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Canada's Oldest Grain Elevator

Not long ago, the town of Fleming, Saskatchewan laid a claim that its 1895 grain elevator was "Canada's Oldest Grain Elevator". Unfortunately, while in the process of restoring the elevator, in 2010, the historic structure burned to the ground.

Not long after the destruction of the Fleming elevator, the small town of Elva, Manitoba stepped up to claim the title. The small grain elevator in Elva was estimated to have been constructed somewhere between 1892 and 1899.

Fact is - both of the those western town's were mistaken. Quite simply, Port Perry has "Canada's Oldest Grain Elevator".

Records available during research revealed no information that would dispute the fact, that the Currie Elevator is the granddaddy of Canada's grain elevators. Built in 1874, George Currie's Port Perry
elevator is 20 years older than any similar structure remaining. This fact alone should strengthen the resolve of the local residents and government to get behind saving this cultural prize. George Currie's elevator should be designated as a building of historical significance, or perhaps even be protected as a National Historical Site.

To put these suggestions in perspective, let's look west to Inglis, Manitoba, where a row of five grain elevators have already been designated a National Historical Site in Canada. Recognizing how quickly grain elevators were disappearing from the prairies, a decision was made to have them protected. The Inglis elevators were built in 1922, making them 47 years the junior of Port Perry's elevator, but they have been saved.

Not unlike the western provinces, Ontario's grain elevators are disappearing. With the recent demolition of the Stouffville grain elevator (May 2015), there are few wood crib grain elevators to be found in the province. Estimates range from four to a dozen elevators are all that remain. Some of these are located in Unionville, Gormley, Nashville, Pontypool, Shomberg and Claremont.

Of all these, the Port Perry elevator is the largest, oldest and most significant wood bin elevator in Canada.

J. Peter Hvidsten
May 2015

The story of George Currie's
Port Perry Grain Elevator

   During this exciting period in Port Perry's history, one of the areas most prominent and successful grain buyers, George Currie, began construction on what would become a landmark on the waterfront for generations. In fact, the building still stands today, more than 125 years later, as a monument to the vision of Mr. Currie and his colleagues.
  Before beginning the story of one of Port Perry's most visible and historic buildings, Currie's Grain Elevator, a little should be known about the man who erected this impressive structure more than a century years ago.
  After working a number of years as a grain merchant in Oshawa, George Currie arrived in Prince Albert, opening a grain buying business in the year 1844. He and his brother Mark also opened a general merchandising business consisting of drygoods, liquors, wines and children's wear in the village.


Below: Illustraton of the construction of a similar elevator


 Throughout the 1850s, the Curries became one of the principal grain purchasing businesses in the area, and it was during this time that George tried out his hand at politics. In 1857 he was elected Reeve of Reach Township. He later held the position of Treasurer of the Township for a number of years, before moving to Port Perry.
  The Currie brothers dissolved their partnership as General Merchants in September 1861 with George continuing the business. During the 1860s, he formed another partnership with Aaron Ross and together they became one of the principal grain companies in the county, as well as respected clothing, hardware and grocery merchants.
  During the early 1870s, business began to trickle out of Prince Albert and Manchester and take up location in neighboring Port Perry. Currie, realizing that the tide of business was on the move, purchased a property on the north-east corner of Queen & Perry St. in 1870 and erected a wooden building to house a general store. By the time he was ready to move to Port Perry, in 1872, he had removed the wooden structure and constructed an attractive two-storey brick building into which he moved his new business.
 Now settled into his attractive Port Perry building, his thoughts turned to construction of a new residence. During the summer of 1873 he built an impressive new home at the south-west corner of Queen and Ella St. This was also the same year that he began construction of a large new grain elevator near the busy railway station at Port Perry's lakefront.
  Detailed information about the grain elevator is sketchy, but it is known that Mr. Currie began work on the massive structure in April 1874. The Ontario Observer describes the first work on the building as follows:

"George Currie is laying down cedar and other timbers in preparation of the erection of a large grain store-house and elevator, capable of holding 50-60 thousand bushels of grain."


Currie's Grain Elevator at the foot of Queen St., Port Perry about 1875

   Little more than two months later, the Observer reported: "Mr. Currie's Elevator and grain store house in course of erection at the railway terminus at Port Perry has advanced its first stage. The size of the timbers and the plan on which it is constructed will secure uncommon strength, in fact it appears as if no amount of weight could effect it."
  The elevator was built on a stone foundation measuring 24 inches thick and above the foundation the entire structure was made of wood. The 58 foot high frame was constructed of huge pine beams and the exterior was covered with 2x8 inch lumber to a height of 26 feet. The remaining height was covered with 2x6 inch lumber, and the joints of the boards were covered with one inch thick vertical boards. When completed it was painted a rusty red color. The Observer noted that when completed, the erection will be one of the most valuable and important buildings in town and will form a very important addition to the grain storage for the area.


