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Location DB > Canada > Ontario > Port McNicoll > Port McNicoll Grain Elevator > The Best Way In

Story Info
Mon, May 31st, 2004
posted by Avatar-X
The Best Way In

The Port McNicoll Grain Elevator was built in the early 1900's by the Canadian Pacific Railway and primarily used to store grain. Physically, it's about half a kilometre long, about 100 metres wide, and maybe 30 metres high. A very massive concrete building. It houses hundreds of silos, each about 8 metres across. I believe it was built by the Canadian Pacific Railway. The elevator is located just outside Port McNicoll, near Talbot street and Armstrong street.

On this trip we had Nvr2loud, Tekriter, Pilo101, Kiwi, and myself. After a long drive up highway 400, we arrived at a parking lot near the elevator, at about 10 PM. As we stopped to discuss our plans, another car suddenly raced into the parking lot and sped around the gate, indicating to us the way in. We later found out that this car was heading to one of the many public beaches on the road to the elevator. Driving all the way to the end of the road, we hid our cars out of sight between the trees and the elevators itself.

I must take a moment and describe how I felt when I first looked at this place. Driving along the gravel road, when suddenly this massive concrete structure looms out of the darkness, with smooth curved sides. It's a very eerie feeling.

We got out of our cars and had a look around. The building is arranged in such a fashion that the basement (which is on ground level) has many doors and openings all around, for easy access to the grain. On top of that sat the silos themselves, hundreds of round structures joined together with thousands of tons of concrete. Finally, at the very top, perched the long, flat building which protected the silos from rain and allowed grain to be poured into them.

Rubble piled outside the building
To prevent people from getting in, they had piled tons of concrete rubble all the way around the base of the building, completely blocking off all of the basement loading doors, windows, and emergency exits. Quite a sound way of blocking off a building. To reach the building at the top there were three or four outdoor metal staircase/ladder combos. The ladders themselves ended about 15 metres off the ground, having obviously been cut off to prevent people from climbing up.

Some scouting around revealed someone had (somehow) pulled away some of the concrete chunks, exposing the top of a loading door that led into the basement. One by one, we squeezed through it and were inside.

large concrete pillars
The basement was incredible. Massive 2x2 metre concrete pillars held up the structure, and each silo ended in a tapered cone with a door and a wheel, presumably to open and close the door. The room stretched the entire length of the structure. When was the last time you were in a room that's half a kilometre long? As could be expected, the usual musty dust smell accompanied the dank basement. Spitting up into two groups, we explored the length of the basement. Nvr2loud, Kiwi, and I explored the east side, while Tekriter and Pilo101 explored the west side. On the floor, every metre or so, there were small concrete blocks which at one time had rails attached to them. The machinery would move along the rails. Since iron is a valuable substance, these were most likely removed when the place was abandoned.

Nvr2Loud opens one of the doors
Every few silos there would be a door on the outer wall, which Nvr2loud would peer into. The doors were always completely blocked by tons of concrete junk. About three quarters of the way down the length, we suddenly heard loud voices through a nearby window. Fearing for the safety of our cars, we dashed quickly back to our entry point and found no one in the vicinity, but could see people down the road with a car. Nvr2loud and Tekriter dashed off down the gravel road to go see what they were up to. When they got about 10 metres from the car, the car took off, not even having seen the two of them. Upon returning, they reported to us that it was just a carload of drunks.

Clambering back inside the basement, we decided to try to find an interior way to get up. Surely there must be a staircase of some sort somewhere! But alas, we found no stairs. However as we reached the end of the structure, what should cross our eyes but a metal ladder, leaning against the wall. Casting our flashlights upward into the closest silo, we saw a long ladder affixed to the side of the silo, with ropes tied to it. The ladder didn't look very secure, but we saw no other way up, so we decided to give it a shot.

Getting up the inside of the silo
Propping the metal ladder against the edge of the silo opening, Nvr2loud climbed up carefully as we illuminated his way with our flashlights. Once he reached the top, he slipped over the edge, and almost fell into the next silo! He quickly caught his balance and moved onto neighboring walkway. Next up the ladder went Kiwi, however the rest of us decided the ladder looked too perilous for us. Tekriter came up with the idea of affixing a rope ladder to the outside, where the original ladder had once been.

Pilo101 made his way up the precarious ladder inside the silo, while Tekriter and I returned to the cars to fetch the necessary equipment. I had brought along some rope, which came in handy. Above us, Nvr2loud was making his way down the caged ladders as far as he could go, before they ended at a metal landing. Once he was secure, Tekriter threw the rope up to him. After several tries, Nvr2loud successfully caught the rope and secured it to the landing. Dangling one end back down to us, he indicated he was ready.

