Unknown Victoria

Victoria: The Unknown City is a guidebook to an eccentric town on the southern tip of Vancouver Island. This is the author's blog. Look here for Victoria lore, updates and additions to the book, and hate mail.


Sunday, December 09, 2007

Against The Grain

Good series of stories today in the Times Colonist about the challenges of living on the 100-Mile Diet on Vancouver Island. The front page had a photo of Hamish Crawford, a farmer who's raising Red Fife wheat on the Saanich peninsula, and milling it for bread and other goods sold at his family's Roost Farm Bakery on McTavish Road, near the airport.

What really caught my wife's eye, however, was the detail that Vancouver Island used to grow so much wheat that some was exported from grain elevators at Ogden Point – a most unlikely location, considering that we're on an island a thousand miles from the prairie. But the elevators did indeed exist.

The elevators were built in 1928 with money from the City of Victoria, in anticipation of a boom in global sales of Canadian wheat. The city commissioned Panama Pacific Grain Terminals – which promised that no Oriental labour would be used – to build and run the facility, in exchange for fees of $5,000 per year. What they erected was huge: the elevators stood over 93 feet tall, and had a combined capacity of one million bushels of grain.

At first, the project appeared to be a bust. In 1938 the Panama company pulled out, and the elevators sat empty between 1942 and 1947, leading the city to sell its "white elephant" to a private operator for $200,000 in 1952. Then the much-promised boom occurred after all, and the elevators became very busy, especially when Vancouver dockworkers were on strike. By 1966, Victoria's elevators were moving 11.5 million bushels per year.

But Vancouver increased its grain-handling capacity, and in 1976 the owners of the Victoria facility (the Alberta Wheat Pool) decided to close it for good. In February of 1978 a wrecking ball tore down the elevators, and today all that occupies the site are parking lots and docks for cruise ships. Click on the photos to see what used to be there in more detail.

PS Some photos of the railway that worked around the grain elevators are posted here.

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