Friends of Grain Elevators

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 -

Peter Edwards

Sampler, Weighman, Grain Inspector: Canadian Grain Commission, Appeal Tribunal

Peter Edwards worked as a Sampler, Weighman, and Grain Inspector for the Canadian Grain Commission, and later worked for the Appeal Tribunal. Since his early teens, when he participated in a junior grain club that was held in the family store, Peter Edwards had an interest in grain.  Peter’s 43-year career began with the Canadian Grain Commission as a Grain Sampler in Edmonton. He spent time in both the Edmonton and Calgary offices as a Grain Inspector before settling in Winnipeg as the Inspector in charge of the Winnipeg District. Peter was then appointed Chairman of the Grain Appeal Tribunal where he served for many years.

After his retirement from the Grain Commission in 1992, Peter was contracted by Saskatchewan Wheat Pool where he continued his work in grain inspection. He remained with Sask Pool for several harvest seasons in Winnipeg and Regina until he finally retired at the age of 77.

In this interview, Peter provides insight into the roles and responsibilities of Grain Sampler, Grain Inspector, and the Grain Appeal Tribunal.

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Lucille Evans

Board Secretary: Canadian Grain Commission

Lucille Evan’s grandparents homesteaded in Saskatchewan after her family, who owned a flour mill, fled Russia in the 1930s. Her links to the grain industry were loose, but she ended up working for the Canadian Wheat Board as a secretary, in hopes for an interesting job. She ended up playing an important role in the CWB, eventually becoming the Corporate Secretary. Her job involved travelling overseas and organizing international relations. She also was responsible for implementing many affirmative action programs such as establishing a daycare and fitness centre at head office to help attract women who were very underrepresented in the grain trade.

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Gail Fikis

Grain Sampler, Grain Inspector: Canadian Grain Commission

To pay off her student loan, Gail Fikis took a good-paying job with the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC), never having set foot in an elevator. Her career first as a sampler, then as an inspector, was short, 1978-1981.  But it was at a time when women on the job were a novelty—not one that everyone was happy with. Gail engages listeners with clear, colourful descriptions of work and events, sprinkled with reflections on the difficulty of being a female employee, trying to fit into a very male-centered work environment.

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Douglas Ford

President, CEO: Winnipeg Commodities Exchange

Former President and CEO of the Winnipeg Commodities Exchange, Doug began his career in agriculture after graduating with a degree in agriculture. He combined practical experience in farming with academic positions, research, and commodities trading, which gave him a broad knowledge of the Canadian agriculture industry. In this interview he touches on most, if not all, facets of the industry from farm gate to world markets.

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Nick Fox

Site Engineer

Nick Fox began his career as a site engineer in 1974. He worked in construction completing various jobs such as painting, equipment upgrades, etc. He discusses the types of upgrades that were necessary in different time periods, as well as how it would be installed - all of which is quite complicated. Nick also explains the Lakehead Terminal Elevator Association, which was a loose meeting of the elevator owners in order to work together, especially in regards to policies and dealing with large organizations such as the Canadian Wheat Board. He also discusses what he saw as an extremely complex organization - although he was not directly involved, he speaks to how complicated it would have been to organize the large workforce in the days that the elevators were booming.

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Gerald Friesen

Professor: University of Manitoba

Dr. Gerald Friesen grew up in Saskatchewan before completing a doctorate in history at the University of Toronto, and subsequently teaching in Manitoba and at other universities across the world. He discusses the development of the grain industry partially from a Canadian perspective, but also with a global viewpoint. As a historian, Gerald provides a very useful explanation of what choices people were making in each decade, constructing railways to maintain an all-Canadian delivery system, and how scientific and organizational developments impacted the trade. He also addresses the topic of the Chinese market in some depth. His interview leaves listeners with a strong and broad understanding of grain-industry history.

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Murray Fulton

Professor: University of Saskatchewan

Dr. Murray Fulton has a background in agriculture, and a graduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Saskatchewan, with a special interest in cooperatives. He touches on the recent demise of the farmer pools and the shift from government to private involvement in the trade. He explains Thunder Bay’s role in the early grain industry and why the major shipping route went through it. He also gives some insight into why Thunder Bay’s port declined.

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Bill Green

Labourer, Foreman, Superintendent, Manager, General Director: Saskatchewan Wheat Pool, United Grain Growers

Bill Green started his career in the grain industry as a labourer for Saskatchewan Wheat Pool in 1964. He worked in Pool 4 and 5 unloading box cars, but later on became a grain inspector and began work for United Grain Growers. He continued working his way up to foreman, superintendent, manager, and then General Director. Bill explains the main differences between the elevators - what he liked and disliked in the work, as well as the supervisors and organization. He also speaks to the incident that occurred in 1959, when part of the UGG elevator slipped into the lake.

