Though a US invention, there’s hardly anything more distinctively Canadian Prairie than the grain elevator. These tall and traditionally wooden grain warehouses were utilitarian in design and built simply to store wheat before its transport by rail. Yet with their clean, functional lines rising high above the plains, they’ve been likened to cathedrals, earned nicknames like “castles of the New World” and “prairie sentinels”, and found their way into many a prairie heart.
The first Canadian grain elevators were built in the 1880s and by 1938 some 5800 dotted the region, each emblazoned with the names of the small towns they marked. But as grain transport switched from rail to road their numbers dwindled to the present seven hundred. In 2000, the Canadian Wheat Board decided to build massive central concrete terminals at main transit points, to which grain now travels by truck, making old-style elevators even more redundant. Some have already been dismantled, threatening to change the prairie landscape irrevocably, but many still hold out; while in Inglis, a tiny town just to the west of Riding Mountain National Park, a row of 1920s wooden elevators beside an abandoned railway line have been preserved as a National Historic Site (w ingliselevators.com).