I have been looking forward to Forgotten Saskatchewan for a while now. I’ve followed author Chris Attrell‘s work for some time on his web site, and in fact he used to own grainelevators.ca before I bought it from him. I’ve admired his spectacular photos of abandoned buildings and I expected his book would be great. It didn’t disappoint.
Forgotten Saskatchewan is chock full of images of abandoned Saskatchewan. Its 144 pages feature forlorn old farm houses, weathered grain elevators, rusting vehicles, empty churches and abandoned barns. Each image was carefully created, and often feature starry skies, aurora borealis or eerie lighting.
This book is really a love letter to Saskatchewan, a tribute to the decaying beauty in its disappearing small towns.
The book was published by MacIntyre Purcell and the print quality is excellent. If I ever write a photo book, I would strongly consider this publisher. Each page features a beautiful full colour image with a descriptive caption.
Some of the photos were clearly taken from a drone, giving a unique perspective.
There are a number of grain elevators featured in this book, including Dankin, Bents and Neidpath.
The 28* stories cover all sorts of tales about grain elevators, from bringing grain to market through elevator fires and other mishaps, and include such titles as “Lead in Her Pants” and “Dam(n) Progress”. In general the stories are amusing, touching, and sometimes poignant.
* there are actually 29 stories; the last is Ms. McLachlan’s own story of being married to an elevator agent.
The book is illustrated by historical photos as well as some contributed by noted photographer Chris Stackhouse, including the stunning cover photo of the grain elevator on a farm near Woodhouse, Alberta.
In August 2019 I set out to revisit many grain elevators in western Manitoba. I wanted to fly my drone over some of them to record them from a different viewpoint. In part 1 I visited McConnell through Beulah, and in part 2 I visited Harmsworth to Elva.
After Elva, I visited nearby Cameron.
The elevator at Cameron is a really unique elevator. Not only is it a Lake of the Woods elevator, rare in the province, but it is located in the middle of a field, with no other buildings nearby.
Don’t confuse this elevator with the rural municipality of Cameron, which included Hartney, Lauder and a few others. This was a “station” on the CPR. I’m not sure that there was ever anything here but a grain elevator and a rail siding.
The elevator is looking a little more worn since I visited it in 2014. In particular, the driveway has collapsed.
Cameron was one elevator that I really wanted to fly my drone around. I did put my drone up to take some photos, but I didn’t fly it very far due to the continuing high winds. I was nervous about flying too far away.
Coulter is not far from Cameron. It has one elevator, still looking OK from the outside but starting to show its age. The annex has a real lean to it, but it doesn’t look like it is leaning more than when I last saw it in 2014.
Almost all of the elevators I am writing about in this post were on the CP Lyleton subdivision, which ran from Deloraine to Lyleton.
I didn’t get close to the Dalny elevator. I photographed it from nearby grid roads and carried on. By this time I was starting to get nervous about how much light I would have left, so I decided to accelerate my pace to ensure I would still have daylight by the time I got to Holmfield.
The grain elevator in Waskada is located within the town itself… definitely not a drone flying area. It looks pretty well kept and could very well still be in use for storage.
The elevator still bears a painted Agricore logo, from the brief period between 1998 (when Manitoba Pool Elevators merged with the Alberta Wheat Pool) and 2007 (when the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool bought Agricore United and became Viterra).
I didn’t stay too long in Waskada. It’s a bustling little town, enriched by the nearby Bakken shale oil fields.
The charming town of Goodlands hosts one elevator, another former Manitoba Pool grain elevator. The elevator seems to be in good shape and maintained.
I really considered flying my drone here, but it was still quite windy and I was concerned about drifting over the town, so I decided not to.
I didn’t get close to the grain elevator outside Deloraine on this trip. I had photographed it pretty extensively in 2018 so I didn’t feel the need to do it again in 2019. It would have been a good candidate for a drone flight, though.
I’ve always been fond of the little town of Ninga, Manitoba. Mostly it is because of the sign you see as you drive into the town: “There will always be a Ninga”. Such a bold statement for a plucky prairie town.
I spent a bit of time driving around the town – it doesn’t take long! – and photographing the elevator. As grain elevators go, it’s not the most attractive, being a late Manitoba Pool “box” design with the elevating machinery visible on top, like Elie, Virden-Hargrave and a few others.
After leaving Ninga, I could have gone into Killarney to photograph the elevators there. The light was definitely failing and I really wanted to fly my drone at Holmfield, so I pressed on. I actually did dip into Killarney, to grab some food at the campground restaurant near the highway. YUM.
I love the town of Holmfield. Not only does it have the Harrison Milling facility – the oldest flour mill in western Canada – with its two grain elevators, it has a number of interesting old buildings in the town.
Holmfield is by no means a ghost town, with quite a few people living there and actively maintaining and improving their houses. It’s worth a visit, even though it’s a bit of a drive off the highway.
