The Significance of Grain Transshipment
by Stéphane Comeault
On June 27, 2018 the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada (HSMBC) in conjunction with Parks Canada, welcomed Grain Transshipment at the Lakehead into the family of nationally significant people, places and events by unveiling a plaque on the Western Grain Elevator property in Thunder Bay.
Approximately 115 individuals including members of the Friends of Grain Elevators group, past and present grain industry workers, and reporters from several media outlets gathered in the shadow of Anemki Wajiw (Mount McKay) to join in this joyful event. It was a beautiful early summer's day with pleasant temperatures and a delightful breeze coming from the nearby Kaministiquia River.
The ceremony began just after 1 p.m. with a warm welcome from Dr. Richard Alway, Chair of the HSMBC. Participants joined Maria Lynn Tassone, in the bilingual singing of our national anthem before Michele Solomon, a councillor with Fort William First Nation and present on behalf of Chief Peter Collins, welcomed everyone to the traditional territory of the Anishinaabeg. The group was treated to numerous addresses from local representatives. Mr. Don Rusnak, Member of Parliament for Thunder Bay - Rainy River, told of his childhood memories growing up among the numerous grain elevators that graced the Thunder Bay waterfront. Councillor Lynda Rydholm, acting Mayor for the City of Thunder Bay, shared her family connections to the grain industry while emphasizing the role these grain elevators played in the development and growth of not only the local economy but Canada as a whole by offering a gateway for Canadian prairie grain to world markets via Great Lakes shipping.
Finally, Mr. Robert Paterson, President of the Friends of Grain Elevators group delivered a historical address describing the evolution of the grain industry and construction of numerous grain elevators at the Lakehead. He explained in detail how between 1883 and 1920, virtually all grain produced in Canada passed through Port Arthur and Fort William (now Thunder Bay) to be processed and stored in these magnificent structures. It all started in 1883 with the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) between Winnipeg and Fort William, at the head of Lake Superior. This rail line created a convenient, all-Canadian shipping route. Over the next 25 years, additional terminals were constructed by several rail lines as well as American and Canadian elevator companies. Following 1915, wheat prices soared and the need for increased grain-handling facilities grew exponentially. The former Fort William Elevator 10, next to which the ceremony was being held and the location where the plaque will be permanently erected, was constructed in 1913. By 1921, there were approximately 30 terminal elevators, and by 1929 these terminals were capable of storing almost 88.5 million bushels of grain making the Lakehead one of the largest grain-storage centres in North America.
A highlight of the event was when Mr. Maurice Mailhot, owner of the Western Grain Elevator, and Mr. Roddy MacKay, a retired grain inspector, joined the official party to unveiling the plaque. The plaque text was read in both English and French and the ceremony concluded with a light reception where friends and colleagues continued sharing stories about the grain industry over sandwiches and refreshments. The atmosphere was jovial as this ceremony represented the culmination of many years of passionate work to commemorate the history and function of these magnificent structures on the Thunder Bay waterfront.