Giants on the Waterfront: Exploring the Western Grain Elevator

By Dylan Fisk (age 12)

How many times have you passed the large buildings along Thunder Bay’s waterfront? Likely so many times that you barely notice them anymore. The Walleye Jr. writer and photographer Dylan Fisk went in search of that answer.

As I walk through the silos of the grain elevator, I can’t help wondering if the founders of the Northwest Company, a fur trade kingpin that kickstarted Thunder Bay’s shipping industry over two centuries ago, would have ever imagined it escalating to a multi-million dollar shipping empire. In a weird way, seeing 30, 000 tonnes of grain reminds me of the piles of fur packs at Fort William Historical Park.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-19-54-amThis is just one of the dozens of thoughts that entered my mind on a day tour of the Western Grain Elevator on the Kaministiqua River, attending an event called Doors Open Thunder Bay. Organized by The City Of Thunder Bay Heritage Advisory and a local group called Friends Of Grain Elevators, this event showcased 16 historically significant locations throughout Thunder Bay. Unfortunately, I was only able to visit one of these locations, but if I had to give it a review based on my short experience, it would easily obtain five stars.

The staff were very friendly and the tour was overall educational. I learned many things about our grain industry that I never would have imagined. Apparently in 1926 we had twenty-nine grain elevators. Twenty-nine! We have just over half of those left and half of those aren’t even operational. This is pretty unfortunate for our economy but a gold mine for our local historians. Now I’m sure you’re all thinking “Where are did all those grain elevators go? ”

Well, back then most grain elevators were wooden. It was pretty good from what I hear. Affordable and fairly easy to build. Unfortunately nothing is perfect, as many of these wooden elevators burned down. The ones that didn’t? Well let’s just say that they were subjected to rapidly changing structural regulations in the 1930s, giving Thunder Bay reason to host the first explosive demolition of a grain elevator in the world.

So, the next time that you gaze upon the Thunder Bay skyline, think of the hardworking men and women that fuel our economy, making it possible to maintain Thunder Bay’s beauty.