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A piece of working history

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The P & H elevator in Transcona was completed in 1913 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and is still operational today.

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The P & H elevator in Transcona was completed in 1913 by the Canadian Pacific Railway and is still operational today. Photo Store

As I was riding my bike across Lagimodiere Boulevard along the West Cordite Trail, I couldn’t help but notice a huge building just off Springfield Road to the east.

My curiosity got the better of me, so I rode out to have a closer look. As I approached the site, I noticed the initials "P & H" on the tower and wasn’t sure if it was an old abandoned building or not.

I took a good look around from outside the gate and jotted down a contact phone  number off a sign posted on the fence. The structure dwarfed most Transcona buildings and took up about the same space as a football field. I rode home to do some investigating on my computer.
I discovered it was a grain elevator, fully operational and 100 years old. The Canadian Pacific Railway started building it in 1911 and completed it in 1913.

After the CPR completed the building, the work house stood 180-feet high and took up an area 70 feet x 96 feet. Attached to the work house was the bin house, consisting of five rows of 13 bins, each with a diameter of 14 feet and 92 feet tall. Its full capacity is approximately a million bushels. After about 850,000 bushels of wheat were initially loaded into the bins, the building began to list and finally settled at a slant of 27 degrees to the west.

Back in 1913, there was none of today’s excavation equipment, so with only shovels and teams of horses with ropes this concrete structure was somehow straightened.

The bins were installed 25 feet further into the Transcona gumbo, but they went past the water table, which caused a major problem with water leakage. With the use of many pumps the CPR was still able to operate the elevator, albeit not to full capacity.

In 1970, the Parrish & Heimbecker partnership,  comprised of William B. Parrish (Bill Sr.) and  Harry Heimbecker, purchased the building from the CPR.

By this time, Duff Roblin’s floodway had changed the water table of Transcona and leakage is less of a problem for P & H. They continue to pump water and a few of the outer bins cannot be used. When running at full capacity, they have to be careful to spread the loads out so as not to overload one side or the other, but they are still very efficient and the operation is a viable one.

The fourth generation of the P & H partnership is now running the company — William S. Parrish (Bill Jr.) with Alan, John and Phil Heimbecker — and they are the largest Canadian-owned flour mill operation in the world with 1,500 -plus employees across Canada.

Bill Jr. looks after the Transcona plant, which brings in, weighs, cleans, conditions and sends out between 80,000 and 100,000 tons of wheat, barley, canola and soy beans every year. It is likely the only 100-year-old building in Winnipeg churning out that type of productivity. They also have a seed treatment plant and sell insecticides, herbicides and fungicides on the site.

I was amazed, during a tour with Rick Dalgliesh, plant general manager, by the cleanliness of this century-old building.

You can tell there’s pride taken and the 15 employees are passionate about the operation. It was almost like being in a museum, as all of the old original equipment such as pulleys, gears, wheels and conveyor belts is all still in place, although much of it has been de-commissioned and replaced with electric motors and more modern rollers and mechanisms.

You never know where a bike ride might take you. This one helped me discover some history in my own part of the city and if you’ve ever wondered what that big building in North Transcona is, now you know.  

Rick Sparling is a community correspondent for East Kildonan. Email him at ricksparling@shaw.ca

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