Voices of the Grain Trade

Our volunteer interview teams in Thunder Bay and Winnipeg did their best to collect voices reflecting all major facets of Canada's international grain trade. As a result, you will find interviews with farmers, researchers, plant breeders, company owners, and railway employees blended in with the stories of grain handlers, inspectors, lake shippers, regulators, builders, marketers, and many more. Our voices are spread from Quebec City to Victoria, with the highest concentrations being from Thunder Bay and Winnipeg.  Getting all these interviews onto the website will be a gradual process. Check back often and please contact us if you have questions about the project.

Voice of the month

Victor Bel - Inspector: Canadian Food Inspection Agency

Victor Bel worked as an inspector with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency. At first vowing never to work in an elevator, as his immigrant father and uncle had, he became what he calls the “bug man” –a career that regularly had him crawling around ships hulls and elevators to guarantee bug-free grain shipments. Vic takes us on a tour from elevator to elevator on Thunder Bay’s waterfront, recalling his adventures and sometimes very dangerous work.

Listen to a snippet of the interview with Victor Bel -

Brian Storry

Grain Inspector: Ogilvie, Paterson, Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Searle

Brian Storry was born in 1944, and worked as a grain inspector with the Canadian Grain Commission. He worked in many different elevators over his time, such as Ogilvie, Paterson, SWP, Searle, etc. Brian tells interesting and funny stories about his coworkers in the past; he reminisces on the work and life culture of the elevators. He is not shy of speaking to the drinking culture inside the elevators. Mr. Storry also talks about the initial testing of dust masks, and automated sampling systems.

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David Suderman

Journalist: Canadian Wheat Board

David Suderman started his career as a journalist in his small hometown, Winkler Manitoba. However, he quickly left, and started with the Canadian Wheat Board as the director of information in 1970. He spent a great deal of time travelling to middle eastern countries, and did research into different asian markets, so that he could address the needs of the end users of the grain. His work was instrumental in the logo design that was printed on many of tankers cars that were used in Canada.

David Suderman

Charlie Swanson

Farmer, Director, Vice-President, President: Manitoba Pool Elevator

Charlie Swanson has been involved in the grain industry for a long time; he began his own farm at 20, and became involved in the Manitoba Pool Elevator board later on as well, working as Director, Vice-President, and President. He discusses the quality of Canadian grain, and the importance of X-Can, as it was almost as big as the Canadian Wheat Board in terms of marketing. He also speaks about Thunder Bay, his experiences visiting the city, and from his perspective the reason for decrease in grain shipping through the city.

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Edward Swayze

Anglican Priest: Mission to Seafarers

Edward Swayze was born in St. Catherines, and attended Lakehead University for Forestry, but later decided that the path he would rather take was that of a priest. In 1983 he graduated as an Anglician Priest, and joined the missions of seafarers. His main mission onboard the ships was to provide communication methods between the ship crew and their families - he speaks to the changes made by communications technology, such as long distance telephone cards. Edward also talks about the different people that are usually onboard ships, where the companies do their hiring, and the many different countries that often provide workers.

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William Tebenham

Canadian Grain Commission

William Edward Tebenham began to work in the grain industry in 1963, starting out at Stewarts - however, one month after finishing his education, there was a strike, and he found employment at LPH for three years. Finally, he worked at the Canadian Grain Commission for the majority of his career. He speaks about becoming unionized, shovelling box cars, and technological advancements. He also discusses staff changes, grain theft, and finally the 1951 Pool 4 explosion.

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John Thiessen

Country Elevator Manager: Paterson

John Thiessen worked in various Country Management positions at Paterson Elevator in his time. He speaks to the changes made in the industry when they switched over from box cars to hopper cars, as well as the changes experienced during other technological advancements, staffing changes, and expansion of the elevator services. His position at all this time was heavily affected by these changes - sometimes it was easier, but in many cases it was harder or he relinquished some control when they came across. John also discusses the relationships he built with buyers and farmers - he always strived to provide both ends with better service, as competition was sharp during those days. He remarks that he was quite proud of his ability to provide that assistance to such important players in the grain trade.

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Peter Thomson

Journalist. Administrator: Canadian Grain Exchange, GTA

Peter Thomson was born and raised in Miami, Manitoba. He received a degree in journalism and landed a job with the Winnipeg free press, and was assigned to the Canadian Grain Exchange. After working in various Canadian cities, he became the administrator of the GTA, and retired in Winnipeg. Peter discusses various issues that he covered while he worked, such as “The Great Grain Theft”, his long career with the GTA, and an interview with CD Howe. Mr. thomson also speaks about Thunder Bay, and his perspective on various issues related to it.

