Rowley Grain Elevator Row
David Leonard, Historian RETROactive: Blogging Alberta’s Historic Places
In the spring of 1909, Premier Rutherford of Alberta announced his government’s commitment to a vast program of railway expansion in Alberta. To do this, the government offered to guarantee the bonds of major railway companies to the extent of $20,000 per mile of completed track. Taking advantage of this, the Canadian Northern Railway decided to incorporate several subsidiary companies to undertake specific lines in Alberta. One of these was the Alberta Midland, which was chartered by the provincial government in May 1909 to build a line from Vegreville south through Drumheller to Calgary. One purpose was to open up new land for farming, another was to tap into the coal reserves around Drumheller which had hitherto been unavailable to the Canadian Northern or any of its subsidiaries.
By the end of 1911, the Alberta Midland line was completed. Along it, several stations were built. One of these, 25 km north of Drumheller, was named Rowley, after the Manager of the Calgary branch of the Canadian Bank of Commerce. The Bank itself had provided substantial backing to the Canadian Northern. Behind the station, a townsite was subdivided, and, before long, a community evolved, the main purpose of which was to provide services to the surrounding hinterland where mixed farming was the staple economy.
It was essential therefore that Rowley be provided with grain elevators, and, in 1915, the first one was built by the Home Grain Company. It was apparently not well constructed however, for, shortly after its completion, it collapsed. Though rebuilt soon after, another mishap occurred when an annex burst, and, not long after that, the elevator burned down. In the wake of these mishaps, two other elevators were built in 1917. These were owned by the National Grain Company and the United Grain Growers. The UGG had only recently been incorporated as a farmer-owned company, and it was a good time for it to build for, like most of the western prairies, the Rowley district was seeing high yields and much demand because the war in Europe was diverting the activities of farmers there to other matters.
The National and the UGG had a monopoly on the local grain export at Rowley until 1923, when the Searle Grain Company, formerly the Home Grain Company, decided erect another elevator on the site of their first one at Rowley. At 40,000 bushels, this would be the biggest of the village’s three elevators. It was an unusual time to build, for grain prices had recently collapsed in the wake of the post war overproduction of wheat. Also, during 1919-20, both the Canadian Northern and the Grand Trunk Railways had been taken over by the federal government and consolidated into Canadian National. This meant reduced services, and, in 1922, rail traffic between Vegreville and Drumheller were significantly reduced.
The three grain elevators in Rowley managed to survive however, and, in 1928, the UGG structure was acquired by the Alberta Wheat Pool. Formed five years earlier, in the wake of plummeting grain prices, the Pool was a business concept advocated by UFA president Henry Wise Wood which saw farmers pool their wheat in a co-operative to ensure that no member would suffer unduly in times of stress. Such stress occurred during the early 1930’s, when the price of #1 wheat fell to 32 cents a bushel and many farmers could not afford to ship out their wheat. During the end of the decade however, with Great Britain gearing for war, the demand for wheat began to rise, and, with it, productivity on the Canadian prairies. In 1940 therefore, the Wheat Pool decided to twin its elevator in Rowley with a new 40,000 bushel structure.
The three grain elevators at Rowley continued to serve the district long after the war. In 1967, the Searle elevator was sold to the Federal Grain Company, and, in 1972, to the Wheat Pool, which then owned all three elevators. In 1989 however, the CN line between Rowley and Morrin was closed down, and farmers soon began trucking their grain to Morrin or elsewhere. The elevators therefore were closed also. They remained standing however, and, in recent years, have been acquired by the Rowley Community Hall Association which is seeking to preserve them.
In June 2010, the grain elevators in Rowley were designated a Provincial Historic Resource. Their historical significance lies in their representation of the major economy of Alberta for most of the 20th century, the growth and export of grain, and mainly wheat. They are also important as landmarks in Rowley, providing structural evidence of the community dating back to 1917, when the district was prospering. The first elevator represents the main source of that prosperity, and the three of them the economy of the district in the years that followed.
U.S., Saudi firms to buy former Canadian Wheat Board
Eric Atkins The Globe and Mail April 15 2015
The company formerly known as Canadian Wheat Board has found a buyer.
A joint venture between food company Bunge Canada and SALIC Canada Ltd., a subsidiary of Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co., will pay $250-million for a majority stake in grain trader now known as CWB.
The joint venture known as G3 Global Grain Group said on Wednesday the rest of the grain trader will be held by farmers.
The stake is the final part of the transformation of the Canadian Wheat Board, whose monopoly on wheat and barley buying in Western Canada was revoked by Ottawa in 2012.
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The Saudi Agricultural and Livestock Investment Co. was established by Saudi Arabia’s king in 2011 to secure food supplies for the country that imports 80 per cent of its food.
Why so many farmers miss the Wheat Board
Jake MacDonald Special to The Globe and Mail November 27, 2014
Cameron comment: There’s a lot of good information and background in the following article, of which we’ve excerpted very little. It’s fairly long (for the internet age), but highly recommended.
