"Towers of Silence": The Rise and Fall of the Grain Elevator as a Canadian Symbol


  • Patricia Vervoort


The grain elevator, an ordinary industrial building of American origin, has over the years emerged as a popular symbol of Canadian life, albeit one that is now vanishing from the landscape. Both the tall, wooden country elevators in Prairie towns and the concrete terminal elevators of port cities have taken on this symbolic role, although praise for “the grain elevator” has often not differentiated the two. The reason for their iconic status is somewhat elusive. The admiration expressed by European architects and historians was the foremost reason that Canadian architects and architectural historians began to identify the terminal elevator as an important element of Canadian architecture. Wooden country elevators have evoked description as “prairie sentinels” or “prairie cathedrals”. The appearance of both types on Canadian stamps and currency has given formal recognition to their symbolic value. As part of Canada’s economic and agricultural histories, as well as the country’s architectural and cultural histories, grain elevators not only are tied to the special knowledge relevant to their use, but also generate shared meaning.






Realms of Memory