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Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator

Big Valley

Other Names:
A. W. P. Grain Elevator
A.W.P. Grain Elevator
Alberta Wheat Pool (1960) Grain Elevator
AWP Grain Elevator
Big Valley AWP Elevator

Statement of Significance

Description of Historic Place
The Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator in Big Valley was built in 1960. It is a relatively modern example of typical grain elevator construction. The grain elevator features prominent corporate signage and a gable-roofed cupola. A shed-roofed driveway and metal dust removal machinery are attached to its west elevation. An office and outhouse are situated a few metres to the west. The grain elevator is located at the eastern edge of the Village of Big Valley, beside the former Canadian National Railways (CNR) line. Approximately 70 metres to the south are the remains of the former roundhouse, and 300 metres to the north is the historic CNR station.

Heritage Value
The heritage value of the Alberta Wheat Pool (AWP) Grain Elevator in Big Valley lies in its association with the dominant method of storing and transporting grain in Alberta throughout most of the twentieth century, its status as an icon of Alberta’s agricultural and social history, and its contribution to the cultural landscape of Big Valley. The elevator, along with other associated structures and features, is evidence of the community’s former standing as a major railroading centre.

The AWP grain elevator in Big Valley is a landmark structure in the Village of Big Valley and is representative of hundreds of similar structures that used to exist in communities throughout Alberta. Hundreds of wood-cribbed elevators such as this were constructed across western Canada with many communities boasting rows of multiple elevators. Visible from miles around, the imposing vertical orientation of these structures dominated the flatland of the Prairies. As a central location for the delivery of the grain harvest, elevators became an important meeting place for a region’s farmers. As such, they served an essential role in the agricultural, commercial and social life of the communities in which they were located. Starting in the 1980s, consolidation in the grain handling and marketing sector, the development of new construction technologies, and increased truck transport of grain resulted in the closure and demolition of most wood-cribbed grain elevators. Few examples remain.

Selected as a divisional point on the Canadian Northern Railway’s (CNoR) Battle River Subdivision line in 1912, Big Valley was the site of a major rail maintenance facility. It had a station, rail yard and turntable with roundhouse as well as several other ancillary railway buildings. By 1921, Big Valley had developed into a bustling town of just over 1,000, including approximately 250 railroad employees. The trans-shipment of agricultural produce was an important activity in Big Valley. A stockyard was established along with grain elevators operated by the Home Grain Company (1916), Parrish and Heimbecker (1918), and the United Grain Company (1920), which was later acquired by the Alberta Wheat Pool (1928). The AWP expanded their facility in 1960 with the construction of the current elevator. Big Valley’s prominence was short-lived. By 1920, the management of both the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Pacific Railways had been transferred to the Canadian National Railway Company. Many branch lines were shut down and Big Valley lost its status as a divisional point. Most of Big Valley’s railway employees were transferred to the divisional point at Mirror.

With its loss of status, Big Valley’s population dropped dramatically during the late-1920s and over time most of the buildings and features associated with the railroad disappeared. However, the village’s grid pattern layout, the evidence of the rail yards and lines, the presence of the station building and the grain elevator, and the remains of the roundhouse comprise a cultural landscape that still communicates Big Valley’s railroading past. The AWP grain elevator dominates the town and its connection with the railway’s role in grain transportation makes it a significant contributing element to the village’s cultural landscape.

Built in 1960, Big Valley’s AWP grain elevator is a tall, wood-cribbed structure with a gable-roofed cupola. The elevator is clad in cedar siding and features dominant corporate signage and minimal fenestration. It has an attached driveshed, accessible by concrete and earthen ramps and large sliding doors, and a detached office located a few metres away. Aside from a few minor differences indicative of its period of construction, such as its relatively short driveway and large storage capacity, the elevator is typical of the many others that formerly existed in similar small towns across Alberta.

Source: Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 1898)

Character-Defining Elements
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Alberta Wheat Pool Grain Elevator in Big Valley include its:

General Elements:
- its position within the cultural landscape of Big Valley, particularly its spatial relationship with the turntable and round house remains, the station building, the railroad tracks, the adjacent grid-patterned town site and other landscape features indicative of the village’s railroad heritage;
- location along the former Canadian Northern Railway / Canadian National Railway’s line at the eastern edge of the town site.

