'They're like little art structures': new book highlights prairie grain elevators
A new book is putting a spotlight on the structures that once defined the economy of prairie provinces.
‘Grain Elevators: Beacons of the Prairies’ is a collection of images and stories of the buildings.
“They’re like little art structures out on the prairies and they’re very colourful, so I really just enjoyed shooting them for the way they looked,” said Chris Attrell, photographer for the book.
Eighteen years in the making, the book is a collaboration between Attrell, who contributed the images, and local Manitoba author Christine Hanlon, who contributed the stories and histories of the prairie sentinels.
“It’s been 18 years of cruising down the back roads all over the prairie provinces,” said Attrell. “Most of this was done in the days before GPS phone apps when you just cruised around with a map from the gas station.”
Attrell did not know if the end result was going to be a published book. Then a publisher out of Nova Scotia contacted him and put him in contact with Hanlon.
“She had done some really good books on the history of Winnipeg so it made a perfect match with her great writing and research skills and my photography,” said Attrell.
One of Attrell’s favourite images may soon be impossible to recreate. It is a grain elevator in Elva, Man., located in the southwest corner of the province. He said it is scheduled to be demolished sometime this year.
These towering landmarks are often the only reminder of the towns that once stood beneath them. Their loss, according to Attrell, is often a precursor to the demise of the community they once served.
“As soon as they take down the grain elevator and the rail service stops, it doesn’t just change the economic pattern of the town, but it also changes it a little bit as the social fabric,” said Attrell.
Many communities have taken it upon themselves to preserve instead of destroy grain elevators. Attrell cites Plum Coulee as an example.
The elevator sits on Main Street and is open for tourists to come and see and even go inside.
When asked what people will miss most as more of these structures come down, Attrell said it is their dominant position in the prairie skyline, often serving as a waypoint for towns many miles away.
“It’s been an extraordinary fun process. I can’t imagine how many kilometres I must have put on and flat tires but worth every effort,” said Attrell.