Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Vanishing Sentinels of the Prairie

After an overnight stay in Great Falls, MT, we headed north on I-15 to the Canadian border.

We had expected there would be lines of travelers waiting to cross into Canada and also anticipated a good amount of time devoted to having the RV checked by the border personnel. So, our travel to Magrath, Alberta, was expected to cover only about 180 miles.

As it was, there was a very short line at the border crossing and after a check of our passports and a pleasant conversation with the personnel, we zipped through--way ahead of schedule.

Our stay at Magrath was also one night, and we were on the road to Cochrane, AB, about 15 miles west of Calgary, early the next morning.

Since there were so few buildings along the highway, we were able to notice the buildings that demon-strated ingenuity (left) in constructing a building that utilized the contour of the land to its advantage

and humor (left) in the trim of this barn that is, I believe, part of a camp.

But along Canada Highway 4 in Milk River (the next two photos) and Highway 2 in Nanton (the third photo below) were some examples of elevators that are disappearing from the Canadian landscape. I think the description of these "side-track titans" was sheer poetry:

"At one time, not so long ago, our prairie skyline with its strong horizontal lines was interrupted by an equally strong vertical element--that of the country grain elevator. But landscapes do not remain static. They change and they evolve. Today, the country grain elevator has all but disappeared.

"For decades the elevators dominated our horizon at more or less regular intervals, allowing us a means by which we could measure our progress across the landscape. A rhythmic pattern was established as hamlets and villages took root adjacent to the grain elevators.

"During the first decades of the 20th century, railway lines criss-crossed the prairies like spiderwebs. Springing up closely behind were standard-designed elevators built by grain companies.

"With the recommendation of the Hall Commission in 1977 to abandon large sections of the rail network, closure of elevator points followed. Sometimes elevators were moved by the grain companies to another point or sold to producers. In today's climate of closure, elevator companies opt for demolition, citing liability, insurance, and tax concerns" (

At their peak in 1934, there were 1,755 elevators in Alberta; in 1951 there were 1,651; and today there are fewer than 150 remaining.

Except for the few elevators that have been saved by indus-trious com-munities, Alberta will be elevator free before you can blink an eye. The Nanton "Save One" Society is working hard to prevent the loss of these sentinels. Once they are gone...they are gone.

The province-wide Alberta Grain Elevator Society (AGES) works to gain financial support for the preservation of grain elevators as a national symbol.

The descent into Cochrane, Alberta, located in the Bow River Valley, took us past several homes built on a ridge overlooking the city of 14,000.

We soon learned that Cochrane is known for outdoor pursuits. It is a center for para-gliding/sky-diving instruction, with the school at the top of Big Hill.

And this same hill is also a popular training ground for cyclists from the area, who take advantage of its 7% grade and two-mile distance.

The above three views (left to right) overlooking the city go from east to west.


I forgot to include this photo of the Rimrock Auto Arena in Billings, MT, home of the Indoor Football League team, the Outlaws. On June 20, 2010, a tornado hit the 12,000-seat arena, causing major damage with much of the roof being completely torn off.

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