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Maurice Grinstead

Sheet Metal Worker

In 1971, Mr. Grinstead was not enjoying his university studies. While having dinner at a friend's house, he mentioned this and was offered an apprenticeship as a sheet metal worker. As a vivid storyteller, Maurice lets the listener visualize the work from maintenance to modernization of the Thunder Bay grain elevators during his 37-year career.

Warning: This interview includes graphic details of serious accidents.

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Jack Gurney, Norma Gurney

Railroad Maintenance, Dredger, Tug Operator, Tour Guide

The Gurneys, Norma and Jack, are well-known to generations of Lakeheaders for their popular harbour-tour ship, Welcome. In an entertaining two-part interview, they retell stories about each of the elevators along the waterfront. Less well-known, but equally interesting, are Jack’s other careers-- maintaining boxcars (short-lived), dredging for the Seaway, and building the harbour breakwall. Jack and Norman share their depth of knowledge on these topics, giving us little-known details of developing the world-class port essential for our grain trade. Did you know that glass bottles were the first layer removed when dredging elevator slips?

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Alan Halverson, Edith Halverson

Edith Halverson and her son, Alan, speak about their family’s deep history in Thunder Bay’s grain industry. The Halversons are a four-generation, grain-worker family, beginning with Alan’s great-grandfather Hans Halverson who came to Canada from Norway in the late 19th century. Han’s son Hans Christian Halverson, grandson William Halverson (Edith’s husband), and great-grandson Alan Halverson followed in his footsteps. Edith and Alan recount family stories about work in the elevators, including the second life for boxcar doors beyond the rail yards. They note the many uses city residents had for the scrap wood, building houses being one. Alan discusses hazardous working conditions. Warning: This interview contains graphic descriptions of workplace accidents.

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Jeff Halverson

General Manager: Dutchak Recycle Inc.

Jeff’s connection to terminal elevators is quite different from that of most of our narrators. As the manager of a scrap-metal firm, Jeff speaks of what happens when elevators are decommissioned. He describes the first time that he was inside of an elevator, when he went there to help reclaim metal from an ocean-going ship. Jeff discusses the illegal, underground life in abandoned terminals. People down on their luck scour these dangerous buildings for anything portable and easily removed and carry them off to Dutchak's for a few dollars. The hazards involved in this scavenging eventually led to it becoming a police matter. Listeners will learn why elevators are so hard to decommission and why the city either takes a long time to demolish abandoned elevators. Finally, he talks about the uses of scrap metal salvaged from the elevators both locally and when  shipped overseas.

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Tom Hamilton

Elevator Worker, Union President: UGG, Viterra, Agricore United, United Steel Workers

It wasn’t the lure of a well-paying job that led Tom into elevator work , but the opportunity to join the elevator hockey league. A few hours on the payroll was the only way on to the team. This was an unusual, but not unheard of, start to a long and successful career. Tom speaks highly about the work and the companies he worked for, but he also discusses some of the negative aspects of the work such as accidents, the drug and alcohol culture, etc. Warning: This interview contains descriptions of traumatizing events.

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Glen Hanna

Deckhand, Fireman: Canada Steamship Lines, Paterson Shipping

In 1939 at age 16, Glen sought adventure on a lake ship after riding boxcars from Fort Frances to St. Catherine's, ON. He found the life quite to his liking, even though it required him to shovel coal for hours on end as a fireman. This interview takes you back to earlier days when a sailor’s life on grain ships was hard work. He would have stayed on, but long absences from his family, also a requirement of a sailor’s life, were not an option. Glen’s journey back in time is an eye-opener. How times have changed!

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Wilfred "Butch" Harder

Farmer, Delegate, Director: Manitoba Farmers Union, Manitoba Pool Elevator

Butch Harder grew up on a farm with his parents in a Mennonite community. His father worked on the board of the Manitoba Pool Elevator. Butch outlines his work as a delegate and director for multiple farmers' unions in Manitoba and his commitment to the pools. His position at the centre of these organizations provides an interesting perspective on the grain industry during his lifetime. Butch discusses the differences between the elevators, political drama, management and policy changes, the building and collapse of pool companies. 

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Harold Harri

Chief Clerk: Searle

Harold Harri was born in Thunder Bay, where he worked as chief clerk at Searle Elevator. His work mainly involved market analysis allowing him to establish competitive prices in light of complex factors. He speaks to the changes in the number of elevators as technology and buyer requirements became more advanced. The industry switched from a system with many small, simple elevators, to a system where there were a few, major elevators, that were capable of handling the grain in much more competitive ways.

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Bruce Hayles

Winnipeg Commodity Exchange, Mission Terminal

Bruce outlines his extensive experience in the grain industry. Throughout his career, he led many organizations, including the Winnipeg Commodity Exchange and Mission Terminal. He outlines his roots in the industry, going  back to his father Charles' involvement in the early 1900s with Dominion and Consolidated elevator companies. His interview takes us through his time in Thunder Bay as a trainee with Consolidated to his later career, when he becomes, like his father, one of Winnipeg’s most respected grain industry leaders.

