Todd Naber: Prairie Sentinels

Todd Naber runs a wholesale grain distribution business in Melfort, Saskatchewan, a prairie town in Saskatchewan’s great North East. Naber Wholesale Grains buys and processes lentils, peas, canary seed, canola, flax seed and oat products. The company boasts an on-site, world-class processing facility.

As Todd Naber knows, grain has historically been kept in grain elevators as it awaits distribution to the marketplace. Vintage grain elevators still populate the west, including in Saskatchewan. While they vary in appearance, grain elevators typically have certain features in common. To understand the purpose and the form of grain elevators is to understand the grain economy which formed the basis of prairie settlement.

In order for a new settlement to thrive and be successful, there had to be efficiency in the production and marketing of grain to world markets. That meant establishing a system to assemble and store grain from farms, and move it forward to port position for shipment overseas. The earliest form of grain storage was the flat warehouses built alongside the rail line which received the grain. Bins would be located on each side of a central alley that gave access to loading and unloading the bins.

It took an entire day to load a box car with grain: this system was too slow and was very labor-intensive. Innovation came in the form of a vertical leg by which grain could be elevated and stored vertically. This led to the distinctive, high narrow shape common to grain elevators.

The elevator had its origins in Buffalo, New York. It was successful, and the design quickly spread across the great plains of North America and into the Canadian prairies, and gave birth to a name for these vertical wooden facilities: “Prairie Sentinels.”

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