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Keith Tipples

Scientist: Winnipeg Grain Research Laboratory

Keith Tipples was born in the United Kingdom, and secured a Bachelors of Science and a PhD there. He then moved to Canada, and began work at the Grain Research Laboratory in Winnipeg, where he worked from 1963 until retiring as director in 1998. He discusses the differences between what he learned in school and the knowledge that he needed in the field, as is often the case. Keith also discusses the development of the grading system, and the protein system, and how much these changed the grain industry when they were adopted. Keith’s work contributed to Canada’s position as a world leader in grain research - something that he speaks about highly. He also speaks to the separation and politics between the Canadian Wheat Board, and Canadian Grain Commission.

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Eric Titheridge

Manager: United Grain Growers

Eric Titheredge was born in England, and studied agriculture at the University of Manitoba, graduating in 1946. He began working for United Grain Growers in 1949, in Swan Lake Manitoba. His experience was at an earlier time in the industry, and he was present for some major technological changes, such as electricity coming to the praries, the metric system being introduced, as well as some social changes such as unionizing. Mr. Titheredge also comments on various things related to Thunder Bay, such as the explosion that occurred in one of the elevators, as well as contrasting the harbour of Thunder Bay with that of Vancouver.

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Bill Toews

Farmer, Scientist, Board Member: Kane Manitoba, Alberta government, Canadian Wheat Board

Bill Toews was born in 1943 in Manitoba, where he studied until he got a masters in agriculture with a special focus in soil fertility. He worked with the Alberta government for a while, before returning to Manitoba in 1976 to run the family farm. Bill was also active as a farmers representative on the Canadian Wheat Board for several years. He discusses various aspects of his education and how they applied to farming, and also talks about the politics of the farming industry--for instance, the farmers' relationships with different parts of the industry, such as the railroad and grain elevator companies.

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Stefan Turgeon

Elevator Employee, Grain Inspector: United Grain Growers, Canadian Grain Commission

Stefan Turgeon is a bilingual Canadian who was born in Quebec and later moved to Saskatchewan and then to Thunder Bay to work with United Grain Growers. He gives the listener a compelling image of the enormity of the elevators. Stefan discusses the various tasks in the elevators, and the work life--the claustrophobic experience of cleaning the elevator bins, automation, etc. He also speaks to the importance of the elevators to Thunder Bay’s economy, stating that there would be no Thunder Bay without the grain trade. Stefan comments on being bilingual in this industry and how it was useful.

Stephan Turgeon

William Turner

Weighman, Grain Inspector, Manager: Canadian Grain Commission

Bill Turner was born in 1923, and has a vast experience with the grain industry in Canada. After returning from the war, he took some time to seriously consider what he wanted his future to look like, and decided to become a government employee as he liked the stability. He became a grain trackman with the weighing division. Bill has tons of entertaining stories about the elevator industry; he is one of our few interviewees who had experience with the wartime storage buildings built in the 40s and he worked for the trade in a pre-union, pre-automated era. Mr. Turner also describes the construction of many of the different elevators, as he was around and paying attention when many of them went up. He describes the different techniques and companies who used them, and why it was so important to Thunder Bay’s economy.

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Anthony Tweed

Baker, Scientist, Professor: Northern Alberta Institute of Technology, Canadian Grain Commission, Canadian International Grains Institute

Anthony Tweed has worked in a large variety of positions within the grain trade. The first relevant job he had was a baker - where most of his experience lies. Because of his chosen career path, he studied at university for a baking program that gave him practical and scientific knowledge. He happened to find a job in Canada, and became a major part of the first baking program in any Canadian school, at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. Anthony describes the strange process of adapting the Canadian industry - for instance, he had never heard of pumpkin pie. He talks about what he trained his students to do, and also what his program was like - hearing the description of someone who was starting up a university program on their own is fascinating!

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Edward Tyrchniewicz

Agricultural Economist: University of Alberta, University of Manitoba

Edward Tyrchniewicz was born on a farm in Manitoba, and eventually studied agriculture at the University of Manitoba. After completing his Masters and a PHD in the US, he returned to Canada in 1967 to work in a relatively unrelated field--transportation economist. This job involved issues related to transportation of grain, handling, marketing, etc. Ed held senior positions in the agricultural faculties of both the University of Alberta and Manitoba. He speaks of the many changes in the industry, such as the abandonment of the Crow rate, reduced exports in certain cities (leading to the abandonment of some railways and elevators).

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Fred Vanalstyne

Canadian Wheat Board

Fred Vanalstyne was born in 1932 in Winnipeg. He started out at Manitoba Pool cleaning the floors, but one month later moved to the top doing roof repairs. Eventually Fred joined the Canadian Wheat Board. Fred talks about the CWB, selling elevators and an advancing industry. He discusses the way that the CWB changed, and its inevitable demise--in his words, something that would have needed to happen sooner or later. Mr. Vanalstyne's explanation of the trade is interesting, as he was part of it for a very long time. He also speaks to the 1967 Canadian Expo!

