Port McNicoll Silos

This concrete behemoth is known as the Port McNicoll grain elevtors. It was in operation from 1912 to 1989.
JuicyFruitKisses, Mr. Jack Morningwood and myself hooked up with Jannx and Air33 for an exploration.

We were enthusiastic about the recent success of another colleague's attempt to access the top of the structure.
This site is a favourite among explorers but only a select few have explored the entire structure.

The weather on the day in question was gloomy and overcast and did not present the best conditions in which to photograph.
It was la
te afternoon when we arrived and the light was already starting to fade. To make things worse, snow flurries were expected latter on in the early evening.

Not much is still standing after the demolition of the port's other structures in the early 1990's. Only the massive grain bins and the occassional light standard still exist.

Rampant vegetation, unchecked for almost 20 years has erased much of what little evidence remained after the demolition.
The odd find such as this knocked over fire hydrant presents a hint of the extensive infrastructure that was once present.

This roof drain would be one wild ride for a golf ball . . . or perhaps an egg.

The basement interior of the the structure is as black as hades. One quickly realises the importance of adequate lighting and VERY long exposure times.

Unfortunately, by the time we stopped f@rting around and found the access up to the roof structure, natural light was rapidly deteriorating denying us the
opportunity of good photography.

Fortunately, however, our very excellent colleague 'Cadilac911' had presented some great images from a recent trip he had taken with his crew.

Three of his images are presented here to whet our appetite.

This structure is beautiful. A certain level of risk is presented to even some of the more seasoned explorers.

Some History

In this image, taken in the fall of 1952, we can see the 678-foot ship, the John O. McKellar being unload. This was Canada's largest lake steamer at the time. It took approximately 17 hours to unload the 20,500 tons of wheat and barley into 410 CPR railcars.

In the early 1880's, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), needed to open a way to transfer goods and immigrants west, and funnel prairie grain back east to the markets. Serious consider
ation was given to a water route between the CPR's Thunder Bay terminus and new Georgian Bay terminal as this would be more efficient than an expensive rail route through the treacherous terrain of northern Ontario. Owen Sound was considered, but the steeper terrain and farther distance from Toronto made the location economically impractical. In 1905, the CPR then surveyed the Victoria Harbour area and decided to site its operations across the bay. This new port, and the ensuant company town which sprung up here was named for then CPR vice-president David MacNicol.

Here we are treated to a rare sight of the bulk of the CPR fleet anchored at the Port McNicoll docks.

To extend the railway to Port McNicol, the CPR constructed a massive wooden trestle bridge across Hog Bay just to the south. When completed in 1908, the bridge was one of the longest wooden structures on the continent. The bridge was over 2,100 feet long and 50 feet high and was constructed of 8" by 16" timber and 65 foot pilings of British Columbia fir. Due to the strategic importance of this bridge, it was patrolled by armed guards during both world wars. The bridge was last used in 1971 and was demolished in 1978.

Once completed, Port McNicoll was a superb deep-water harbour, hosting the second largest grain elevator in North America. Port workers also prided themselves in operating the fastest unloading elevator on the great lakes for many years. The CPR transferred both its freight lines and passenger fleet to its new facilities at Port McNicoll. On May 4, 1912, the Assiniboia became the first passenger ship to sail out of the Port McNicoll harbour. While grain rolled into the colossal elevator, increasing numbers of immigrants, travellers and latter tourists poured onto the ships of the CPR fleet to make the trip across Georgian Bay in luxury. The graceful twin passenger ships, the Assisiniboia and the Keewatin, serviced the Port McNicoll terminal for over forty years, along with their freight-carrying contemporaries, the Alberta, the Athabasca and the Manitoba.

Here, passengers are assisted from their cars or from the train onto the elegant steam liners.

The 1920's were banner years for the CPR’s passenger ships, as tourists took a three-hour train ride north from Toronto, to take the scenic route across Georgian Bay and Lake Superior. The passenger ships were luxurious, with richly-furnished staterooms, a two-deck lounge complete with stained glass windows with live music and dancing. Before boarding, passengers were treated to the magnificent CPR gardens at Port McNicoll which became a tourist destination unto itself. The flowers for the gardens were grown in greenhouses, which were heated with steam from the CPR’s laundry. The gardens were famous for their flowers laid out in geometric patterns, there were sunflowers, hollyhocks, sweet William and geraniums maintained by a gardening staff of six.