I thought it would be easier to fly my drone there, as Holmfield is in a bit of a dip in the prairie. I was right – it was definitely less windy there than it had been earlier in the day. I flew my drone around to take some photos from various angles while there was still some light to photograph with.
It was definitely getting dark. The sun was below the horizon and time was of the essence. I got the photos I wanted, and headed for home.
I couldn’t resist taking this photo from a nearby bridge. It was inspired by a photo Mark Perry took a few years before.
I was pleased with the photos I took in Holmfield. I’m glad I hurried a bit past a few other towns to ensure I got to Holmfield in time.
I stopped briefly in Cartwright en route to Winnipeg. It was definitely dark by this time, so I set up my tripod and took a long exposure photo to record the elevator there.
I had considered stopping at Clearwater, but by the time I got near to it, it was quite dark and I was very tired. Onward to home.
I was on a mission to revisit some of Manitoba’s western grain elevators, and fly my drone over some of them. In part 1 I visited several elevators in the morning, and we resume the story after leaving Beulah.
After the downpour at Beulah, I broke out of the thunderstorm near Miniota and carried on south toward my next destination, Reston.
Since I hadn’t spent much time at Birtle or Beulah, I was ahead of schedule. I decided to take a little detour before continuing on to Reston.
I flew my drone from a grid road and took a few photos of the beautiful old grain elevator at Harmsworth. I didn’t take many, as I didn’t want to linger too long and get behind in my schedule.
I carried on into Virden. I paused there to grab lunch at the A&W, then drove down highway 83 to Pipestone, then west on highway 2 to Reston. If I had planned my route a little better, I could have driven by Cromer to photograph that elevator again.
The Reston grain elevator appears unchanged from when I visited it in 2014. However, the railway tracks are gone now, as CP abandoned the track through here into Saskatchewan.
I didn’t fly my drone here, as the elevator is in the middle of town.
After photographing the elevator and the nearby CP roundhouse, I drove on to the next grain elevator.
The small town of Sinclair is a nice spot. I remember stopping at the general store back in 2014 and chatting with the owner. Sadly, that store is closed now.
The elevator is still there, fortunately. I put my drone up and took a few photos of it and the abandoned railway roadbed. It was quite windy here, and in fact it was windy for the remainder of the day. My drone kept warning me about high winds, so I was pretty cautious about how long I flew it and how high it flew.
I was really looking forward to the next town…
I really like the town of Tilston, Manitoba. It’s not quite a ghost town, as people do live here, but the majority of the town seems to be abandoned and it has some interesting houses and buildings.
I especially love the two Tilston grain elevators. One is clearly a former Manitoba Pool elevator, complete with the big roundel on the side. The other is lettered FIVE ROSES FLOUR, a brand of the original builder, the Lake of the Woods Milling Company.
The wind was still quite strong, but I flew my drone around a bit to record some photos and a little video.
Eventually, it was time to move on.
It was very windy at Napinka. I did fly my drone there, but I had to be careful to launch it upwind of the elevator and be aware that it was going to drift downwind somewhat.
I love that former Ogilvie Flour grain elevator. This was the Manitoba Pool “B” elevator until its retirement.
Napinka has a lot of interesting houses and other buildings. I spent a few minutes documenting those, then it was off to Elva.
I had to pass through Melita on my way to Elva, so I took the opportunity to fuel up my Civic, and take a quick photo of the two elevators there. Melita has an ex Pool and an ex UGG elevator.
Elva is a quiet little town, with several occupied houses, and two elevators. It’s one of my favourite places to visit in Manitoba.
It was still quite windy, so I didn’t fly my drone too high or too far away.
Beyond the Lake of the Woods elevator is a former UGG elevator that is not in good shape. The elevator has had holes in the side of the elevator for years, and these are slowly growing.
It started to rain while I was in Elva, so I landed my drone quickly and took shelter in my car. It rained hard but not for very long. I took a few more photos then continued on. There were plenty of elevators left to see that day.
In my next post, I will share the other elevators I saw on that day: Cameron, Coulter, Dalny, Waskada, Goodlands, Deloraine, Holmfield and Cartwright.
I planned a trip through western Manitoba to revisit some grain elevators that I hadn’t seen since 2014. I also wanted to fly my drone over some of the elevators to get a different perspective. I had a “target list” of a few elevators that I thought would look especially good from the air: Elva, Cameron, Beulah and Silverton among others.
I planned a very ambitious tour of 26 grain elevator sites over almost 24 hours. Some of these elevators would just be a “drive past” but I planned more lengthy stays at a few of them.
August 24 was the day chosen for this epic trip. As the day approached, I saw that the weather forecast was not good. It called for showers and a significant risk of thunderstorms, which is not great for photos and definitely not good for flying a drone. Fortunately, the forecast improved on August 23, with only “scattered” showers, but still a risk of thunderstorms. I decided to make the best of it.
