Lakehead Terminal Grain Elevators

Where: Thunder Bay, ON.

Date of construction: 1898 - 1903

Saskatchewan Pool Terminal Elevator No. 7 was the largest in the world when it was constructed in 1928. It was renumbered 7A when Sask. Pool 7B was acquired: they are today Viterra A and B. (Source: C. D. Johnson)

Saskatchewan Pool Terminal Elevator 7B, which shared a pier and rail lines with 7A. When 7B was acquired, the combined capacities of Elevators 7A and 7B maintained the title of the largest grain handling facility in the world. (Source: CSCE)

Site Location: Along the waterfront of Thunder Bay, Ontario.

Plaque Location: Lat.: 48° – 26’ – 4” N; Long.: 89° – 14’ – 5” W. (GPS: 48.4343631, -89.2346588). The plaque is mounted on a pedestal on the parapet at the south parking area off Colonel Keene Drive in Hillcrest Park. From the junction of Trans-Canada Highway 11/17 and Red River Road, drive 2 km south east on Red River Road. Turn right (south) on High Street and travel 0.4 km. Turn left on Colonel Keene Drive and park.

Plaque on pedestal on parapet of Hillcrest Park. (Source: Google Street View)

Description: Massive grain elevators have been a dominant feature of the waterfront at Thunder Bay since 1883, when the first terminal was under construction. The earliest terminals built by the CPR were constructed in the wooden crib technique on a pile foundation. By the turn of the century, the inadequacies of the crib terminals forced engineers to experiment with new materials and design concepts for terminal elevators. Steel, tile and reinforced concrete all came into use for terminal elevator construction between 1898 and 1903.

Elevator locations, listed by original owner. (Source: Can. J. Civ. Eng./C. Chapin, Lakehead University Cartographer).

Historic Significance: The Lakehead was originally recognized by Cornelius Van Horne of the CPR as the natural site for terminal grain elevators. The building of terminal elevators was deemed to be of national importance in the 1880s to allow grain to be shipped from western Canada by an all-Canadian route. The first shipment of grain arrived by rail from Winnipeg in 1883, two years before the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Vancouver. In 1916, C. D. Howe established his engineering firm in Port Arthur and specialized in the design and construction of terminal grain elevators, including Saskatchewan Pool No. 7. The end of grain transportation subsidies (the ‘Crow Rate’), the construction of grain-handling terminals on the Pacific, and the free-trade agreement with the United States all contributed to ending Thunder Bay’s dominance in Canadian East-West grain trade.

The Grand Trunk Pacific Railway Terminal, ca. 1910, was operated using hydroelectric power from Kakabeka Falls. (Source: C. D. Johnson)

Lakers at Grand Trunk Pacific Elevator, constructed between 1908 and 1910. (Source: www.thunderbaymuseum.com)

Plaque detail. (Source: C. D. Johnson)

Plaque Wording: National Historic Civil Engineering Sites. CSCE. THE LAKEHEAD TERMINAL GRAIN ELEVATORS. A tribute to the engineers who designed and supervised the construction of these massive structures since 1882. Canadian Society for Civil Engineering. 1990.

SCGC. Sites Historiques Nationaux de Génie Civil. LES ÉLÉVATEURS DU TERMINUS À GRAINS DE LAKEHEAD. Un homage aux ingénieurs qui ont conçu et dirige la construction de ces bâtiments massifs depuis 1882. Société canadienne de genie civil. 1990.

Plaque Unveiling Ceremony: The plaque was unveiled on November 10, 1990 by CSCE President Keith Bowers. Thunder Bay Mayor Jack Masters accepted the plaque on behalf of the City.

Link to Online Documentation:

P. Vervoort, “Lakehead terminal elevators: aspects of their engineering history”, Can. J. Civ. Eng., 1990.

P. Vervoort, “’Towers of Silence’: The Rise and Fall of the Grain Elevator as a Canadian Symbol.” Histoire Sociale Social History, 2006.