Last of the Prairie Skyscrapers

There was a time when I took grain elevators for granted. When I was a young girl, they were still a common sight on the prairie landscape. But times changed, everything about agriculture changed, and these elevators fell into disuse, disrepair… and began to disappear.

At some point, someone stepped in to point out that the four elevators remaining in a row in the community of Inglis, Manitoba ought to be preserved. And so, today this is a National Historic Site.

Andrew and I had wanted to see these prairie giants for ourselves for quite a while, but never really took the time to head out to Inglis until the pandemic hit. Suddenly with our travel plans canceled, it was time to finally head out and drive five hours northwest to check out Inglis.

These are imposing, impressive structures, jutting into the sky. It felt almost surreal to see them there, still lined up at attention along the now-defunct rail line.

We were hoping for a tour, but arrived just as the other tour really got well underway, so we wandered the exterior of the elevators first, craning our necks to look up up up at the imposing stark sentinels.

There were once 6000 grain elevators across the prairies, built along rail lines by smaller firms and farmer-owned cooperatives from the 1920s to 1940s. By the time the 1970s rolled around, these old-style country elevators were being phased out.

On the various signs surrounding the elevators I collected some poetic verbiage: “pierced the prairie sky” and “powerful symbols of the prairie landscape and lifestyle”.

I’m sure photographers have a real heydey around here. Most elevators you’ll see these days are quite decrepit. It’s amazing to see these ones cared for and maintained.

Finally, it was our turn to venture inside!

My imagination takes flight, imagining all the ways these structures could be reimagined.

It was easy to envision back in the day, when the elevator was alive with activity — farmers arriving, weighing their grain, having it evaluated and then transferred up into the elevator.

We were ushered into a room where we watched an informative video (most of which I have by now forgotten) and my attention was captured by these dresses, reminders of a bygone era.

There were also photographs on display of farmers’ reaction to when the Wheat Board amalgamated and the farmers lost their power. Some images are haunting. Others just seem very punk rock to me.

Reminds me of the Sex Pistols.
Some heartbreaking math right here.
“No money, no farm, no food.” Still pertinent today.

That empty chair speaks volumes.

Then our tour commenced in earnest. We were able to look up into the elevator.

Just imagine all this with wheels turning and dust flying.

And imagine a train arriving.

Then we were able to go inside that little silver shack.

The inside is silver too, and so bright.

They used this machine to determine how much moisture was in the grain.

One last look at the four prairie giants.

It’s a long drive to Inglis from our home in Steinbach, but our province is beautiful and well worth exploring. Also, while people have been flocking to hiking trails, less have been flocking to Inglis. We only saw about 10 other tourists come through while were there… which is probably considered “busy” but honestly, it was NOT crowded. So, that was pretty nice.

Daydreaming of summertime travel weather, coming up sooner than we think.