow - all from a single Grain Elevator. Spruce Grove is a perfect example of this. In 1908, a local farmer named Dan Brox built the first Grain Elevator in the Spruce Grove area. By 1920, there was a hotel, a train station, and a general store built nearby. Residents then started to settle in this area -by 1955, Spruce Grove was established as a village. Shortly after, in 1971, it became a town. Only 15 years later it grew enough to become a city. And it all began with a single farmer building a small Grain Elevator.
The last remaining Spruce Grove Grain Elevator is 95 feet tall and has 27 grain bins. It originally stood with two other elevators on the site; a strong sign of the success of grain growers in this area. In 1987, the Elevator standing furthest from the Alberta Wheat Pool Elevator was demolished in 1987, and the Elevator that once stood in the middle was burned to the ground in 1991. When these two wooden elevators were demolished and the third closed in 1995, Spruce Grove was already well established and did not suffer from the loss. This was not true for some of the smaller, less fortunate communities that are now only a signpost on a highway, mentioning that 'once here, stood the community of ...' Alberta's roots are deeply entrenched in agriculture, which is something to be proud of.
In a society where progress often means tearing down the old to make way for the new, it is refreshing to find some communities are committed to preserving the past. The Spruce Grove & District Agricultural Society has been tirelessly serving the community for over 40 years, and in doing so, has been drawing attention to the incredible contribution of the farmers to our daily lives both in the past and presently.
A visit to this Elevator is not only a visit to our heritage, but also a valuable lesson for the next generation about preserving our past to protect our future.