Authors' Notes and Gallery
Although my family moved a few times when I was growing up in Minnesota, I was always in sight of a silo.
I learned to read them. I could tell the time by reading the shadows of the giant concrete cylinders, and could tell how to get between the grocery store and my home by which elevator I was facing at the time. When I was old enough to question what they really where and what they did, many of the elevators had already disappeared.
Going to Thunder Bay, especially Fort William, is like getting a second chance to be a kid, be curious, and feel at home playing in the world.
For more of my story, check out the ‘info’ page for the Substreet project here.
It started out as “Canadian Curiosity.”
Many mornings were spent traveling southbound from Winnipeg, watching a fireball sunrise over the prairie. As a born and raised New Englander, the only ‘prairies’ that I saw growing up were the ones on scratched, technicolor filmstrips. No amount of editing can accurately portray the overwhelming vibrancy at daybreak. I would procrastinate my return to the States by following dirt roads and a 1970s map to various farming communities. During one of these excursions, I found myself at the foot of a quite peculiar building in Saint Agathe. I had never seen a grain elevator before that moment.
It wouldn’t be until three years later, after an ethereal, late night bike ride out to the prettiest grain elevators in the Twin Ports, that I realized what I had actually stumbled upon in Manitoba. A new-found appreciation for elevator architecture coupled with a rampant desire to devour anything that was even marginally related to Canadian history made Thunder Bay a likely target of my fascination. What Manitoba started, Ontario finished. Once I set eyes on Ogilivie’s, I was hopelessly hooked by the magic.
Gallery: Port Arthur Elevators
One of the walls of the train shed was growing, thanks to a little bit of sunlight and a constant trickle of rainwater over it. FP-100C.
From left to right: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #7, Thunder Bay Elevator, Dominion, Davidson & Smith, Parrish & Heimbecker. One of four packed elevator rows.
Looking down at the Port Arthur Ore Dock from Manitoba Pool Elevator #3. The conveyor belts are gone and King Elevator is in the far distance.
Let’s play a game called “FIND THE PIGEON”! There is one bird in this photo of dust collectors atop the King Elevator train shed.
What appears to be a building once associated with King Elevator is now a defunct scuba company. To the right of the frame you can see how the concrete on the elevator is beginning to show its rebar.
Two signatures complement this gorgeous hand-painted sign. ‘Bowers’ from 1987 and ‘Normal’ from 1982. The blocking on the letters is still visible!
The gulls wait to eat the next load of spilled grain. Arista 100.
Ruster at The Pool… employee graffiti about 100 above ground.
The great stenciled number on this chute caught my eye.
Looking into the half-demolished, half-dismantled conveyor for the sea leg.
King Elevator sits in the corner of a more recently-defunct lumber mill: Great Western Timber. Perhaps in the future I will write the history of it. Arista 100 in 120.
A custom ladder to cross conveyor belts on the work floor.
All of the bucket conveyors crashed on this work floor when their casings were scrapped. Note all of the valves to open the grain flow.
I wonder if these windows were bricked after the 1950 explosion with the hopes that, if another silos blew, the people in this office would be better protected.
The office for the Government (Dominion) Elevator had a nice hat collection left over.
The red brick elevator is reflected in the flooded railyard. Note the saturated red square on the elevator, where the ‘4’ was scrubbed off. FP-100c.
The side of King that faces the lake is stained yellow-green.
The roof of the elevator was partly lit naturally with six big skylights. The less electricity pumped into a grain elevator, the less chance of a grain dust explosion.
The lower floors of King Elevator are scrapped and ruined. Nearly everything that is not concrete has been destroyed. Some time ago it seems that someone built a tarp-roof hovel inside of the ground floor.
A skyway 100 feet above this office crumbled one day. This is what happened when those two met. High-impact love.
Looking out of the elevators. Canada Malting, Vitera A and Vitera B in the background.
A me-sized hole in the half-demolished skyway looks about a story down to the ground. Step lightly. Arista 100.
The tower of Dominion certainly dominates the elevator row.
