Landmarks- The Feed Elevator

unifeed2004 The old Unifeed/ Shur-Gain elevator that stood by Macleod Trail in Millrise,  heavily damaged from both demolition and graffiti, circa 2004. It was demolished in July of that year. Photo gallery link. Photo credit: Joshua Soles

Wow, this photo. For some reason I thought of the building in late 2011, and it took me nearly two years, until late 2013, to actually find a decent picture of it (and, seeing as how this was posted back in 2004, the whole scenario makes me seriously reconsider my internet skills. Then again, you can only handle so many links to mechanics in India, before you give up Googling “midnapore elevator” completely).

In the meantime, my initial search for the elevator had led me to read about the Ogden Grain Elevator, which had been demolished just a week before. Reading the discussion about that building’s history, landmark status, and whether or not it could have been saved, led me down a path of urban studies and local history that continues to this day in the works presented here. Beyond that, I didn’t have a lot of interaction with the building. I remember seeing it on car rides home as a kid, along with the spinning SOUTHSIDE SELF STORAGE neon sign, just south of it and barely visible in the photo above. I remember the big white building, with the orange stripe, and the writing on it. When my older brother had a hamster, our dad suggested he get feed there. I also remember seeing it from the Midlake/Shawnessy Boulevard overpass, while walking to A&B Sound to buy Clash and 54-40 CDs back in 2004. It was only a short distance away from that “purple warehouse”, and in retrospect , I wish I had gone to take a closer look. Because a few months later, it was torn down.

I remember this too. Not from reading about it in The Herald, though there was a small eulogy for it on the front page, July 29,2004. Instead I heard about it from my dad; being needlessly sentimental, I recall missing it immediately. Had I really cared, I would have gone and taken pictures of it, or at least seen its last days. Somewhat ironically, in the Herald article, one of the demolitionists from K-Lor Contractor Services noted buying feed for his horses there years before.

The building operated until 2002, and was built around 1960; the Herald was right in noting that it wasn’t a particularly historic structure, having an unconventional shape and strong corporate ties. Unlike the Midnapore grain elevator which had been to the north of it, the Unifeed elevator didn’t have any kind of strong mythology attached to it; that its exact construction date is unclear supports this even more. Perhaps its greatest claim to fame, tragically, is that it was, according to the Herald, the last working, wooden grain elevator in Calgary. Of course the building did have some history.

The elevator was initially built by Unifeed, with a big “UNIFEED” script on the front of it, in white over the orange banner, by at least the early 1980s. I remember the script still being there in the 90s, and the outline of it can be faintly seen in the above photo. Shur-gain was the last tenant identified with the elevator, but it appears they merely painted over the UNIFEED logo; I can’t make out what the badge on the right of the building is for, but it definitely doesn’t resemble a blue and red “Shur-Gain” logo.unifeed2004detailClose-up of the northwest corner of the elevator after being stripped during demolition, showing the red layers underneath. Photo gallery link. Photo credit: Joshua Soles

The building was also not all white, at least not initially. The above photo shows where an outer white panel had been ripped off, showing the red underneath. The sides of the building were red in the early 80s, which makes me wonder if it was given white siding as an effort to make it look “cleaner” like the CC Snowdon building in Ramsay.

midnapore1964View of Midnapore circa June 1964. Taken from the Millrise area, the feed elevator is in the right mid-ground of the photo. Glenbow Archives PA-1599-573-337

In spite of its humble and spotty history, the building was a strong landmark in the area, and residents from all the surrounding communities seem to have some memory of it. Growing up in Midnapore, and thus east of the building, I only recall the “front” of it. Millrise and Shawnessy residents might be more familiar with this view of the building, in this iconic photo of Midnapore from 1964, which apart from some distant photos and old news reels I wasn’t able to present here, is the only other record I have of the elevator. That so many people could know about this building, that it stood for 44 years, and that it’s only been gone for 10, I hope these few records, and the vague recollections of area residents, aren’t the only record of the building.

I wish it was still there. It’s not as if Grain Elevator Refurbishing is completely unheard of. Fish Creek Nissan, which had opened just north of the elevator a few years earlier, later built another office on the site it had occupited. It  isn’t hard to imagine the elevator being repainted, with a big “NISSAN” around the centre, and refurbished for a similar purpose.

But was this really an option? The major issue with elevators is that they are huge fire hazards; a large wooden tower, full of dust accumulated over a half a century, isn’t exactly a safe thing. The Calgary Herald article notes that the elevator was ranked the biggest fire concern for the Calgary Fire Department at the time (well, the property owner claimed this, so there might be some conflict of interest. Still). That the building had been vacant for two years prior to demolition doesn’t help; there’s a pretty big difference between anything that’s being actively used, and one that’s obviously sitting there doing nothing. An exhibit at the Reynolds Auto Museum in Leduc on elevators noted that once an elevator catches fire, it’s going to burn right down, and your biggest concern is making sure it doesn’t take the surrounding buildings with it. Which leads to perhaps the biggest problem with the feed elevator, its location.

“They passed the rail station at Midnapore, its grain elevator now sunk in a suburb”-Katherine Govier, Between Men

Coincidentally, that seems to sum up what happened with the feed elevator pretty well.

In the mid-1990s the immediate surrounding area began to be developed into a pretty condensed residential area, with a few rows of tightly-packed houses, a retirement home and condominium complex, all on the west side of 5 St SW. It’s not hard to imagine residents worrying about the giant old fire hazard across the street (and probably some grumbling about the “eye-sore” too). There had been concern a generation earlier, in the early 1980s when a giant propane tank and loading facility occupied the site just south of the elevator (now occupied by Storage Mart Canada, previously Southside Self Storage). I’m sure area residents weren’t real impressed with that explosion hazard a block from their homes, and once serious development began, the need to get rid of it became even more pressing.

That being said, the area west of 5th street, east of Millrise Boulevard, was never supposed to be so heavily residential, and was intended to accommodate industrial and commercial usage, according to the Revised Midnapore Phase 2 Area Structure Plan. The heavy residential use also led to heavier than expected traffic. All of this would seem to make the elevator less viable, and perhaps if the area had been developed differently, if there hadn’t been an enormous number of residents, with the accompanying traffic and concerns about sightlines, property value and safety, the elevator might still be around. Then again, it’s not hard to see the lack of viability with running an elevator that deep into city; look at what happened with the elevator in Ogden seven years later. Not to mention the C-Train expansion south of James McKevitt in the new millenium. The tracks running towards Shawnessy and Somerset-Bridlewood stations, which opened in June 2004, would have made running a railspur to the elevator, necessary to actually run it as an elevator, virtually impossible.

I wish it was still around, and I still regret not going there in July 2004 to snag some pictures, and get a really good record of it. Of course, had I done that, maybe I wouldn’t have been so inclined to spend all this time trying to understand all the other things which were lost, and actively work to improve understanding of local history. I don’t know.

Sure was a cool old building though. And I feel like it deserves more of a tribute than it got. Maybe this is a start.

Unifeed_drawing_collageDrawings of the feed elevator, based off of the 1964 photo above, and taken (respectively) from the 1975 Midnapore I Design Brief (reprint), 1975 Midnapore I Design Brief (original) and 1979 Midnapore II Area Structure Plan.

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