Elevator Celebrates 100 Years
Early farmers in Saskatchewan were frustrated getting their crops to market. They accused private grain-handling companies of manipulating inspection and deliveries, and suppressing grain prices. Many farmers believed that a solution would come if elevators were made public utilities. As a result, under the new Canada Grain Act of 1912, five elevators were eventually built at Port Arthur, Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Calgary and Vancouver.
In 1913, a mile or two west of the small prairie city of Saskatoon, the Canadian government began building one of the new inland grain terminals. Saskatoon’s elevator was a distinctive state-of-the-art design which separated the main workhouse structure from the storage annex. This new design replaced the pre-1900 single structure where the workhouse was built overtop the storage bins.
The elevator was built by the Barnett-McQueen Co. Ltd., a pioneer in the use of slip-form reinforced concrete construction. It was the third slip-form facility in Saskatchewan, after the Quaker Oats Mill in Saskatoon in 1910 (demolished in 2015) and the Robin Hood Mill in Moose Jaw in 1912.
The Canadian Government Elevator in Saskatoon was completed in 1914 on a site easily accessed by rail lines and roads. Three rail lines built spur lines to the elevator. At the time, the elevator stood at the intersection of Highway 11 (today’s 11th Street West) and Elevator Road, a direct north-south gravel road. Important to Saskatoon, the elevator solidified the City’s position as a major grain-handling, milling and distribution hub.
In 1914, the elevator boasted a storage capacity of 500,000 bushels (14,000 tonnes today). An additional annex in 1914 added storage for 3,000,000 bushels (81,645 tonnes). Another addition was begun in 1930, with 56 additional bins opening by 1932, holding 2,000,000 bushels (54,430 tonnes). Today the Canadian Grain Commission rates its capacity at 105,000 metric tonnes.
The elevator was operated by the Canadian government until 1979 when it was sold to a private grain company in Winnipeg. It was sold again in 1990 to the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. The Pool/AgPro became a publicly-traded company in 1996. After the 2007 takeover of Agricore United, the Pool name was retired in favour of Viterra. Today Viterra is an international agribusiness based in Regina.
Apparently, equipment from 1914 can still be found at work today inside the elevator. When grain was delivered by horse and wagon, traffic congestion was not a problem. But following the Second World War, as farms grew larger and rail lines were abandoned, farmers transported grain to the elevator in larger and larger trucks. Traffic snarls, along with growing noise and dust pollution, frustrated people living in the residential areas that had grown around the elevator. Montgomery Place residents claim that the unrelenting noise from the elevator began in 1993 when equipment was installed on the outside of the elevator that polluted the quiet of Saskatoon’s westend forever after. Today Viterra is working to address the noise and dust concerns of surrounding neighbourhoods, experimenting with sound curtains, sound shields and sound barriers.
Some Montgomery Place residents complain about life beside this noisy 100-year-old snorting giant. Added to the growing heavy truck traffic, the noise and the dust pollution is the recent increase in train traffic. Trains block the intersection of Circle Drive and 11th Street as empty rail cars are positioned or as loaded cars leave, a frustration that has grown steadily since 1946 when Montgomery Place was established.
While early farmers were frustrated in 1914, one hundred years later in 2014, residents living close to the elevator express new frustrations. Living beside an historic giant can be a challenge.
Vervoort, Patricia. Industrial Building in the West: The Dominion Government Elevators at Saskatoon, Moose Jaw and Calgary. September 1991.