The control room for Manitoba Pool Elevator #3 was the most modern of any I saw in Thunder Bay. Apparently, 25 men were working on the day this elevator shut down.
A closeup of the pulleys atop Manitoba Pool #3 which once pulled conveyor belts full of grain across the cupola building as it was sorted into the silos below.
I love the ‘hats’ on the top of the SWP-4 headhouse. FP-100C.
Seagulls circle the roof of King Elevator, the veritable Fortress of the Pigeon Forces.
A great lakes freighter slowly passes SK Wheat Pool 4 with ‘The Sleeping Giant’ in the background. Arista 100.
Peering into a remote office at Manitoba Wheat Pool #3. Someone left their to-do list behind.
Parrish and Heimbecker (front) Davidson & Smith-AU-S (middle) Government (back)
A chalkboard halfway to the headhouse is untouched since the mill closed. It still has the cheat sheets!
The King Elevator is connected by a manlift and this spiral staircase. The manlift was down–can you believe it? Note the cool turns in the vertical railings. Arista 100 on 120.
Dominion was acquired by UGG, which designated the elevator ‘M’. Their offices still have safety signage.
One of my favorite shots of the headhouse at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #4, with one seagull threading the needle. The socket holes on the frame got blown out thanks to my bad developing, but I like the effect. Arista 100.
The newer train barn for the SK Pool 4 complex has a car tipper that would clamp and turn the grain cars to dump them into hoppers. FP-100c.
One boat comes into port while three wait. The birds, fat from spilled grain, circle overhead. Arista 100.
A closeup of the key to the Dominion (aka Government of Canada) Elevator manlift. That it needed such a guide does not inspire confidence.
Gulls check in on me while I climb around the roof of one of the train shds of SWP #4. FP-100C.
The roof of the King Elevator had two small vents and a terrific view of Sleeping Giant Provincial Park. Arista 100 in 120.
The stairs of this elevator had their landings removed long ago to keep vandals grounded.
Without a conveyor belt, this tripper seems lost. The job of this machine was simply to take grains from the moving conveyor belt and eject it into the silos via the chutes on the sides. Note all the dust collection venting added to the machine to suck up any explosive grain dust.
All that’s left of the lost annex near Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #4 and #5. Arista 100.
The annex casts a long shadow over its old headhouse and the former UGG (currently Vitera C) elevator. Arista 100.
When the ship loaders were added, a doorway was cut through the metal silo to make a room for the grain handling equipment. Note the dust sensor in the corner of the torch-cut archway.
I had to climb into the roof of the half-demolished skyway to see through to the other side of the train shed. That’s my foot in the corner.
An old sign in front of the elevators that used to constitute Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #4. Kodak Pro 100.
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.
Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #4 looks rough these days. You can tell how high the children of Thunder Bay can throw a rock.
The top floor of the Dominion Elevator. Acros 100 on 120.
The side of Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #7, still active, is hypnotizingly regular. From a distance, its texture resembles parchment. Its color resembles the color of the wheat in late October.
Looking up at the network of elevators at the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool. Its train shed doors stand open under the void where conveyors should be. You can see where they used to connect on the left and right. The outside of the building is covered in racist graffiti.
Looking up the Dominion Elevator’s tower. I especially like this picture because it shows how so much of the electrical conduits wound round through the mostly hollow space.
Thunder Bay Elevator, now stands without a headhouse. Around the silos, a few shacks still stand.
A broken window looking through the First Aid Room and into the Control Room in charge of directing grain into ships. You can see one of the large conveyors on the right, clad in green. Chutes and staircases intertwine seemingly randomly through the big empty spaces.
Looking down a manlift on the ore dock side of the elevator. It’s a belt-less belt-o-vator!
I am sure even the workers had trouble remembering which pillar hid the phone. Note the “ON” written on the electrical socket, too.
Gallery: Fort William Elevators (and Ogilvie!)
A retrofitted dust collector stands out from the geometry of the roofline.
Looking at the side of the Superior Elevator from the tracks that feed the Western. Note the old flagpole.
Looking into the Pool 8 Annex from the original Ogilvie’s elevator.
