Two men with a devotion for the past are hoping to translate their enthusiasm into a living example of how grain used to be handled in hundreds of towns across the Prairies.
Jason Sailer and Cody Kapcsos hope to move former Ogilvie Mills grain elevator here 33 miles to the Galt Historic Railway Park.
Sailer is a director with the Great Canadian Plains Railway Society that oversees the operations of the park north of Stirling. Kapcsos is a heritage enthusiast and artifact collector who for several years has spent most of his weekends documenting and photographing forgotten western Canadian ghost towns and their derelict and fading structures.
“I believe it is very important to save the elevator not only for future generations but for past generations, pioneers and settlers who helped build these amazing structures,” said Kapcsos. “For us to just watch the eventual extinction of the country elevator will be a crying shame as a rich part of agricultural history will be lost.”
In Alberta alone, there were 1,755 country wooden elevators in 1934. With the advent of new grain-handling techniques, coupled with a multitude of corporate takeovers and government regulatory changes to the grain industry, the number has since been reduced to about 120. In Alberta, only 32 of the old wooden structures have escaped the wrecking ball.
Sailer said he recalls taking trips to local elevators with his dad in a ’65 Chevy one-ton grain truck to the local Alberta Pool Elevator in Dunmore near Medicine Hat.
“But as the years went by and as I grew up, they (local elevators) slowly disappeared — one, two, and then three. All that remained were bare lots.”
The demolition of country elevators accelerated during the 1990s when Kapcsos was a toddler. After moving to Stirling with his family in 1994, his father took him on walks and trips to nearby towns. He remembers gazing up at the old grain elevators and being awestruck by their classic rustic and noble beauty.
“My dad used to say they were ‘watchers over the towns’ because they were almost always at the town’s edge and brought great prosperity to it when the community was lucky enough to have such a large cluster of them,” said Kapcsos, who still lives in Stirling.
Preserving the “vator,” as it is often called by elevator enthusiasts who are also known as vatorologists, is now of paramount importance to both Sailer and Kapcsos. Their attention is focused on the 32,000-bushel Ogilvie Flour Mills elevator that was built in Wrentham in 1925. It was closed in 1959 and then sold to local farmer Wesley Kuehn. The project to move the elevator has the blessing of Wesley’s son Harold Kuehn, the current owner.
Sailer and Kapcsos want to raise enough money through its newly formed Southern Alberta Grain Elevator Society (SAGES) to move the relic to the Galt Historic Railway Park where it will stand proudly over the historic 123-year-old Coutts Sweetgrass Station.
The estimated cost, however, is high. Sailer said SAGES requires between $50,000 to $100,000 to move the elevator. An additional $55,000 would be needed to renovate the elevator, its annex and the accompanying office.
“The elevator would fit in well with the railway park as it was in the same time period as the train station, so each can complement each other,” said Sailer, adding the elevator will be used as an educational tool and to host public tours and be a central attraction for special events.
For more information on SAGES’s efforts to save the Wrentham grain elevator visit the Facebook page, Wrentham Elevator Move.