Curries Grain Elevator along the lakefront about 1888

   George Currie sold the elevator to his partner Aaron Ross about 1876. Ross operated the grain business as A. Ross Elevator for a number of years and when his son William became a partner, the name was changed to Ross & Son Elevator.
  In 1886, William Ross built a separate office at the south west end of the property, right at the corner of the intersection of Queen and Water Streets.
  Aaron Ross died in July 1896 and his son continued with the business.
  About 1900, the mill had 18 bins which could hold 2,000 bushels of grain each. Mr. Ross had the building covered by metal siding about this time.
  In 1909 William Ross decided to retire from the grain business, selling the elevator to James Lucas. While under the ownership of Lucas, a fire destroyed the offices in 1918 and subsequently the main building was extended to the south to accommodate three more bins.
  Lucas sold the mill to Hogg and Lytle in 1916, who in turn sold it to Toronto Elevators. In 1956 the building was extended to the north in order to store more ground grain. At the same time, a garage was added to the north end of the elevator.


Grain Elevator when owned by Master Feeds in 1971

   The last owner of the elevator, to operate it as a mill, was Maple Leaf Mills (Master Feeds) who took it over in 1962. Harvey Mahaffy served as its manager until the mid-1970s. Mike Doyle was the final manager of the mill, operating it until the company closed the Port Perry site in 1979.
  The landmark building was purchased in 1980 by Fred Burghgraef whose son Jim opened Port Perry Auto Supply in the building in 1981. The building is currently occupied by the auto supply store and other sections of the building are rented out to small retailers.


Curries 1873 Elevator as it looks 130 years later during the summer of 2003

Elevator Narrowly Escapes Fires

The old feed mill has escaped destruction from fire on many occasions since it was built in 1874. The most miraculous of these came in 1883 and 1884 when two major fires in less than a year, destroyed Port Perry's entire commercial core. Only Currie's elevator, located feet away from the burning buildings on Water St., escaped unscathed.
  But fire plagued the building throughout its entire existence, as recorded in the following articles:
  o March 1916 - Fire broke out in the engine room of the James Lucas Grain Elevator, but damage was slight.
  o A fire destroyed the offices in 1918 and subsequently the main building was extended to the south to accommodate three more bins.
  o August 1920 - A Serious fire broke out in an implement shed and spread to the office of Hogg & Lytle, destroying the offices at the front of the building. Quick work by the fire brigade prevented its spreading to the big grain elevator.
  o August 1947 - The Hogg & Lytle Elevator was struck by lightning. Loss by fire was small, but 10,000 bushels of wheat were soaked.
  o In 1958 a section at the rear of the mill was destroyed by fire along with the grinder and roller. It cost more than $60,000 to repair the damage from the fire.
  o February 1959 - A fire discovered by manager Harvey Mahaffy in the ceiling of the engine room at Master Feeds caused $30,000 damage to the building before being extinguished. Fire Chief Guy Raines sized up the scene quickly and called in trucks from Uxbridge and Oshawa to help control the blaze.

Inside the Port Perry Elevator

Interior of the old grain elevator before it was closed in 1979.


Graffitti scratched into an old beam n 1875 (left), and the dial used to direct grain shipments to the proper bin in the elevator.


At left, the walkways over the large grain bins at the top of the elevator. At right, the narrow staircase leading to the cupola at the top of the elevator.


The old grain cart, used for moving grain on the main floor of the elevator.

Mill Accident Takes Life

  March 21, 1878 - Last Friday afternoon a lamented occurrence took place in Currie's elevator, being no less than the sudden and unexpected demise of one of the employees working there.
  The hands were loading the cars with barley at the time, and all at once the grain stopped running. One of the men reaching up the spout, was surprised to find the passage blocked, by what he took to be a man's boot. The thought at once flashed across his mind that something was wrong, and saying so to the other employees, they got to the top of the bin as speedily as possible.
  After scooping away several feet of barley, they came to the head and shoulders - in an erect position, of a man, which were soon recognized to be those of Charlie Evans - cold and in the embrace of death.
  A rope was adjusted under the arms and by that means the body was brought to the surface immediately. Dr. Sangster tried to restore respiration, but it was too late, and every effort failed.
  The deceased appears to have gone to the bin to do some sweeping, as he had a broom with him used for that purpose, but the actual cause of his death is a mystery. The action of sliding grain may have drawn him under it; though a man of his strength and intelligence under ordinary circumstances would be able to keep above it by tramping. A fit or a fall are the only natural causes supposed to be likely to render him helpless.
  The body had a darkened appearance, as if suffocation, or apoplexy may have carried him away.
  The body was conveyed to his sorrow-stricken wife and family. The remains were interred on the Sabbath. Charles Evans was an industrious, steady-going man, and his sudden death is deeply lamented.

— Port Perry Standard report

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