Story # 3 – Ogden elevator bites the dust

Ogden grain elevator the day before its demolition. Photo by Otisha Sousa.

By Otisha Sousa

A monumental piece of history to some, a costly pain to others – a final farewell to the Ogden Grain Elevator was bittersweet for Calgarians.

98 years of Cargill and Calgarian history was reduced to rubble within seconds at 8:00 a.m. on October 16, 2011 when hundreds of small controlled explosives took Calgary’s Ogden Federal Grain Elevator down.

Once detonated, the building buckled once and then toppled to the ground before massive clouds of smoke spilled over the horizon.

“I didn’t make it to see the General Hospital [demolition], so I’ve never really seen a demolition with anything other than a bulldozer.” said Neil Young, a freelance photographer.

Over the past four months, demolition crews have taken 60 – 70 per cent of the building down.

All that remained of the historical structure that morning was the tallest section, 682 holes were drilled into the support columns in order to allow for the controlled implosion.

Crowds of hundreds gathered at different spots surrounding the blocked off radius that extended 300 m from the elevator in every direction.

Young families watched in absolute excitement while older couples sat with nostalgic looks in their eyes.

“The fact that it was being argued over made for an interesting story,” said Cynthia Radford, SAIT Polytechnic Photojournalism Major.

And it’s true, there was much controversy over whether or not it was right to demolish a piece of history that was an example of both an early industrial architecture and innovative construction techniques.

It was astounding to architectures all over the world that something of such magnitude had been built in the horse and buggy days.

Alderman Druh Farrell referred to the structure as “beautiful”, and thought there should have been more discussion about the building’s fate.

But Cargill had already decided on the building’s fate in December.

Their spokesperson announced they would be selling the property because it was too costly to maintain, and wasn’t bringing in enough profit with the newer facility in Carseland attracting farming customer’s attention.

The urban location makes the Ogden Elevator less likely for business because it’s harder for farmers to travel into the city.

Several cities have been able to save their elevators. Nanton has their elevator into a museum, while Akron and Ohio turned theirs into hotels.

But the elevator’s location is in too awkward a location to be used as a hotel, or a museum according to Scott Joliffee, chairman of Calgary Heritage Authority, who says its “just not practical,”.

The elevator is located in the middle of an industrial area, across the street from Bonnybrook Wastewater Plant, and would cost millions upon millions to renovate into a hotel.

“It’s pretty to someone who’s interested in industrial architecture,” said Jolifee in an article on the Calgary Herald’s website.

“I’d agree that does not include many people.”

Jolifee and the Calgary Heritage Authority have been working to capture the Ogden Federal Elevator in its final stages in a catalogue of over 2 000 photos on www.calgaryheritage.org .

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