The Assiniboia and the Keewatin put their early competition out of business and enjoyed a profitable career, but the era of the great ships did not last forever. By 1951, the Assiniboia and the Keewatin were the only Canadian ships still carrying passengers through the Great Lakes. The Alberta was the first ship to leave the Port McNicoll fleet when, in 1945, it was sold to a company in Orlando, Florida and latter scrapped. The Athabasca followed, which went to the Steel Company of Canada in Hamilton in 1947. The last regularly scheduled departure from Port McNicoll occurred on November 28, 1965, when the Keewatin sailed under Captain Ernest H. Ridd with only two passengers, both members of the Great Lakes Historical Society. The Keewatin is now used as a floating museum in Michigan and the Assiniboia was destroyed by fire shortly after.

In these two images, one may see some of the service buildings.
The image on the left is suspected to have been the laundry building where linens from the passenger ship's state rooms and dinning rooms were cleaned. The steam plant here also provided heat to the CPR gardens.

The federal government
cancelled rail subsidy in the late 1980's which sounded a death knell for the operations at Port McNicoll. The port elevator unloaded its last vessel, the Black Bay of Canada Steamship Lines in July of 1989. Along, with the Port McNicoll Elevator, the Tiffin Elevator and Simoce Elevator in nearby Midland also closed. Marathon Realty, a CP company sold the elevator and some 30 odd acres in 1980 to Maple Leaf Mills. The property was was resold again to Cargill Grain which had held a previous lease back in 1927.

The Port McNicoll elevator facility was fully intact until the mid 1990's when Cargill, hoping to redevelop the land, demolished the work house, office, and marine towers. Only the main bin structure remains as silent witness to the last 100 years of rich maritime history.


Anonymous said...

Hey Copysix - Neat article and pics on the Port McNicoll silos . I myself lived in Port McNicoll back in the early 60's as a kid and still remember the place , although I've never actually been up close to it . I live in Toronto and haven't been up to Port McNicoll since the early 70's , but sometimes wish I still lived up north and wish the grain elevator still operated . I remember seeing the lake freighters at the elevator and the 2 passenger ships , the Keewatin and the Assinaboine at the town dock . I also remember the CPR's extremely long freight sheds on the town side of the slip , I imagine they are long gone now . I guess that the town really hasn't seen much growth since the elevator's closing in the early 90's , although , as I mentioned I'd like to live up there if I had a lot of money :) !! Thanks for keeping interest in the place alive ........... take care ........... Gary

jannx said...

Copy .. I've been there a couple of times so I can say, you have done an excellent piece on the history, great research and lots of interest.

Luke Taylor said...

unnafortunately its being demolished as i speak its supposed to be fully demolished within 6 weeks starting last week, its looking a little rough from the vic harbour side, its an amazing structure and a landmark for port mcnicoll and shouldnt be torn down it was very neat as myself have been inside of it very long straight walkway with concrete block which once held up rails for carts, thick thick walls, large open space concrete slab in the center of the building, very dark, huge silos, but anyways too bad its going.

Gary Sturges said...

Sad to know that it's being demolished . I haven't been up to Port McNicoll in years , but to me the elevator was a landmark . Now Port McNicoll will have nothing of interest , it'll be just another beach side town . Glad I still have my childhood memories of the elevator in use , as well as the long gone CPR freight sheds and passenger dock . Hope someone will get some pics before it's entirely gone .

Luke Taylor said...

ive got a couple pics of it before during and after but its totally gone now

Gary said...

I saw a very short time lapse video of the demo and I feel a great loss . Port McNicoll will never be the same . A total shame that it couldn't have been saved , like the elevator in Midland . A mural portraying Port McNicoll's history would have made a better tourist attraction than the empty space left in it's place . Wouldn't mind seeing the pics of the demo .

Anonymous said...

I live across the bay from the elevators - they are the prominent thing we see from our living room. I will miss them.

Anonymous said...

great site....i cant wait to go scuba diving there we live 1/2 hour away and its to bad the silo was demolished

Gerald Jones said...

grew up in Port Mc Nicoll, Have photos of some of the out buildings being torn down in 97-98