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. 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. 
The elevator project's first of 1,500 piles driven into the floor of the bay on September 7, 1929. 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 (above). 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 that fall. CSL's Lemoyne delivered grain to Kingston, which was now CSL's eastern terminus on the lakes. In fact, Lemoyne was so long that she had to be turned and backed in to complete unloading. 

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!

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, as it did for the Ontadoc in April 1980:
the Black Bay in October, 1981:
and Sir James Dunn in 1988. 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!

CN SERVES THE KINGSTON ELEVATOR
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-loaders. The loading spout (top arrow) is complete with positionable pipe section (bottom arrow) likely for filling boxcars equipped with grain doors:
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:
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!

2 comments:

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!

Eric