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Students receive unique lesson on grain elevator tour (6 photos)

A group of students from southern Ontario tour the Thunder Bay area, including a century-old grain elevator.

THUNDER BAY - While it may not seem like the most likely destination for a senior class trip, one group of students from southern Ontario are experiencing some interesting and memorable lessons in the industrial history of Northwestern Ontario.

On Monday, 24 students from Blyth Academy in Toronto arrived in Thunder Bay for a tour of area, which will include Fort William Historical Park, Sleeping Giant Provincial Park, and a two night stay at Porphyry Island Lighthouse.

To kick off the tour, the students visited one of the iconic staples of the shores of the city with a tour of the Western Grain elevator on the Kaministiquia River.

“We are just learning about the history of the northern parts of our province and how something old can still work today, even though it is more than 100-years-old,” said grade 12 student, Matthew Wallenburg. “This was built over 100 years ago and it still works today. That is really fascinating.”

Western Grain was built between 1911 and 1912 along the Kaministiquia River and has been in operation ever since and is the only organic certified elevator operating in Thunder Bay.

Blyth Academy principal, Adam Depencier, said the tour is meant to highlight these pieces of industrial history to demonstrate not only how the nation was built, but just how extensive it can be.

“As an experiential school we wanted to do something totally different,” Depencier said. “We wanted to expose kids to the fact that we have a huge wonderful country. We also wanted to see an industrial side of things in terms of Canada, which is why we are starting here at an icon of Thunder Bay, a grain elevator.”

Depencier has spent a lot of time in Northern Ontario, having canoed and hiked along the shores of Lake Superior, and he recently spent time at the Porphyry Island Lighthouse as an artist in residence. He contacted Paul Morralee, managing director of Canadian Lighthouses of Lake Superior to arrange a tour.   

Morralee said the inclusion of the grain elevator was a significant part of the tour because it highlights the importance of transshipment to the history of the region and the rest of the province.  

“Our country was built on transshipment and still is with the use of our port facilities,” Morralee said. “Now we are seeing numbers increasing and we are seeing a lot more movement of vessels. The story of transshipment is an important one and one that will continue on and maybe even increase.”

During the tour, Kevin King, superintendent of Western Grain, showed the students all the inner workings of the grain elevator, and some students even got some hands on experience trying to open the hatches on the grain cars to unload grain.

“I didn’t think it was going to be that difficult,” Wallenburg said. “There are so many to do there. You would think it would be more efficient. But it’s not. It’s pretty hard to just one and those guys have to do like 50 a day.”

Grade 12 student, Alex Yang, said he was really looking forward to getting away from the city and experiencing something new, or maybe something old.

“It’s always good to know about some old stuff,” he said. “I’m pretty old school and I’ve never seen these kinds of things before. It was pretty exciting. I didn’t know we were going to look at this. It just made my day.”

Depencier said when the students first learned they would be going to Northern Ontario, they had to learn more about where it was and what it was, but after that, they were soon intrigued by the destination.

“I think they liked the originality of it,” he said. “I hope they come out of this with a stronger sense of being a Canadian. I think this part of the province is one of the magical spots anywhere in the world. That’s no hyperbole. I just love it up here so to bring my students up here it is a dream come true.”

“Here in Northwestern Ontario we have a lot to say,” Morralee added. “There are a lot of great things our community represents and transshipment is only part of the story.”  

Doug Diaczuk

About the Author: Doug Diaczuk

Doug Diaczuk is a reporter and award-winning author from Thunder Bay. He has a master’s degree in English from Lakehead University
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