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Local group gets grant to complete Voices of the Grain Trade

The project includes the stories of grainhandlers, railway workers and many others involved in the production, shipping and export of grain
Friends of Grain Elevators photo

THUNDER BAY — There's light at the end of the tunnel for a not-for-profit group that's worked for years to collect and preserve the personal stories and recollections of dozens and dozens of people whose jobs were connected to the grain trade.

Friends of Grain Elevators has received a $50,000 federal grant to put the finishing touches on its Voices of the Grain Trade oral history project by the end of March 2024. 

Secretary Nancy Perozzo said the group is "thrilled" to learn that out of 112 applicants across the country, it is one of 38 to get funding under Library and Archives Canada's documentary heritage communities program.

About one-half of the interviews that were recorded for the project in Thunder Bay and in Western Canada have already been edited, transcribed and posted on the Friends of the Grain Elevators website.

But there are still about 100 to be completed with the ongoing assistance of Lakehead University's archives section.

"The whole collection needs to be preserved for upcoming generations," Perozzo said. "We've bitten off as much as we can chew, and we'll be able to have the entire collection of 220 voices safely preserved. We'll also have more of a worldwide audience, because having the collection properly catalogued makes it available across the globe."

Interviews were done with people representing virtually every aspect of the grain grade, from farmers to grain inspectors, including grainhandlers, lake shippers, regulators, builders, marketers, researchers, plant breeders, company owners, railway employees and others.

Most of these individuals were already retired, partly because it was felt they might be more comfortable telling their stories once their careers were over.

Perozzo said Friends of Grain Elevators initiated the project out of a belief that Thunder Bay residents should be proud of the role the city has played in such a key part of the Canadian economy.

"The people who built the port and operated the port, and still do operate the port, are an important cog in the external marketing of Canadian grain to the world. Anything that a community can take pride in, I think, helps build the quality of that community."

She said the group is grateful to the Paterson Foundation for its initial assistance with the purchase of equipment to conduct all the interviews that were required for the project.

It has already been singled out by the Ontario Historical Society, which selected FOGE in 2019 for its President's Award in honour of the project's contribution to the preservation and promotion of Ontario's history.

Friends of Grain Elevators is currently working with Canadian Geographic on the possibility of telling the story of the grain trade through a documentary film.


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