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Dennis Wallace

Executive Director: Canadian Grain Commission

Dennis Wallace worked as the Executive Director for the Canadian Grain Commission from 1992-1995. He also worked in the Canada-US Joint Commission on Grains for one year. Dennis talks about the grain export market in Canada in depth, which products did well, what Canada excelled at, and the inside story of competition between Canada, America, and Europe. He discusses what happened politically that led to the reduction of Thunder Bay and Quebec workers in the industry. This is only a small list of the topics covered in this interview. Mr. Wallace’s knowledge and experience are extremely broad, and it shows here.

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Ian White

CEO:  Allstate Grain, Canadian Wheat Board

Ian White was born in Australia and started out his career in the grain industry there as an accountant, eventually becoming the executive vice-president of Allstate Grain. When Allstate sold to Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Mr. White inherited the role of CEO. Making a major move, Ian moved to Canada as head of the Canadian Wheat Board. He shares his unique perspective of working in both the Australian and Canadian grain industries, discussing their similarities and differences. He also weighs in with comments on the beer industry and other topics such as the Canadian Wheat Board, Canada's shift from wheat to canola production, etc.

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Brian Wick

Pellet Plant Operator, Car Dumper: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, Superior

Brian Wick started working for Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1975 and worked there for several years before switching to Superior. As a pellet plant operator, Brian speaks of the day to day tasks, the working conditions, and the dangers of both the pellet plant and elevators in general--such as dust, jack ladders, and explosions. He talks about the social consequences of the elevators laying off workers and the industry declining. 

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Ron Williamson

Grain Inspector: United Grain Growers

Ron Williamson has worked for United Grain Growers for 40 years as a grain inspector. He speaks to his early days in the elevators. As a child, he would come down to the elevators to sweep out the cars and collect a bucket of grain to feed the family chickens. Ron was one of the few people who can speak to the elevator explosions, as well as an elevator collapsing into the river. He discusses some interesting aspects of the elevators that are rarely mentioned in our interviews, such as the large Gaelic-speaking community of workers, or a certain worker whose eyes were so good that he could see bugs in the grain that no one else could. Ron is a good story teller and manages to explain his experience with quite a bit of humour, while also giving a detailed description of life in the grain trade.

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John Winslow

Yard Foreman, Conductor, Engineer: Canadian National Railway

John outlines his lifetime career with the CNR, which involved moving grain through the Thunder Bay yards and into the elevators. Overtime was plentiful, especially when the grain was flowing in 1984. One day 5,000 grain cars were emptied in a 24-hour period. He discusses changes in equipment, staffing, learning the ropes (“It was like a ballet.”) It could be dangerous work; people were killed.

He discusses mishaps including grain cars in the lake and recovery operations. He listened closely to the old timers telling stories of early times on the railway and recounts them here, along with thoughts about labour relations, workers compensation, computerization and cutbacks in maintenance. Contact friendsofgrainelevators@gmail.com for this access to this interview.

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Gary Woodbeck

Paymaster, Traffic Control, Director: Patersons

Gary Woodbeck has worked in several different positions, moving up the ladder at Paterson's grain elevator. He started out as a paymaster but quickly moved into traffic control, finally reaching the position of Director of Traffic and Marine Operations, which he held from 1990-2002. He spent countless hours aboard ships, and speaks to life at sea--as well as the complex social structure of the crew. Gary explains what being a paymaster is like, and what ship-traffic control involved--both quite complex jobs. He talks about his favourite captains, the ones he respects the most, such as Lindy Burns. He explains extensive measures taken to save money--in an industry as large as shipping, having a small inefficiency could waste fuel, amounting to thousands of dollars  every day. Overall, Mr. Woodbeck gives a concise yet detailed explanation of the industry, and his part in it.

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Brian Wright

Grain Sampler, Operations Supervisor: Cargill

Brian Wright started out as a grain sampler, and graduated to Operations Supervisor at Cargill, a position he held until he retired. He discusses the various dangers in the elevator, specifically in incident in which someone was killed while unloading a car. Brian explains his day to day tasks in detail, and what he had to watch out for. One obscure point that he mentions is the cleanliness of the elevators - he states that Patersons “always had someone sweeping”.

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Bill Zimmer

Rail, Rate, Freight-Charge, and Claims Clerk: Canadian Pacific Railway

Bill Zimmer worked for the Canadian Pacific Railway for 42 years - he was involved in the grain industry specifically for the last 6 years of his career. He explains what he did on a daily basis, working as a rail clerk, rate clerk, a claims clerk, and a freight charge clerk. Bill started work in Winnipeg, but moved to Thunder Bay 1997. He speaks to the workplace culture, major accidents, different elevators (and which ones were more efficient than others). Bill also discusses the changing markets - the grain industry moving from the East coast, to the West coast.

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