Saskatchewan’s Endangered Grain Elevators and Efforts to Preserve Them
REGINA – Grain elevators are an iconic symbol of Saskatchewan and are synonymous with the province’s agricultural roots.
Recently, old-fashioned wooden elevators have faded from memory and from the edges of highways.
Over the years, hundreds of elevators have been taken out of service or even destroyed due to environmental and economic factors. However, some Saskatchewan residents are working to preserve the prairie monuments.
Kevin Klemenz is in the process of acquiring a freehold interest in two elevators in the hamlet of Horizon, Saskatchewan, approximately 140 kilometers southwest of Regina.
Kevin Klemenz stands in a 68-year-old Saskatchewan Wheat Pool grain elevator in Horizon, Saskatchewan. (Brendan Ellis / CTV News)
Klemenz’s grandfather first moved to town to help operate the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool elevator in 1953.
“The grain elevators were very important to all the communities, this is where the local farmers had to transport their grain. At the time, they only had small trucks, ”Klemenz said. “The railroad and the elevators moved cities. “
The second silo, a Federal Grain building, was built in 1922. Klemenz is working on the repurchase of the remaining shares of a local agricultural cooperative to become the sole owner of both silos.
Two grain elevators, 68 (left) and 99 (right), still stand in Horizon, Saskatchewan. (Brendan Ellis / CTV News)
He continues to use the Pool elevator to store his own grain.
“For me, these are heritage sites. I would like to preserve and repair them, ”Klemenz said.
DROP IN ELEVATORS, INCREASING PRICES
Klemenz has gone to great lengths to renovate both structures to restore them to their former glory, but the restoration efforts come at a high price.
“It’s very expensive. It’s hard to get people to work on it. The cost of people coming here to work there is high. You need elevators or cranes,” Klemenz said.
“There are fewer and fewer people doing it. Just getting them painted now is very expensive.
When the Government of Canada began tracking grain elevators in 1962, there were 2,878 in Saskatchewan.
In 1966, there was about one elevator for 340 people, according to federal census data.
In 2020, that number has declined by 94%, leaving 183 elevators standing, including newer cement elevators and older wooden structures.
With their numbers dwindling each year, Klemenz fears that one day the only place to see an original wood elevator will be in a museum.
“My goal is to try to keep them as long as possible and maybe they can be repaired enough that they can be a museum or a historical site that people can come to. [see]”said Klemenz.
The Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village and Museum houses a restored grain elevator built in 1913 – originally from Mawer, Saskatchewan.
The Sukanen Ship Pioneer Village and Museum is located approximately eight miles south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. (Brendan Ellis / CTV News)
Gord Ross, the museum’s president, said it was important to find an authentic building for their village, as it was an essential structure in any developing Saskatchewan town in the early part of the 20th century.
“Cities or villages have developed thanks to the arrival of the elevators. The inhabitants of the existing areas began to bring their grain to the elevators for delivery, so naturally the traders followed by opening the different types of stores. Ross said.
The elevator was donated to the museum by the family who owned it. But then he had to make the trip of more than 100 kilometers to the site of the ship Sukanen.
The move itself cost $ 60,000. Another $ 40,000 was spent on repairs and refurbishment once it arrived. Sukanen paid for the restoration with money from fundraising and donations.
“There’s only one source of money these days, and that’s to raise it yourself,” Ross said.
Gord Ross shows photos of the grain elevator move from Mawer, Saskatchewan. (Brendan Ellis / CTV News)
Despite the high costs and constant maintenance, Ross said there is a need to preserve this era in Saskatchewan history.
“They are historic landmarks of the agricultural industry,” Ross said. “It’s the people – the immigrants – who came to this country and opened it up, as a farming industry and everything developed from there.”
“Without their hard work and vision, we wouldn’t be here.
For those looking to preserve elevators for future generations, the process begins with determining why elevators are such an influential part of Saskatchewan culture.
Ali Piwowar, a licensed architect from Regina, was intrigued by the iconic buildings and set out to research other ways to keep them standing.
She completed her master’s thesis in architecture at Carleton University in 2015, focusing on Saskatchewan’s grain elevators – and their potential.
Piwowar said the importance of elevators to small communities comes down to what she calls their “intangible cultural heritage”.
“It’s the memories, it’s the stories, it’s the iconic character of the grain elevators that make them important to the people who live there, but also to the people who drive on the highways,” said Piwowar.
“It’s such a monument in the prairie landscape that it’s hard to miss them if you’re not from the prairies.
Moreland, Saskatchewan. the grain elevator is on the side of Saskatchewan Highway 6, approximately 80 kilometers south of Regina. (Brendan Ellis / CTV News)
Through her research, she discovered that these sites have great sentimental value for the people who have memories there.
“Yes, it was a place of business, but there is so much more to history than the children who are now adults that I interviewed for my thesis research, they have these memories”, she declared.
“It depends so much on why people in these communities think they are important, because their grandfather used to trade grain in the silo, or play cards there when he was a kid, or run around while their children were around. parents were doing business. “
Klemenz has some of those fond memories surrounding the Grain Elevator – and the community he helped build at Horizon.
“The story here is from my grandparents. My roots are here, ”he said. “We used to play here all the time. We used to play on the grain wagons, on the elevator, it was a good memory here.
THE FUTURE OF ELEVATORS
Kevin’s son, Colin Klemenz, is part of the middle generation of Saskatchewan farmers. He remembers the good old days, but has also adapted to changes in modern industry.
“You always saw your neighbors when you came here, you always had time for a visit or to sit down. Lots of elevator attendants would keep a fridge full of soft drinks and you would pay a dollar and buy a soft drink and sit and visit people, ”Colin said.
“Now with the terminals it looks like you’re in it, you’re out and you’re gone. “
Although demolition or restoration were the usual options for older wood grain elevators, the building could have other uses.
Piwowar discovered that the elevators could be converted into a number of alternative buildings, including housing, reception centers, community gathering spaces or offices, among others.
“Use this understanding of intangible cultural heritage to extrapolate and expand that in a reimagining exercise, to come up with something that could be very useful and invigorate a community and use that benchmark in a contemporary context that is useful and that everyone can associate it with positive memories, “she said.
Whether kept as icons of the past or redesigned for the future, Kevin Klemenz and Ross hope these elevators will help bridge the generation gap.
“Younger people will be able to see an old elevator,” Klemenz said. “I don’t think a lot of young people really know how it worked before.”
“So many younger generations are moving so far away from farming that they don’t realize where it’s coming from,” Ross said.
Much like his father, Colin’s son Hunnter had the opportunity to grow up around the grain elevator, while his grandfather works on its restoration.
Kevin Klemenz and his grandson Hunnter stand in front of a grain elevator at Horizon, originally built in 1922. (Brendan Ellis / CTV News)
“[Dad] loves preserving the past and really wants my children and future children to see it too, so it’s not lost, ”said Colin.
“Without doing all of this to him, a lot of this stuff would be wasted and we admire him for it.”
Klemenz wants to continue repairing its elevators in an attempt to keep Saskatchewan’s turbulent weather up, extend the life of prairie skyscrapers, and preserve the last remnants of an era nearly lost in Horizon.