Housed inside a former grain elevator, Prairieview Museum in the small town of Plum Coulee, Manitoba, Canada, houses pioneer artifacts and showcases elevator operations
Small town museums often contain fascinating and unexpected relics and information. This is true of the Prairieview Elevator Museum in Plum Coulee, Manitoba. The museum is housed inside a former grain elevator.
The traditional wooden grain elevator was once an icon on the Canadian prairie. These “prairie sentinels” dominated the flat landscape. The elevators, built along railway lines, were the first step in the trading process moving grain from producers to worldwide markets. The vertical warehouses stored the grain until the grain could be loaded into railway boxcars. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, there were as many as 5,758 elevators in 1933.
Although a decline in the number of elevators began in the 1950s as the rural population fell and small branch lines became unprofitable, growing up in the 1960s and 1970s I would never have envisioned a day when the traditional grain elevator might disappear completely. Consolidation of delivery points meant larger storage facilities were needed. In the late 1970s, experimentation of new designs using different materials began. By the 1990s, grain companies concentrated on building high-capacity concrete silos.
Many of the traditional grain elevators fell into disrepair or were demolished. Some were sold to producers for personal storage or adapted by companies for fertilizer storage. Today, heritage groups seek to preserve these prairie icons and you will see some maintained as heritage sites or re-purposed into things like museums.
The 125,000 bushel elevator in Plum Coulee was constructed by Manitoba Pool Elevators in 1975 and extensively renovated in 1988. It was closed in 2001 and gifted to the town in 2002. The museum opened in 2010.
The museum feels different than other museums as soon as you enter. The tall entryway has wood beams on the ceiling, a large loading door at the back where farmers would drive their trucks through, and a glass viewing panel on the floor covering the grated pit where the grain would be dumped.
Rooms with exhibits run off the entryway in somewhat of a rambling fashion because of the elevator layout. Rustic wood walls, wood or plywood floors, and a lingering dusty grain scent are reminders you are in an old elevator.
Like many small town museums, the Prairieview Elevator Museum contains items, photos, and information about the town’s history that are of more interest to people with a connection to the town than the general public, but there are also displays of broader appeal relating to the early Jewish, Ukrainian, German, and Mennonite pioneers and an eclectic collection of artifacts.
Displays and information about the operation of a traditional elevator are a highlight of the Prairieview Elevator Museum. Grain was moved from the pit to the top of the elevator and the distributing spout via the “elevator leg”, a vertical conveyor belt with attached buckets. The grain elevator operator directed the flow of grain into the appropriate bin by turning a large steel wheel. To load the stored grain into a boxcar, a slide in the appropriate bin was opened to allow the grain to flow out into an auger. Operations in today’s new elevators are computerized and controlled digitally.
Plum Coulee is located along Highway 14 in southern Manitoba approximately 32 kilometres (20 miles) west of Highway 75 (the major route between the city of Winnipeg and the U.S. border). As of 2011, its population was 843. Prairieview Museum is open on Tuesdays to Saturdays in July and August. You may want to confirm hours with the museum before visiting.
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