SPOOM is an organization that has an interest in the preservation of old mills. As a member of their Ontario chapter, I was saddened to read in their newsletter of the sale of milling equipment from a local landmark. The Blair Mills Corn Mills, which operated until September 2002, is selling its equipment and real estate. This historic mill is offering for sale corn grinders, shakers and cleaners that date from the early 30’s. It is inevitable that changes like this take place, but it makes me sad.
I felt the same unhappiness when we visited the Grain Academy in Calgary, a display that sprawls over 10,000 square feet. This model set-up in the Stampede Grounds clearly demonstrates the transportation of grain from the prairie farms all the way to the juggernaut ships that deliver the crops to international customers.
Prior to our visit, we had visited a number of farms in the bread basket of Canada and realized that the interior of those Prairie Provinces is being hollowed out as changes in international agriculture take their toll. All through the prairies, the demise of small towns is obvious. The railway’s demand for efficiency causes the grain elevators which were once the heart of the small town anatomy to stop beating. The other businesses in those burgs then gasp and finally fail.
In places like Roleau, Saskatchewan, once a Mayberry sort of town, the café/grocery store can be purchased for $89,000, which includes the stock and business as well as the real estate consisting of the store with a three-bedroom apartment behind it. This is a rather low price for a business in a once vital town.
Not far from Roleau in western terms, only several hundred miles north, a small commercial grain elevator stood on a farm. Purchased from one of these near extinct towns for only a few dollars, this 125 foot high structure had been carefully moved down the road six miles in an upright position. This once active elevator now serves in its retirement as a giant grain bincheaper, the farmer reckons, than building a group of shiny new steel grain bins.
Mills, those Canadian castles, are falling one by one to the siege of progress.