Friday, May 11, 2018

Kingston's Grain Elevator

Changes to Great Lakes shipping in the 1930's included the construction of the 'fourth' Welland Canal, begun in 1915 and finished in 1932. Originally scheduled for completion in the summer of 1930, the Lake Erie-Lake Ontario waterway boasted dredging to 25-foot depth and a total of eight locks measuring 766x80 feet. Jockeying for location of lower lakes terminals was on! Prescott and Kingston were in the running.
Canada Steamship Lines (CSL) president W.H. Coverdale was keen to bring loads of grain to Kingston in his fleet of 600-foot+ lakers including the Lemoyne, Ashcroft, Gleneagles and Stadacona. Coverdale launched the Kingston elevator project on its own, but it was taken over by CSL as a subsidiary. Possible Kingston locations, many close to the city centre, were: 
  • Tete du Pont barracks
  • Montreal Transportation Co. dock
  • Inner Harbour
  • Kingston Yacht Club
  • Cataraqui (Elevator) Bay
The first four sites were rejected due to location, limitations in size or difficulties in completing a successful transaction. (Although Kingston already had three elevators located along its harbourfront, the size of grain-transporting vessels was soon exceeding the dredged harbour depth.) Cataraqui Bay was chosen, with requirements for a breakwater, dredging to a depth of 25 feet, land acquisition completion, rail connection, 1,200-foot turning basin and a 400-foot approach width. 

This May, 1929 Kingston Daily Whig article describes the initial approval of the site: 
Another Whig article, this one from April 2, 1930 shows then-Mayor Craig's thoughts on the elevator location: 
The elevator project's first of 1,500 piles driven into the floor of the bay on September 7, 1929. The 152 silos and mooring wharfs were constructed over a water lot in Little Cataraqui Bay. The silos were located on a concrete platform measuring about 21 meters by 182 meters. This platform still exists and is supported by wooden piles going down through water to bedrock. 

There were two railway spurs located on the west side of the silos and a grain lift on the east side. The east and west sides of the pier are bounded by wooden sheet piling walls about 230 meters long and about 42 meters between them. The wooden sheet piling is capped with a concrete walkway that also forms the wharf. 

For stability, the east and west side wooden sheet piling walls and walkways are tied together by steel rods at water level. An additional steel sheet piling wall was added to the east side in 1960 to accommodate larger ships. 

As a Depression project, the salaries paid to the 1,000+ workers, even at $1.18/hour were welcome. A dredge barge is on the west side of the elevator in the 1930's (below). 
The elevator's dimensions were staggering:
  • 2.5 million bushel capacity
  • unloading capacity of 35,000 bushels/day
  • 600-foot dock on west side with room for two canallers and railcar loading
  • 700-foot dock on east side with room for one upper laker
  • 152 silos: 75 exterior, 28 on the ends and 49 star-shaped interior bins
  • 125,000 bags of cement used in construction
  • project cost $4,000,000
The CN spur construction cost $80,000.
The elevator was completed on schedule: September 15, 1930. The first ship to arrive was the CSL laker Kindersley on September 25, 1930 carrying 80,697 bushels of grain loaded at Port Colborne, on Lake Erie 26 hours earlier. The Kindersley would return four days later with another load from Port Colborne. With delays in Welland Canal construction lasting into 1932, the first upper laker entered the lower lakes. CSL's Lemoyne opened the Welland Canal, delivering grain to Kingston on August 8, 1932. Kingston was now CSL's eastern terminus on the lakes. In fact, Lemoyne was so long (633 feet) that she had to be turned and backed in to complete unloading. 
In February, 1969 the Lemoyne wintered at the elevator for its last winter before being taken to Spain and broken up. Doug Rickaby kindly posted this photo to Facebook (below). It seems that Lemoyne's story was inextricably woven into that of the Kingston grain elevator! Interestingly, notice CN-noodle boxcars visible at both ends of the elevator. This is the first photo I've seen of boxcars spotted here, and it confirms some points raised in the discussion later on in this post.
The Kingston Whig-Standard profiled the alpha-and-omega story of the Lemoyne at Kingston's elevator 1932 to 1969:
Local men, including my father-in-law, were hired as needed to help unload ships. A simple, low-tech way of getting the last of the load out of the hold was for the men to form a line. Nearly invisible to each other in the dust, they pushed a large wooden scraper towards the unloading leg. With his minimal wages, he purchased an engagement ring for my mother-in-law! Her father also worked in the elevator office for a time. A family heirloom was a chest-of-drawers with large eyelets on its rear surface - used to secure the furniture to the walls of the sailors' accommodation walls onboard! An aerial photo shoing the elevator as published in the Whig-Standard in 1946:
The Kingston elevator moved up to 25 million bushels per year and employed 50 workers. Unfortunately, Kingston would never rival the Georgian Bay ports of Port McNicoll and Midland, nor lower lake ports like Prescott or even Buffalo. In the late 1950's, the Kingston breakwater led to decreased water flow, weed growth, stagnation and loss of the popular sandy beach along Front Road! More importantly in that same decade, completion of the St Lawrence Seaway meant that lakers could simply bypass Kingston on their way from the Lakehead to seaboard. There was no longer any need to trans-ship to smaller vessels for the grain to reach Montreal. 

