Grain Elevators of
Port Arthur & Fort William
Thunder Bay, ON

Abandonment and Amalgamation

Part II: Abandonment and Amalgamation

The Spirit of Cooperation Spreads

Farmers in other provinces took notice, and also began to organize themselves into cooperatives. Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company would be founded in 1911, followed by Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator Company in 1913. The Saskatchewan faming collective proved to be the most effective. Their intent was not to just regulate marketing, but to ignite a grain industry coup d’etat.

If the current elevator system was so unfair, why shouldn’t farmers simply build, own, and control their own elevators?

This major economic power play caught the attention of the Canadian government, where there were fears of western farmers fleeing to the United States. The decision came to institute new regulatory measures and restore a sense of fairness to grain farming in the new provinces. Such a change was realized on April 1, 1912 with the passing of The Canada Grain Act. With the Grain Act came the arrival of The Board of Grain Commissioners for Canada. The purpose of The Board was in part to normalize grain prices across the country and to institute a standard system of weights and grades.

Looking at the side of the Superior Elevator from the tracks that feed the Western. Note the old flagpole.
Looking at the side of the Superior Elevator from the tracks that feed the Western. Note the old flagpole.

Strength in Cooperation

World War I and the economic depression that followed it brought the rise and fall of numerous cooperatives.

Inspired by the national tumult, grain traders learned to band together as well for mutual stability. The Alberta Farmers’ Cooperative Elevator and Grain Growers’ would merge in 1917 to form United Grain Growers, often abbreviated as UGG. Saskatchewan Cooperative Elevator Company changed twice: first to Saskatchewan Cooperative Wheat Producers in 1923 and again in 1953 when it became known as the now-famous Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Shortly after, in 1924, Manitoba Pool Elevator was established.

The 1920s and 1930s, despite this depression and economic difficulty, was to be the height of the elevator industry in Thunder Bay. By 1925, Port Arthur and Fort William was home to 36 elevators.

A Saskatchewan Pool parade float, 1950s?
A Saskatchewan Pool parade float, 1950s?

Grain cooperatives served the farmers and buyers well, although the system was slow to provide allies with Canadian grain in the early years of World War II. To solve this problem, The Board was revamped to a ‘single-desk’ system in 1943. This system allowed crops prices to be more predictable, thereby increasing industry supply. For half a century this system continued without interruption, even as Port Arthur and Fort William, as municipalities, changed dramatically.

Fort William and Port Arthur Become Thunder Bay

On January 1st, 1970, after 60 years of discussion and debate, the cities of Fort William and Port Arthur combined with the nearby McIntyre and Neebing to become the City of Thunder Bay. This union would come to be referred to as “Amalgamation”

Beside the half-demolished Thunder Bay Elevator shops and offices (brick building) are some rusting fishing boats. A little bit of SWP #7 is seen in the upper right.
Beside the half-demolished Thunder Bay Elevator shops and offices (brick building) are some rusting fishing boats. A little bit of SWP #7 is seen in the upper right.

Not only were the citizens of both communities asked to vote on this union, but they were also asked to choose the name for the new, combined city. Despite support for “Lakehead” and “The Lakehead”, “Thunder Bay” won the popular vote.

Despite this unification, the city continued to have two separate and distinct downtowns. In addition to this decentralization, the city also maintained two very separate industrial hubs, allowing each to continue developing in their own distinct manner.

The Single Desk is Abandoned

In 1998, political controversy surrounding The Board resulted in the single-desk system being handed over to the farmers from a Liberal government. During this time, it was agreed upon that The Board would require the approval of a farmer-controlled board of directors going forward. Ten of the fifteen members would be farmers elected to the position; the remaining five would be government appointed. However, during the transition to a Conservative government, these requirements were discarded: the days of The Board’s single-desk power were no more.