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From a peak of 1,755 in 1933, it’s estimated close to 100 of Alberta’s historic grain elevators remain standing, and Nanton came very close to losing three of its own when they were decommissioned in March 2001. “The demolition permit was signed, and they were hours away from being bulldozed,” said Leo Wieser, president of the town’s Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre Society. “These are very important cultural icons; Prairie cathedrals that are so important to western Canadians.”

Wieser credits Nanton’s strong community engagement for their last-minute rescue. Citizens formed the Save One campaign and raised cash to purchase them. They are now owned by the Society under the supervision of the Town and Province.

Built in 1927, the twin green elevators were property of the Alberta Wheat Pool until purchased by Richardson. Built in 1929, the orange elevator was a Pioneer facility. 

The Society is in a 10- to 15-year process of restoring the buildings and converting them into a museum complex. As they are registered historical resources, the process must follow strict provincial and federal guidelines. “We will restore them as close to working order as possible,” promised Wieser.

The orange elevator will become an interpretive and events centre, and its annex will serve as a reception area and gift shop as well as its main display area. These materials will focus on the Canadian Pacific Railway line established there in 1898, grain transportation and the farm industry.

Though a work in progress, the Centre has been open to the public for events, activities and tours for three years, and the elevator exteriors are lit up for special occasions such as Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day. Tours in and around the elevators are available between June 1 and Labour Day. Displays now include equipment once used to operate the elevators.

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