After the Canadian Pacific Railway extended its track from Medicine Hat to Calgary in 1883, land along the rail line became viable for homesteading. The CPR also acquired 3 ½ million acres of land between Brooks and Calgary as part of its agreement with the Dominion government to build its line. Here, the CPR subdivided 80 acre plots and proceeded to advertise this land for sale to immigrant farmers. Because much of the land was bereft of adequate water supplies, a vast irrigation scheme was undertaken off the Bow River to make the land more attractive.
The irrigation project was completed in 1914, but, due to the war in Europe, settlers did not arrive in the area in large numbers until after the armistice. Many more arrived after the CPR pushed through branch lines to parts of the district in the late 1920’s. One of these lines extended south of Brooks to the hamlet of Scandia, where a post office had been opened in 1924. In 1928, the hamlet was graced with an Alberta Wheat Pool elevator.
The Wheat Pool elevators were a part of the farmers’ co-operative movement in Alberta. They had been promoted from within the United Farmers of Alberta by Henry Wise Wood. A major complaint of the province’s farmers had been the control exercised by independent grain companies which could fix prices at will. As a result, and given the extreme fluctuations in the international demand for grain, farmers had often gone from prosperity to bust within short periods of time. According to Wood, the answer lay in a co-operative through which farmers could pool their grain and have it sold at opportune times with the profits shared. He managed to convince the UFA of this, and, when the Alberta Wheat Pool was formed in 1923, Wood became its first president. Before long, Alberta Wheat Pool elevators were to be found in most farming communities which had rail access. They eventually became the largest grain company in the province.
That the first elevator in Scandia should have been a Wheat Pool one was appropriate, for the farmers in this district had been coming together for some time over their collective bitterness against the CPR for having sold them their land. Though the yields of grain were high, 80 acres was simply not enough land on which to establish a profitable farm. The farmers formed associations to deal with the CPR, which argued that its irrigation projects were not turning a profit, despite what the farmers were paying for water. Finally, in 1934, a number of them at the eastern end of the area, led by one Carl Anderson, formed what they called the Eastern Irrigation District, which took over the management of the water supply from the CPR. Despite its cost, the irrigated water proved its worth in dry years, when other parts of southeastern Alberta were succumbing to drought conditions.
The productivity of the land in the Scandia district was such that, in 1937, the Federal Grain Company also built an elevator there. With World War II, the demand for western Canadian grain rose, and the train service to Scandia became thrice weekly. Following the war, the Pool bought out the Federal elevator and soon shut it down. Eventually, improved roads were making it convenient for farmers in the northern parts of the district to take their grain to Brooks, and, so, the elevator at Scandia was closed in 1977, as was the train service to the community. The elevator, however, was acquired by the Eastern Irrigation District Historical Park and Museum, and is now the centerpiece of an agricultural museum. In 2008, it was designated a Provincial Historic Resource.
Written by: David Leonard, Historian
Visit the Alberta Register of Historic Places to learn more about the heritage value of the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator and Bow Slope Stockyard. In order for a site to be designated a Provincial Historic Resource, it must possess province-wide significance for either its history or architecture. To properly assess the historic importance of a resource, a historian crafts a context document that situates a resource within its time and place and compares it to similar resources in other parts of the province. This allows staff to determine the importance of a resource to a particular theme, time, and place. Above, is some of the historical information used in the evaluation of the site.