For Cody Kapcsos the shock of seeing the wreckage earlier this month at Warner was like looking at a once beautiful loved one and encountering utter physical devastation.
“When I saw what happened to this iconic and beautiful row it was shocking to see, like someone whose beauty had long deserved admiration but now there was only missing teeth,” the 24-year-old heritage enthusiast said of the toppling of two classic country grain elevators from Warner’s famed row. “Alberta no longer has any grain elevator rows left.”
On Nov. 11, he frantically drove 36 kilometres from his home in Stirling to the southern Albertan village to confirm disturbing reports that the two historic elevators had been demolished.
The demolition included an Alberta Pool Elevator model built in 1928. However, more upsetting for heritage preservationists was the loss of the prized grain elevator that was erected in 1913 by the Alberta Farmers’ Co-operative Elevator Company. The rare structure, which was twinned with a pool elevator in 1951, was only one of three left in Alberta.
“I think it is a total insult to our heritage, and an insult to Albertans,” said Kapcsos. “We are watching our history before our eyes being pulverized into a billion different pieces.”
With the loss of the two structures, Warner is left with three elevators, one of them twinned. There are now doubts whether the province can still claim it has a rare sacred row.
“The Canadian Grain Commission says a row consists of four grain elevators and they consider a twin as one elevator. Technically there is three, less than a row,” said Lethbridge’s Jason Paul Sailer, another grain elevator preservationist.
The Warner row was one of only two left in the country, and the last to be commercially operational. The other row, a group of five elevators in Inglis, Man., is fully restored for tourism and is a protected national historic site.
But Warner’s row had no legislative protection whatsoever and could not hold off the wrecking crew.
Viterra, the country’s largest grain handler that owns the row, said in a statement the two elevators were demolished because a “number of issues were identified.” The company did not elaborate, other than to state the “only solution” was to demolish them.
The company also said operations at the remaining Warner facilities would continue.
Mayor Tyler Lindsay said Viterra was granted a permit in early October to demolish the two elevators, which he added were unused and had become a safety concern.
Nevertheless, their loss is upsetting for the community of 385 residents, said the mayor.
“It’s a good percentage of our commercial tax base so it is concerning,” said Lindsay. “And it’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s very personal to pretty well everybody who lives in Warner, anybody who has lived here their whole life. They’ve been here as long as most of the people.”
The demolition of the Prairie icons is not only a blow to Warner’s row status, but another sign the days are numbered for Alberta’s remaining elevators. More than 80 years ago, just over 1,700 dotted the provincial landscape. Today there are fewer than120 remaining, with only about a dozen under provincial or municipal protection.
“I want my grandkids to have the opportunity to see this kind of history,” said Kapcsos, who is trying to save the 89-year-old Prairie sentinel in Wrentham. “I think people just look at them and see a bundle of money — that they’re just something you will lose money off of with no money to be gained. They don’t want to see the historical potential with these buildings.”