Today’s blog post will no doubt please all of our railroad and grain elevator enthusiasts out there in the ether. On August 27, 2012, the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator in Big Valley was designated as a Provincial Historic Resource and added to the Alberta Register of Historic Places. This grain elevator has heritage significance due essentially to the fact that it is…, well, it’s a grain elevator. These once dominant, landmark structures in rural Alberta have become iconic symbols, speaking to the province’s agricultural, social and railroad transportation history. This particular elevator also contributes to the cultural landscape of Big Valley, aiding in the visual communication of the community’s history as one of the province’s busiest railroad divisional points.
Wood-cribbed grain elevators such as the Alberta Wheat Pool elevator in Big Valley were once a dominant presence in the lives of most rural Albertans. These imposing, structures stood out on the horizon and could be seen from miles around. They were essential facilities for the sorting, storage, and transportation of grains and, as such, they also served an important social function as meeting places for area farmers. Although there were some variations in elevator design, size and services, they remained consistently similar in basic design and form over the years. This Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator was a relatively late addition, being built in 1960, but it shares much with its earlier predecessors, notably its vertical orientation, gable-roofed cupola, shed-roofed drive shed with earthen ramps and overall lack of fenestration.
In 1912, Big Valley had been selected as a divisional point on the Canadian Northern Railway’s (CNoR) Battle River Subdivision. At one point it possessed a large railyard and a number of important railroad maintenance facilities and storage areas for fuel, water and freight. Largely supported by the railroad, Big Valley was a bustling centre with a large population. In the late-1920s, Big Valley’s boom period came to an end when the divisional point was moved to Mirror on the former Grand Trunk Pacific Railway line.
Although the 1960 Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator was built long after the Big Valley’s glory days as a divisional point, its presence adds to the interpretation of the community’s railroad heritage, particularly when considered together with the presence of other designated historical resources, such as the historic CNoR railway station and the remains of the roundhouse and frequent visits by the Canadian National Railways 6060 steam locomotive.
More information on the Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator in Big Valley can be found on the Alberta Register of Historic Places.
Written by: Ron Kelland, Historic Places Research Officer and Geographical Names Program Coordinator