VIEW-8570 | Grain elevators and train, Claresholm, AB, 1918

Grain elevators and train, Claresholm, AB, 1918
Wm. Notman & Son
1918, 20th century
Silver salts on glass - Gelatin dry plate process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Architecture (8646) , industrial (826) , Photograph (77678) , Train (185) , Transportation (2517)
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Keys to History

Through 1896-1919 farming remained the largest single component of the Canadian gross national product. Wheat, oats and barley production surged. In 1896, the country produced 55.7 million bushels of wheat; by 1919 that total had risen to 189 million bushels. Wheat and flour exports - 97 million bushels in 1919 - propelled Canada on to the world trading stage, enabling it to outstrip other grain economies like Australia and Argentina. Moving grain to export required an elaborate infrastructure. Country grain elevators received grain from farmers, cleaned it and graded it. Railways moved it to water's edge where it could be loaded on to ships. Two new transcontinental railways -- the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific -- were built early in the twentieth century to expedite exporting. By 1919 Canada had 81,105 kilometres of railway in operation. Terminals in places like Port Arthur (now Thunder Bay) and Montreal had a storage capacity of 231.2 million bushels. Specially designed freighters carried the grain through the Great Lakes to tidewater. The price of No. 1 Northern wheat, the premier grade, became a barometer of the country's economic health.

  • What

    The grain elevators that dotted the prairie landscape were elaborate wooden edifices that contained conveyor belts, cleaning bins and storage silos. The elevator became an icon of Canadian prosperity, appearing on bank calendars and immigration literature.

  • Where

    The first elevator was erected in Gretna, Manitoba in 1881 by the Ogilvie Milling Company. Larger concrete grain terminals began appearing in ports in the 1880s and by 1919 lined the harbours of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal. Canada was soon exporting grain storage expertise to countries as far away as Argentina.

  • When

    Canada's grain boom powerfully shaped the birth of western Canada. Alberta and Saskatchewan became provinces in 1905. The state was obliged to regulate the grain trade by building government-owned elevators and melding bankrupt transcontinental railways into the Canadian National Railway in 1920.

  • Who

    The grain trade fueled the emergence of some of Canada's largest companies: the Canadian Pacific Railway (1881), Canada Steamship Lines (1913) and Ogilvie Flour Mills (1902). It also prompted farmers to start their own elevator and grain-marketing companies (e.g. Saskatchewan Co-operative Elevator Co., 1911).