In the 1960's, salt-water vessels docked to load Thunder Bay grain for export. Eventually, the elevator was relegated to a storage facility of the Canadian Wheat Board. It was not uncommon for the Kingston Whig-Standard to send a photographer to the elevator to record the work of the elevator. Sir James Dunn and Black Bay were wintering in January 1972:
...the Ontadoc in April 1980:
...the Black Bay in October, 1981:
Docked ships were not resting without incident:
A 1986 aerial view shows stored lakers rafted to the elevator's west side, with King Street visible at top, and the Richardson dock and office at top of photo along the street:
By the late 1980's, the final collapse of Kingston as a port was approaching, with the historically low cost of water transportation now being rivalled by rail and even road. McAllister Towing and Salvage closed its repair and dry-dock operation, shown here in 1950, the former site of the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes:
The last vessel to unload at Elevator Bay was the Algosoo with 11,000 tons of road salt delivered to the Richardson Wharf just east of the elevator, which by now employed a skeleton staff of 20.
The property was sold in December, 1985 to a numbered Ontario company. The elevator was proposed for demolition, to be replaced by 38 townhouses (selling for $250,000-295,000 each) and 343 tower-condominiums by developer Richard Dudar. Demolition began on June 15, 1988 by Laval Demolition and Dominion Metals, both of Montreal.
A 20-man crew, a 125-ton crane with a 7-ton wrecking ball, and the ensuing three months resulted in 25,000 cubic yards of concrete to be hauled away, and 200 tons of salvageable metal. Townhouse construction was underway in summer of 1988 even during demolition. Interestingly, there is continuing interest in building more condos on this narrow pier. The problem with purpose-built infrastructure, such as a former grain elevator's narrow pier is lack of road access and emergency response plans!

To say that the elevator was a major source of traffic for CN would be an overstatement. Unlike large terminal elevators in Thunder Bay that had a constant supply of inbound western grain for transshipment to lake vessels, Kingston's role as a mostly ship-to-ship transshipment point meant less rail traffic than one might expect. I know of no railcar-unloading equipment at the elevator. Indeed , the only covered portion of the two CN tracks on the pier was at the very end, closest to the lake! Certainly not much room for very many cars to be loaded. A 1981 John Mayell photo shows CNWX covered hoppers at the elevator in winter (above). This 1985 D.J. Gagnon photo shows a view of the CN spurs toward the lake.
A close-up shows a loading spout, beyond the two ship-loading spots. The loading spout (top arrow) is complete with positionable pipe section (bottom arrow) likely for filling boxcars equipped with grain doors:
Here is an archival photo showing the Buckeye tied up with a crane providing some assistance on December 19, 1968:

Interestingly, a 1947 fire-insurance map of the elevator shows two 'travelling marine towers' on the east side and the two loading areas on the west side. A 'car shed' with asphalt roof is at the far end of the elevator.
Photos I've seen, and my own experiences, rarely showed more than five cars at a time being set out or lifted from the elevator. In early 1981, new Canadian Wheat Board cars were at the elevator:
A CN track schematic shows the lead KM01 and elevator track KM21. Just to the north, Front Road crosses the lead, with Auld Street and the track to DuPont (at left) and siding KM10 at top, centre:
Read more about CN's Cataraqui Spur's top half, and its bottom half in these posts from 2009. In the postscript, I've included more photos of lakers docked at the Kingston elevator! Do ships and grain elevators qualify as trackside treasure? You bet they do.

Running extra...

Associated Railroaders of Kingston May monthly meeting speaker was fellow Kingston railfan Paul Hunter on an 11,000-mile Amtrak trip taken with his Dad in 1978. If there were any doubts whether railroading and railfanning are 'better' 'now' than they were 'then', Paul's presentation made the answer 'crystal clear'. L&N unit at Tehachapi? UP DDA40X's and GP30B's? Riding D&RGW and Southern Railway passenger trains?

The Royal Wedding of Harry and Meghan is next Saturday, May 19. I will be watching. Apparently, the TV coverage starts at 0430 hours! That is a mean time to start a wedding. Greenwich Mean Time!

Tuesday comes first. TRAINS & GRAINS might be ready for printing on Tuesday. Come on, Tuesday!


Jeffrey said...

Very interesting post! I enjoyed reading about the history of this building and the extensive collection of photographs.

Eric said...

Thanks, Jeffrey. Great to have you aboard. Like most purpose-built buildings, the elevator didn't have a reasonable use after it became obsolete. Down it came!


Katharine | KJensifyme Healthy said...

I grew up in the little culti-sac across from the Grain Elevator in Kingston. I remember the hustle and bustle each year. Although I was in my early 20's and moved away by the end of the Elevator, I still can see it clearly in my mind. Thank you for the memories! Katharine.

Eric said...

Thanks for your comment, Katharine. Glad to be able to help rekindle some memories.

That must have been (Old) Front Road that you lived on. There is very little sign left that a track ever crossed Front Road/King Street just west of the cul-de-sac.

I often wonder if the proposed condo project for the elevator-less pier will ever get built!


Bill MacKenzie said...

Eric, thks so much for the history/pics of Kingston Elevator. My Dad worked there until 1968 and I lived my 1st 6 years across the road from the Elevator like Katharine, but earlier.
As a youth I toured each ship that docked and met the Captains. Later during high school I worked on the unloading shovel gang in the holds of the ships and spent 2 summers working at the Kingston Shipyard. Sad to see them long gone but your pics/narrative rekindle countless fond memories, including catching large smallmouth bass at the end of the dock.
Thks again, Bill

Eric said...

Interesting stories and memories, Bill. Kingston's importance as a shipping centre definitely declined with the opening of the Seaway, though some memorable remnants remained.

While I've seen records of some of the ships that docked at the elevator, I don't know if there is a complete list available anywhere.

Thanks very much for your comment,