It was a grim day February 9, 2010, when the hardworking residents of Fleming, Saskatchewan, located just across the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border along the Trans Canada Highway, awoke to find their recently restored, nationally recognized historic grain elevator engulfed in flames.
A press release issued shortly after the fire stated that the RCMP were treating the blaze as suspicious.
On May 2, over a year later, another press release was issued stating that two Manitoba men have been arrested in relation to the crime that destroyed the historical Lake of the Woods Milling Co. elevator and are facing charges for arson.
Twenty-year-old Joey Yates of Oak Lake, Manitoba, and 22-year-old Charles Victor Dron of Miniota, Manitoba, appeared in Yorkton Provincial court on Monday, May 2. Sergeant Gord Stewart of the Moosomin RCMP reported that the case was remanded to Moosomin Provincial Court for a bail hearing on Tuesday, May 3, and that the men were released on several conditions as cash bail. A subsequent court date was scheduled for June 7 in Moosomin.
Fleming mayor Philip Hamm was relieved that arrests had been made. For years before the devastating fire, the community had rallied together to restore the historical structure.
“We’d been working on it informally since the year 2000 when we were able to get United Grain Growers to stop the demolition of the elevator,” explained Hamm. “In 2004, Agricore United acquired the land and the elevator from the Canadian Pacific Railway and turned them over to the Town of Fleming for a dollar.”
From then on, the townspeople of Fleming worked tirelessly to renovate the elevator, which had been designated as a provincial as well as national historical structure. Built in 1895, it was recognized as the oldest grain elevator in Canada and the only elevator in North America with its particular hip roof design.
“We valued it not only locally, but nationally as well. We were very proud to have it,” says Hamm.
In the fall of 2009, their hard work paid off when their pride and joy was awarded the Lieutenant Governor Award for exterior renovation of a historical project. Unfortunately, their efforts were rendered futile mere months later.
“To see all of our hard work going up in flames really did demoralize us; the community was sickened by it,” commented Hamm. “We were counting on it to bring tourism to our area so it was a big loss in many ways.”
Not wanting the arsonists’ actions to dismiss their ambitions, the town refused to accept defeat. Several discussions were conducted as to what could be done; the construction of a replica and the erection of a cairn were seriously considered until they were approached in the summer of 2010 by the owner of a former Wheat Pool elevator in Doonside, Sask, who was willing to gift them the structure.
Thirty years newer and of the same slope shouldered design as most elevators of the early 1920s, they found that the elevator was in excellent condition. Having decided to move the newer structure to Fleming, the town has once again thrown themselves into the task of fundraising to cover the cost of its transport.
“After the fire, we decided to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and see what we could do,” says Hamm. “We can’t have our elevator, but we can save another.” They are planning on running tours through the functioning elevator once it has been moved and slight repairs have been made.
Regarding the arrest of the suspected arsonists, Hamm was impressed with the efforts of their local police detachments. “They took their time and used their judgement to build a strong case. We understand that the investigation is still ongoing and it may involve more people than those who have been arrested; we just hope that anyone who has information concerning the fire will come forward.”
Published in the Virden Empire-Advance. May, 2011.