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

Appendix B: Types of Grain Elevators

Appendix B: Types of Grain Elevators

Country/Sentinel Elevators

When comparing Thunder Bay’s grain elevators and examining its importance in the Canadian grain trade, a few distinctions between elevator types are useful.

Historically speaking, most of the grain that came into Thunder Bay had already been housed in a Country Elevator, a place grain is stored after harvest but before it is inspected by the government. These inspections determined whether or not the grain was of marketable quality and condition. Most of the so-called Sentinel Elevators, small wooden structures built across much of Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, were of this type.

Gulls check in on me while I climb around the roof of one of the train shds of SWP #4. FP-100C.
Gulls check in on me while I climb around the roof of one of the train shds of SWP #4. FP-100C.

From the Country Elevators, grain moved eastward to Thunder Bay. Depending on whether the inspectors judged the grain to be acceptable or not, there were two possible paths for the incoming grain.

Hospital & Terminal Elevators

If the grain was rejected but suspected salvageable, it would be sent to a Hospital Elevator where there was special equipment to deal with unmarketable grain. If the grain was wet, the Hospital would dry it; if the grain was dirty, the Hospital would clean it; if the grain was unsalvageable, the Hospital would send to to be burned or sunk in the Lake. Grain that was successfully remediated was thereafter handled as acceptable.

If the grain was deemed acceptable, it would be sent to a Terminal Elevator for future shipment. Most of the elevators in the areas of Port Arthur and Fort William fall into this category, as do elevators in major American grain ports on the Great Lakes: Duluth, Minnesota, and Buffalo, New York are the highest-volume examples.

Two Buffalo, NY terminal elevators.
Two abandoned Buffalo, NY terminal elevators. Kate pictured.

Mill/Processing Elevators

As the railroads developed more reliable connections and Country Elevators and inspections became stricter, the need for Hospital Elevators decreased. Today, nearly all elevators are either of the Terminal type, or fall into a fourth category, Mill Elevators.

Mill Elevators, also called Processing Elevators, are smaller facilities that operate as part of larger plants, like flour mills or breweries. When a company purchases grain, it is transferred from a Terminal Elevator to a Mill Elevator, where the grain is turned into a product.