Nanton Grain Elevators Receive Historic Designation

At 95 and 93 years old, Nanton’s grain elevators have held an unwavering place in the prairie horizon across much of southern Alberta’s recent memory.

On Saturday, after housing several bushels between them over the past few decades, the trio was officially designated a provincial historic resource. Two of the elevators are twin structures, the third is freestanding.

The ⁠ designation — a form of legal protection that helps recognize and protect historic places ⁠ — means the elevators will be eligible for more funding opportunities and grants than before, from both the provincial and federal governments.

Leo Wieser is president of the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Center. He said the historic cachet will be essential to make necessary repairs possible and will also help to further develop the site as a tourist attraction.

Wieser receives a dedicated plaque on behalf of the Government of Alberta, today during a celebration for the designation of the grain elevator (Helen Pike/CBC)

“The designation is fantastic because it legally means the grounds and the elevators themselves are protected,” Wieser said.

“We are officially beginning to work with the Province of Alberta to support this site and secure its future.”

Wieser noted that efforts to secure designation for the site had been underway for ten years before it was finally granted.

A saved monument

The three remaining grain silos were once part of a row of seven. After the last of them was dismantled in 2002, they all faced demolition.

But thanks to the efforts and donations of the citizens of Nanton – about 90 kilometers south of Calgary – and the surrounding area, three of the monuments were saved and restored to their original paint colors.

Sitting on the old Canadian Pacific Railway Macleod Spur, just 500 meters from the historic CP station site, the elevators are among the last remaining examples of 20th century industrial architecture in the province.

Also on site is one of Alberta’s last remaining coal sheds.

Wieser hopes those who visit the grain elevators also take the time to visit the town of Nanton, where he says there is a great candy store. (Helen Pike/CBC)

Roger Reid, MPP for Livingstone-Macleod, said he remembered many trips to the local grain elevator during harvest season with his grandfather when he was young.

“Elevators were an important part of our daily lives…for those of us who grew up in southern Alberta, grew up on farms,” ​​Reid said.

“[They’re] part of what helped build our province as agriculture developed.

Reid said that while old structures can be difficult to maintain, it’s important to preserve at least some of them.

He added that the historic designation is a tribute to Nanton’s community spirit and will act as a trigger to move forward intentions for the site.

Future plans in motion

Since the three elevators were saved, they have served as the site for film screenings and projected colorful light shows onto their walls. More recently, the elevators have been illuminated in the colors of the Ukrainian flag.

Wieser said they don’t stop there.

“We’re discussing how to make this space more vibrant, to make it a hub of engagement so we can get more people to enjoy the space in a way that they can stay for a while” , Wieser said.

There are practical matters to address first, such as necessary restorations to the coal shed and grain silo doors, Wieser said. But other than that, Wieser says they aim to host film events, puppet shows and even opera singing at the site.

“It’s really exciting and the tourism potential is vast,” Wieser said.

In the meantime, he hopes passers-by will stop by to visit the grain silos (or book a tour in advance) and detour to Nanton for a coffee while they’re there.

He only warned potential visitors of a group of feline friends who have made the site their mouse-hunting ground.

Wieser said the cats aren’t friendly enough to pet, but are well cared for in exchange for their mouse skills.