I set off from Winnipeg at 2 AM to arrive at McConnell shortly before sunrise. I took highway 16 up through Gladstone, pausing for an early breakfast in Neepawa before continuing on past Minnedosa.
My phone’s map application led me along route 355 straight west from Minnedosa, which was not the best choice. It was a gravel road, which was not the safest to be driving along in pitch darkness. Occasionally the sky to the south would light up with lightning, but at least it wasn’t raining in my area. A better choice to get to McConnell would have been to stay on highway 16 to Shoal Lake, then head south.
I arrived at McConnell at 5:42 AM. It was still pretty dark, with only enough light to walk outside without stumbling into a ditch. I set up my tripod to take some long exposure photos of the elevators.
By 6:15 AM, it was light enough to fly my drone. I put it up in the air to take some photos, but I wasn’t brave enough to fly it around much in the near dark.
I didn’t have time to wait for actual sunrise, and there was no guarantee that the sun would actually break through the clouds. It was time to move on…
I passed through Shoal Lake quickly. I had been here in 2014 and again in 2017, so I didn’t feel the need to take many photos. See more Shoal Lake grain elevator photos.
I was looking forward to flying my drone in Solsgirth. The town has a few residents still, but much of it is abandoned. I am not sure if the grain elevator is still in use.
I took a moment to take a selfie to document the occasion.
After flying my drone, it was time to move on.
I was slipping a bit behind schedule. Angusville was next on my list, and I thought about skipping it, but Silverton was next and Angusville was directly on the road to Silverton, so… might as well take a few photos.
I hadn’t intended on flying my drone at Angusville, but once I drove past the elevator I could see a large area “behind” it that was OK for flying over. I put the drone up and took a few photos from that angle before landing and moving on.
Silverton’s unique grain elevator was on my list of “most desirable” elevators to fly my drone near. The chequerboard paint pattern on the elevator and the old style UGG logo are unique in Manitoba and I knew it had a lot of open space around it.
The town itself is well kept, but small. It was quiet there at 8:38 when I arrived (ahead of schedule!) and I took my time to fly the drone across the field in front of the elevator.
I was surprised to see that the annex had been repainted since my 2014 visit, and especially surprised to see that the United Grain Growers logo had been repainted on it. Much credit to the owner(s) for maintaining this beautiful elevator!
Continuing on down highway 45, I came to the lovely town of Russell.
The booming town of Russell has one grain elevator remaining, a former Manitoba Pool elevator in the centre of town. I had no intention of flying my drone here, as it’s surrounded by walking paths and houses. As it happened, it started to rain as I parked near the elevator, so flying was definitely out of the question!
I took a few quick photos then hit the road south on highway 16 toward the next few elevators. There was construction on the highway so it was slow going for many kilometres. I don’t understand why the speed limit was so low, given that there was no active work being done and both lanes were open.
Viterra recently expanded their elevator just north of Binscarth with the addition of three huge new bins and associated elevating machinery. I took a photo from the side of the highway to capture this, but I didn’t linger, as it was raining pretty heavily and I wanted to keep moving.
By the time I reached the grain elevator on the outskirts of Birtle, the rain was coming down very hard. I really didn’t want to step outside to take any photos… so I ended up rolling the car window down and taking them from inside the car.
It was definitely not ideal weather for photography now.
There was nothing to do but keep moving on, and hope to break out of the storm at some point. I carefully drove down the gravel road into Birtle, drove through the nice (but wet) downtown, then carried on toward Beulah.
The rain was still coming down hard when I arrived at Beulah. I was disappointed, as I really wanted to fly my drone around this lovely old ex Pool elevator.
There was active thunder and lightning nearby, with only a second or so between the lightning and the sound of thunder, so I knew I was in the heart of the storm and there was no point in lingering here. I briefly considered driving to the nearby town of Isabella to see the two elevators there, but conditions would have been the same there. I decided to continue on my path and hope to get out of the storm’s path.
Read part 2 to see Harmsworth, Reston, Sinclair, Tilston and more!
Jim A Pearson, a giant in the Canadian grain elevator community, has died.
Jim produced several books in the Vanishing Sentinels series, featuring grain elevators in the Canadian prairie provinces, and was the admin of the corresponding Vanishing Sentinels Facebook group.
Jim was a big fan of Star Trek, and designed the USS Enterprise replica in the town of Vulcan, so it seems fitting to post a photo of the grain elevator in Vulcan, Alberta.
I never met Jim, but we corresponded numerous times, exchanging information and photos of grain elevators. He recently produced a book on the remaining grain elevators in Manitoba and gave me a large map in thanks for the information and photos I provided.
I’ve been moving pages from the Manitoba Grain Elevators site to here in preparation for retiring the MGE site. I think I will have to renew the domain name for one more year, but most of the pages on that site redirect to here now.
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to our contributors for submitting photos!