Castor's Alberta Pacific Grain Elevator (C. 1910)
Why save that dusty old relic?
Wooden grain elevators were once common & unique prairie landmarks; visible for miles they existed nowhere else in the world. When first built, they voiced the status of ambitious, fledgling towns as significantly as cathedral spires did in medieval Europe. It would be a shame to allow such distinctive and striking landmarks to disappear entirely from the landscape, existing only as fading memories in history books. They are distinctively Canadian too: school children all over the world recognize elevators on the prairies as Canadian icons, much like Mounties in red coats, or lumberjacks in checked shirts. Preserving such parts of its culture helps a society to feel a sense of identity: of where we have come from, who we are, and what we should therefore become.
Our Provincial Historic Resource Elevator is one of only eleven or so in Alberta that are under the protection of a preservation society today. It cannot be missed as one drives by Castor on Highway 12. In 1999 there were approximately five hundred wooden grain elevators in Alberta. Today very few survive, and those are either quite new or are slowly falling into dereliction. Few currently enjoy the protection of preservation groups.
Sceptics may argue “why go to all this trouble just to save a dusty old grain elevator?”
The Castor & District Museum Society has envisioned a future where virtually all of these structures will have disappeared, & a commonplace elevator will then become a unique artifact, a heritage building as significant historically to the economy of this Province as any city-centre sandstone building.
Our elevator exhibit wood and iron technology from the early nineteen hundreds and marks the very beginnings of fixed settlement in Alberta. Few historical societies have enjoyed the luxury of preserving such early evidence to show future generations “how it all began.”
Usually the sceptics who doubt the value of preservation have lived so close to elevators all their lives, that they have become blinded to them by familiarity, or embittered by perceptions of large grain companies who exploited the small farmer. But people are not all the same. When Castor’s skyline changed forever, its three other elevators disintegrating into debris and dust before the onlookers, two old farmers were heard to agree, “It’s a good thing the Museum preserved that last elevator. It’s the oldest, you know. I remember delivering my first load of grain there when I was a kid.”
Perhaps these words are hopeful signs that minds can change as radically as the prairie skyline.
By virtue of its age and original condition Castor’s Alberta-Pacific elevator became a Provincial Historic resource in 2004, enabling the Museum Society access to Government funds and guidance in its preservation.
The Grain Elevator is part of the Castor & District Museum Society.