AFTER WORKING IN Calgary for several years, Nancy Parsloe decided she wanted to live in a smaller centre. In 1998, she went on a driving tour of nearby towns and ended up spending the night in a campground in Nanton, 75 km south of Calgary. She awoke with a clear view of a trio of brightly coloured wooden grain elevators, erected in 1929 and 1939. “I was hooked,” recalls Parsloe, who bought a house and moved to the community of 1,900. Soon, however, there was talk of tearing the elevators down. She helped found a local preservation society which convinced Pioneer Grain Company, Ltd., owner of the abandoned elevators, to sell the buildings to the group for a token $1.
Obstacles remain, most notably finding the $200,000 or so needed to convert the elevators into a museum and archives. Still, Nanton stands as a rare success story in the fight to preserve what was once the most striking visual symbol of prairie life. The number of wooden grain elevators in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta peaked at more than 5,000 in the mid20th century. Today, fewer than 500 remain as they’re being demolished and replaced by fewer, but much larger, concrete-and-steel structures that can load four times as many rail cars in a day.
Groups like Parsloe’s, though, are determined that the old landmarks not fade away entirely. Earlier this year they formed the Alberta Grain Elevator Society, with the goal of preserving as many of the province’s remaining 200-odd wooden elevators as possible. Last week, High River, Alta., history buff Dennis Murphy took the issue to a new level, perching 33 m high atop the local elevator for 23 hours a day in a money-raising effort to save the 63-year-old structure. For Parsloe, the act dramatizes an important message. “You’ll never know how far you’ve come unless you save some of where you’ve been.” I?]
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