Ogden Grain Elevator, 1974
Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1185
Sometimes even the ugliest structures evoke a feeling of nostalgia. I felt very sad when the Robin Hood elevator came down in 1973. It had been a landmark from my childhood – I liked to see the jaunty Robin as we made our way downtown. I was impressed that he was also on our flour bag at home. Nice, warm fuzzy for such a cold, concrete structure, eh? Its destruction netted 27,000 tonnes of rubble that was cleared away to make room for the new Gulf Canada Square. Admittedly, there is not much that can be done with huge concrete tubes, in the way of repurposing, but it is still sad to see these landmarks go.
The Odgen Federal Grain Elevator had that effect on a many people, as well. No less a person than Le Corbusier discussed the Dominion Grain elevators in his publicationToward an Architecture. He speaks of them as “not pursuing an architectural idea, but simply guided by the results of calculations (derived from the principles that govern our universe)… [they] stir in us architectural emotions, thus making the work of humanity resonate with the universal order.” (p. 106). Well, I guess that explains it. I was responding to the universal order when I cried at the loss of Robin Hood (I’m going to go with that explanation, it sounds like I know what I’m talking about). The illustrations of the elevators included in Toward an Architecture were considered so beautiful (or something) that they were reproduced as postcards. Years later, Yousuf Karsh would photograph similar elevators in Port Arthur, treating them, he said “just like cathedrals.”
The Ogden Elevator had an interesting history. Normally these huge concrete terminals were built in port cities. The prairie elevator, with which we are all familiar, was the tall wooden structure situated every five or so miles along the rail line. Those elevators, the prairie sentinels, definitely evoke warm fuzzy feelings. But the Dominion Elevators were designed for the much larger volumes of terminals and ports. The Dominion/Federal/Ogden elevator was designed by C.D. Howe and built in 1915 by the Dominion government to work in conjunction with similar elevators in Saskatoon and Moose Jaw, as well as with port terminals such as Port Arthur, Vancouver and Port Nelson. It would provide storage and cleaning facilities for 2.5 million bushels of Alberta grain and act as the shipping centre to the ports. It was a marvel of construction for its time. It was powered by electricity from the City of Calgary, channeled through a substation on the site to power the 53 engines required to work the machinery; there was a state of the art dust collection system installed and it could handle the loading of 36 railcars per hour. It cost one million dollars to build this massive concrete structure. It was such a wonder that it featured in a publication put together to promote business development in Calgary.
But what do you do with 56 cement silos? It was no longer efficient to run the elevator and its location in the heart of the city made it difficult for farmers to get their grain there. The Calgary Heritage Authority has been working with the owners of the site and has photographically recorded the interior and exterior of the building so there will be a record of its existence. But the old gal herself is gone. I read it took six seconds to bring her down.
Robin Hood Flour Mills
Alison Jackson Photograph Collection, AJ 1265