Tekriter tied the rope to the top of the rope ladder, and with some heaving on the part of Nvr2loud, the ladder made its way up. It turned out to be just long enough, the bottom rung hanging a few feet off the ground. Nvr2loud made sure the ladder was secure, and before long Tekriter was climbing up. Now, I've never really climbed a rope ladder before, at least not a long one in a serious situation. So you can imagine I was somewhat apprehensive. I took it one rung at a time, making sure my hands and feet were securely placed before moving to the next rung. Before I knew it, I had reached the landing, and then quickly climbed up the original metal ladders and two-flight staircase before arriving on the roof.

The view from up there was quite incredible. We could see pretty much all of Port McNicoll, which isn't much of a feat considering how tiny it is. That night there was a full moon, partially obscured by clouds, giving the whole trip a very creepy feeling. Nvr2loud had already gone ahead, so Tekriter and I made our way through a missing window and into the building on top of the silos.

It was incredible. All of the silos were wide open, unlike the Malt Plant where they had small doors over the openings. Here, a series of concrete and metal catwalks on several levels stretched the length and width of the building, allowing access to each individual silo. As we reached the east end of the top, my flashlight suddenly died without warning. Good thing I carry five of them, plus the Maglites come with replacement bulbs! A quick switch of the bulb and I was on my way again.

Like in the basement, there were also small concrete blocks that once held rails for machinery to move along. Moving slowly to avoid tripping, the two of us made our way to the north end of the building and met up with Kiwi, Nvr2loud, and Pilo101.

There was a small office with a broken lock on the door, which we peeked into. Since we still had no idea what this place was officially called, we were looking for some sort of stationary or letterhead that might wield some clues. There were some posters for cars, a broken radiator, and some office joke sheets lying around. Finally I found a piece of paper explaining what to do if a fire occurred in one of the silos, with the heading "Port McNicoll Elevator". Finding no other useful information, we left the office and made our way up some stairs onto the roof.

The view from here was even better, so we sat down and just rested. It was about 1:30 AM at this point. We discussed what we had seen so far, but one important thing was missing: There were no employee changing rooms or toilet facilities. We also found the lack of proper offices somewhat suspicious. Nvr2loud and I had a look off the west end of the roof, and spotted a large concrete slab at ground level, which appeared to be a foundation. After some speculation, we decided that when they abandoned the place they must have torn down the side structure and used it's concrete to spread around the base of the main structure. After some more exploring along the length of the roof, we made our way back inside.

The numbers on the silos
Trying to decide how many silos there were, we noted that the silos were numbered 260, 270, 280, and 261. After some searching we decided that the first two numbers were the row, and the last number was the silo number. None of the silos were numbered higher than 7, and the last row was numbered 30. We concluded there were 30 rows with 7 silos per row, giving a total of 210 individual silos. That's a lot of silos.

It was about 2:30 now, so we decided it was time to be getting back. None of us wanted to climb down the daring ladder inside the silo, and climbing down the rope ladder can be pretty difficult. So we decided to use some rappel gear brought by Nvr2loud and Tekriter to get down from the last landing. Nvr2loud climbed down the rope ladder, and so did Kiwi and Pilo101. Then, he hoisted the rappel equipment up to Tekriter. This consisted of ropes, carabiners, harnesses, and belaying devices. I've never rappelled before, so Tekriter showed me how to put on the harness and instructed me in the use of the belay device.

I stood on the metal frame of the landing, and slowly eased my weight onto the harness. Before long, I was hanging totally on the rope, with my feet on the wall. I slowly lowered myself down by controlling the rope passing through the belay device. Before long, I was on the ground! It was quite and interesting experience. I took off the harness and took a breather, and watched as Tekriter lowered himself down in much the same way. Afterwards, he pulled the rope down and packed everything away.

Now that we were back on the ground, I wanted to have a look around at where the foundation of the other building was. Walking around the side of the elevator, we reached the pad and found pretty much what we were expecting: overgrown concrete, trash, some tires. There was a hole in the ground which presumably let into the basement, but it was much too small to fit into. We walked the rest of the way around the building before returning to our cars and driving back home.

It was an incredible trip, one I would recommend to anyone who isn't afraid of a little climbing and driving. There are many places where you could fall and seriously hurt yourself, but only if you aren't careful. Remember: Safety first!

If anyone has more information about this place, or has been inside and would like their story posted here, please email me!


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