Looking across the ruined skyway that connects the two elevators. I wanted to walk across it, but my exploring parter held me back.
A reminder to the manlift riders to get off the belt before they hit their heads on the ceiling. This is the top level of the headhouse, where dust collectors would extract most of the grain bits from the air to reduce risk of explosion.
Sunset through a stained window in the headhouse made the floor feel like a heavy industrial Disney movie.
The end of the new elevator. Line of bird droppings follow the fire sprinkler pipes and wires in the room.
From the highest roof of Ogvilvie’s, Thunder Bay looks like paradise.
The train loading tower (left), and elevators. Check out that giant flagpole/lightning rod.
The top of the grain handler of Ogilvie’s. The flagpole serves as a lightning rod. In fact, I would not be surprised if that was its primary purpose.
Looking toward Fort William (Western) Elevator from the top of Superior Elevator. Fort William is bordered on the south and east by this wide, winding railyard. Note the pretty and quaint brick offices of the Western.
Ava on an upper catwalk.
Two bin signs criss-cross in the North Annex.
Train-mounted snowplows pushed the snow through the fence and against the old offices.
A century-old ghost sign for Royal House Flour was preserved after a building is built above and through it! Looking from the north annex elevator toward the headhouse.
Click to see what the mill area looks like now.
The floor was a bit too thin for my taste at the top of Superior Elevator. The left hole looks outside; the right hole looks down half a story to the level below.
On the outside of the steel silos and headhouse is a riveted bulge that does not look like the silos. Inside is this elevator, a rudimentary (read: dangerous) and old (read: dangerous) freight elevator.
At the top of the workhouse, dust collection pipes weave through cross-crossing conveyors.
Two steel hoppers supported by counterweights and springs, which were used to weigh incoming grain loads before being deposited in the silos beneath this floor. Garner is another way to say “big measuring tank”, if you were wondering. I fell in love with all the tubes and chutes on this floor.
The cupola–the space above the silos–is surprisingly original. The building was too unstable for anyone to scrap it out. Seriously, the floor is a deathtrap.
I love the ghost sign across these two elevators, originally built as Superior Elevator. It’s looking pretty rough.
The Port Arthur elevator row, as seen from the edge of Fort William.
“Against the blue sky, its rusting central silos look like rising smoke meeting the last minutes of a sunset. These give way to a corrugated night sky of blue gray, punched-through with staggered four-pane windows, all glassless.”
The main rail artery for Thunder Bay passes Ogilvie’s.
The Western Elevator’s old moniker looks over Fort William (the neighborhood). Snow falls over Mount McKay in the background. This elevator is still active… the only active elevator in Fort William proper.
A spring moon stands over the very active former Grand Trunk Elevator, now ‘Superior’. It seems to have gotten more than a few facelifts over the years.
Looking out from my perch close to the Kam toward the Ogilvie head house. To the left is a newer concrete annex, probably built in the years it bore the name Saskatchewan Pool 8.
When I first saw Ogilvie’s from the ground, I promised myself to look back when i found my way into this little pitched outcropping which seemed to have the best view of Thunder Bay I could imagine. It turns out, though, that there is no floor in that section; it is just extended machine access! Oh well. Mount McKay in the background in the last light.
Gallery: Historical Photos
A brochure advertising Western Canadian land offerings, an attempt to populate the new province and its connection with the railroad.
A local newspaper’s summary of Fort William and Port Arthur’s grain elevators, 1938.
1911 Ogilvies, Archives of Manatoba
Grain Growers Grain Company Hospitality Tent
The aftermath of the the explosion of the Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #4A headhouse.
A Saskatchewan Pool parade float, 1950s?
The banner of a circa 1947 elevator map.
Conveyors and Headhouse of Canadian Northern Elevator B, built 1903.
Fort William Elevators, circa 1960. Image credit Thunder Bay Archives.
Port Arthur Row, 1977. Image Credit: Thunder Bay Archives.
Crew of one of the Canadian Northern Elevators, circa 1900.
Saskatchewan Wheat Pool #4-A loading a vessel. Image credit: Thunder Bay Archives.
Map of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. Note all the information about Western Canada.