Exterior Elements
- vertical orientation of the elevator;
- relation of elevator with the driveway and nearby office and outhouse;
- gable roof with gable-roofed cupola;
- beveled cedar siding;
- minimal fenestration pattern on the elevator and its cupola;
- reddish-brown painted exterior, representative of pre-1965 Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevators;
- dominant corporate signage on north and south elevations reading “ALBERTA WHEAT POOL” and “BIG VALLEY” in white paint and “FARMER OWNED COOPERATIVE” painted in gold;
- driveshed attached to the west elevation, accessed by earthen ramps with concrete retaining walls;
- large sliding doors on the north and south sides of the driveway, the south door surmounted by a gable roof;
- Cyclone dust removal machinery located to the west of the elevator and attached to the south side of the driveway;
- detached, gable-roofed, wood-siding clad office situated slightly to the west of the driveway;
- associated outhouse situated slightly to the south of the office.

Interior Elements:
- wooden, cribbed construction
- presence of operational grain distribution system, including scale, delivery bin, leg with cups, gerber, spouts, hoppers and bins for grain storage;
- metal operational man-lift;
- interior layout and floor plan of the grain elevator, driveshed and the original office;
- interior light fixtures.


Street Address:
Community: Big Valley
Boundaries: Portions of Railway Plan 8493AI Station Grounds in Township 35, Range 20, West of the Fourth Meridian
Contributing Resources: Building: 3
Landscape(s) or Landscape Feature(s): 1

ATS Legal Description:
Mer Rge Twp Sec LSD

PBL Legal Description (Cadastral Reference):
Plan Block Lot Parcel


Latitude Longitude CDT Datum Type
52.0334333 -112.7503350 GPS NAD 83

UTM Reference:
Northing Easting Zone CDT Datum Type


Recognition Authority: Province of Alberta
Designation Status: Provincial Historic Resource
Date of Designation: 2012/08/27

Historical Information

Built: 1960 to 1960
Period of Significance: 1960 to present
Theme(s): Developing Economies : Extraction and Production
Developing Economies : Trade and Commerce
Historic Function(s):
Current Function(s):
Context: When Big Valley was selected as a divisional point for the Canadian Northern Railway in 1913, the community began to grow rapidly, while the district around it filled up with farmers. However, shortly after the Dominion government took over both the Canadian Northern and Grande Trunk Pacific Railways, the lines were merged into one railway network, Canadian National, and many branch lines were shut down, with Big Valley losing its status as a divisional point. It continued to serve its hinterland however, and the United Grain Growers elevator there continued to do a steady business. In 1960, the UGG facility was joined by a large 75,000 bushel Alberta Wheat Pool elevator. This elevator reflected the desire of the district’s farmers to participate in collective grain handling, which the Pool had practiced since 1923. As a result of extreme fluctuations in the international demand for grain, western farmers had often gone from prosperity to bust within short periods of time. By co-operative storage and marketing, farmers could pool their grain and have it sold at opportune times and share equally in the profits. By 1960, the Wheat Pool had long been the largest grain handling interest in the province.

By the 1990s, all elevator companies on the prairies were moving to larger concrete structures at centralized locations. In Big Valley, the UGG elevator was closed down and soon demolished. The Wheat Pool elevator was also closed, but remained standing. As a relatively new building, it was still functional for storage purposes. Eventually, the structure was taken over by the Big Valley Historical Society and operated as an interpretive site.

HISTORICAL SIGNIFICANCE: The historical significance of the Alberta Wheat Pool grain elevator in Big Valley lies in its provision of structural evidence of the method of storing and marketing grain in a northern prairie setting during the mid 20th century. The structure is also important in representing the Alberta Wheat Pool, the farmers co-operative which dominated the economy of rural Alberta for much of the 20th century.

Additional Information

Object Number: 4665-1365
Designation File: DES 2267
Related Listing(s):
Heritage Survey File:
Website Link:
Data Source: Alberta Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 2267)
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