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David Hearn

Protein Lab Technician, Manager: Canadian Grain Commission, Entomology Lab

David expands on his career specializing in two major aspects of Canada’s grain inspection system: protein analysis and infestation monitoring and prevention. In the interview, he draws comparisons between the US and Canadian systems in regards to dealing with bugs. In the Canadian system it was more important to maintain a quality reputation by preventing the problem in the first place. Another topic that is covered is the explosions that occurred at Cargill and Pool 15 during his time on the job.

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John Heimbecker

CEO, Owner: Parrish and Heimbecker

John Heimbecker leads Parrish & Heimbecker’s national grain business. He begins the interview outlining the Heimbecker history in the trade and the long-standing partnership with the Parrish family. He discusses the Eastern and Western operations of the company and their optimistic outlook for the future. You will come away from the interview with insights into the success of this family-operated grain business.

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Gerry Heinrichs

Manager

Gerry Heinrich worked in many different positions, mainly focused around managing elevators. He describes the relationships that he built with farmers and the responsibility involved. Gerry shares comments on the changing industry, including the shrinking and rationalization of the industry, with a major consequence being the plummeting number of rural elevators, replaced with a short list of high capacity in-land terminals. He portrays the collapsing economy of the small towns that relied on the primary elevators. Gerry’s career involved him in various aspects of the grain industry including  property purchasing, health and safety, and environmental regulation to name a few. This varied exposure results in his interview being both informative and interesting.

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Sandy Henderson

Owner, Shipping Agent: Lake Superior Shipping

Sandy Henderson operates Lake Superior Shipping, as an owner and shipping agent. He explains how his father got into the grain industry and why, after completing university, he followed in his footsteps. Sandy talks about regulations on the ships, both in regard to employee safety, and protecting grain quality and purity. He also talks about where the ships are built, and where they find their crews. Mr. Henderson’s explanation is interesting because he is heavily involved in the global shipping industry. He has worked with dozens of different countries and talks about the different situations encountered while doing business with each of them.

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Brian Hudson

Switchman, Sailor, Captain

Brian Hudson worked in shipping, first in rail and then in marine, until he was promoted to captain. When he worked in rail, he worked as a switchman for CPR. He discusses work life and the organizational structure of the ship crew. His experience at sea is quite vast; he has worked for many companies in different positions, including a challenging stint at an oil rig. He explains the various jobs he filled, and the dangers of the sea.

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Dennis Johnson

CEO, Harbor Master: Thunder Bay Port Authority

Dennis Johnson worked as CEO and Harbor Master of the Thunder Bay Port Authority. Dennis has been close to the sea since he was a child. He discusses the changes in ownership of the ships, as various small shipping companies shut down to give way to larger ships that held a monopoly over the industry. Generally, he explains what he did as harbor master, as well as the tasks involved in his other jobs. He talks about historical events in Thunder Bay, and potential changes in the future.

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Doug Livingstone

Board Member, Farmer: Alberta Wheat Pool

Doug Livingstone grew up on a cattle ranch, and eventually began work as a board member in Alberta Wheat Pool. He climbed the ranks there until eventually serving as president. Doug discusses different cities relationships with the elevators; some people were very loyal to the elevators, whereas others viewed them negatively. He also explains why the Canadian industry is so complex; compared to Australia with 90 miles of rail to port, Canada has 900. Mr. Livingstone also gives his opinion on the current elevators and how they handle business.

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Angus Macdonald

Grain Inspector

Angus Macdonald was born in 1937, and turned up a university offer to work in the elevators. Eventually he worked as a grain inspector in Vancouver. He tells the story of how and why his dad came to Canada, who also worked in the elevators and led Angus to a job there. He discusses the changes to the inspection system; for instance, he was not trained at all when he began, but soon after the elevators began rigorously training new hires. Angus definitely enjoyed the work a great deal, and he speaks very highly of the job.

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Wally Madill

CEO: Alberta Wheat Pool

Wally Madill was raised on a farm in Alberta, and grew up to take a degree in agriculture before a long career at Alberta Wheat Pool. He discusses the status of farmers in Alberta during his time, and what factors led to them desiring their own cooperative elevator system. Mr. Madill was sent to various different cities throughout his career; he describes what he learned in Winnipeg, the cold of Thunder Bay, and his experiences in Vancouver. Wally’s career at AWP was long as dedicated; he worked there for the majority of his career until he became CEO from 1969-1989.

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Linda Malcomson

Professor: Canadian International Grain Institute

Linda Malcomson became a professor of foods and nutrition in 1979, and taught until 1998. Afterwards, she worked a high profile position with the Canadian International Grain Institute. She discusses the history of oilseed in Canada, and the progression of various crops in Canada. As she explains, the sophistication of grain types, and production methods has advanced significantly in her time (and with her help). Linda also talks a lot about pulses - a category of crops that consists of peas, beans, and lentils. She has a great deal of praise for the scientists she worked with.

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