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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
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.
Below: Illustraton of the construction
of a similar elevator
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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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