The debate over the Wheat Board is like the eternal argument over gun control — a sort of endless town-hall debate in which aggravated delegates keep showing up with armloads of statistics to prove that their opponents are underhanded, unpatriotic and just plain wrong. The Farmers for Justice blame current problems in the industry on the Wheat Board and its socialist legacy. The farmers who support the CWB call their opponents “The Farmers for Just Us,” and say they’ll be sadder but wiser when they figure out the Conservative Party’s agenda. Academics criticize the grain companies and their alleged history of profiteering on the backs of farmers. Left-wing bloggers blame Stephen Harper and his secret plan to sell Canada on the open market. And everyone blames the railways, which are making an awful lot of money these days, but never seem to pick up the phone when agriculture calls.
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Jim Downey is a classic prairie conservative, but says it’s a mistake to see the CWB as a socialist institution. “I knew a lot of staunchly conservative farmers who loved the Wheat Board,” he says. “A lot of farmers work very hard all day. They come home, they’re tired, and they don’t want to spend the evening trying to figure out how to sell their wheat. A lot of decent people like Andy McMechan had legitimate complaints about the Board, and when they protested, the Wheat Board overreacted and disgraced itself. But a lot of decent farmers like what the Wheat Board was trying to do.”
Glenn Tait is one of them. He operates his great-grandfather’s homestead near Meota, Saskatchewan. Like many hard-pressed farmers, he is coping with the rising costs by working a spread of 2,300 acres with his father and brother-in-law. He says the dismantling of the CWB was presented to the general public as a gift to farmers, but in his opinion it wasn’t a gift the farmers—who owned the Board—actually wanted. “The Wheat Board ran many polls over the years, with a large majority of farmers supporting the old single-desk system. The government spent two years spouting inflammatory rhetoric, and tried to prevent the CWB from holding a final plebiscite on the issue.”
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Andrew Paterson, 53, is the CEO of family-owned, Winnipeg-based Paterson GlobalFoods (of which Paterson Grain is part). He is the grandson of the grain baron and philanthropist Senator Norman Paterson, who in 1908, with all of $25 in start-up financing, bought and sold carloads of grain from a tiny rented office in Port Arthur, Ontario (now part of Thunder Bay). Eventually he built an empire of western elevators and a fleet of Great Lakes ships.
He says the dismantling of the CWB will present opportunities to streamline and co-ordinate his firm’s production and sales—and indeed, supporters of the Wheat Board say that by dismantling the monopoly the government transferred power to grain traders.
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The old multigenerational family farm is gradually being replaced by the vast acreage managed by the partnership, the corporation or the absentee owner. Harvesting machinery keeps getting bigger, more efficient and more expensive. Basic equipment for a small farm—trucks, tractor, swather, combine and so on—might cost well over $1 million. A couple of generations ago, a good-sized farm was a square mile (640 acres). Now, 2,000 acres is considered small. Rising costs keep pushing in from one end of the bench and farmers keep dropping off at the other. Is that such a bad thing? Farming, after all, has been in a state of constant revolution since the first nomadic hunter poked holes in the ground with a stick and scattered seeds of einkorn grass. What’s wrong with corporations taking over?
“Well, for one thing, they’re not as good at it,” says Byskal. “The small family farmer is often the best farmer. He’s been on the same land all his life, and he’s got a feel for the soil. He lets the land tell him what crops to grow, and the cropschange from year to year. The corporate guy doesn’t have that same rapport with nature. He’s got a very businesslike approach. And that’s not always the best for the land, in the long run.”
Supreme Court of Canada will not hear class action lawsuit over dismantling of Canadian Wheat Board
Press Release from Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board April 9, 2015
The Supreme Court of Canada has decided not to hear the appeal filed by farmers concerning a Class Action lawsuit stemming from the Harper Government’s dismantling of the single-desk Canadian Wheat Board.
The legal action was started to hold the Harper government accountable for its decision to unilaterally end the CWB’s marketing advantages and seize the farmer-paid assets, and the farmer-plaintiffs have expressed disappointment in the court’s decision. Stewart Wells, spokesperson for the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board (FCWB) commented “Since 2006, the legal efforts of the Friends of the Canadian Wheat Board have resulted in over 631 million dollars in extra returns to farmers. However, we are naturally disappointed that Canada’s legal system has been unable to fully hold the Federal government accountable for the confiscation and destruction of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) in 2011. The legal system has quite simply not been able to afford justice to western Canadian farmers so far.”
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In 2013/14 losses to farmers were estimated at 4 to 5 billion dollars due to the government’s highly dysfunctional marketing system. In 2014-15 alone, the spread between port prices and farm gate prices increased causing losses estimated at 3 billion dollars. Those price spreads have not returned to competitive levels so farmer losses continue to mount.
“With the single-desk Wheat Board farmers retained the beneficial ownership of their grain from the farm gate to the end-use customer and the Board was able to add value at each step of the way and then return that extra money to farmers. The quality and price discrimination advantage which was estimated at three quarters of a billion dollars annually was also likely significantly underestimated as customers are now complaining about Canadian quality and Canadian grain is reported to be lowest price on some international tenders. The dozens of grain ships waiting in Vancouver are only the most visible symptom of this mess. We have to recognize that Canada’s position in the international grain trade has now been severely damaged by Ottawa’s ideologically-based exercise in grain marketing and quality control” added Wells.
To add insult to injury, the Wheat Board assets, which were paid for by farmers and seized by the Conservative government, may be given away to private interests as the government moves to dispossess farmers of the last elements of the organization which benefitted prairie farmers for almost a century.