By Lethbridge Herald on July 21, 2021.
For Erin Chase, they were highway markers on her childhood road trips.
When they gradually started to disappear, she knew she wanted to tell their story.
Thanks to a grant from Telus Storyhive, Chase was able to put together a documentary, The Vanishing Skyline, paying homage to the grain elevator, once a mainstay in many prairie communities that have gradually been phased out due to advancements in technology.
“I’m (from) southern Alberta, born and raised, and grain elevators have always played a huge part of my family,” said Chase. “My mom’s father was a grain elevator manager in Milo and Claresholm. So it has always been something I’ve heard about. I was always seeing them on the highway and I remember when my dad and I used to go to Medicine Hat we would mark the towns based on the grain elevators. He would quiz me on what was coming next and what town was after that.”
Chase’s documentary was one of 40 projects selected out of 327 applications to receive $20,000 from Telus Storyhive’s Web Series Edition, supporting storytellers in creating, pitching and producing innovative comedy, drama or documentary web series pilots that reflect on experiences and stories found in their local communities.
Another Lethbridge duo, Kynan Gordon and Arjan Gill, earned a Telus Storyhive grant for The Nikkei Way, a firsthand account of a group of Japanese Canadians in Lethbridge, exploring their heritage, culture and connecting with the people who support their way of life in the community.
In the Web Series edition, Beats & Eats by Sammy Golom and Noise by Adam Thom were also selected.
Beats & Eats features an in-depth interview with singer-songwriter Jordan Hart, while Noise chronicles the experiences of a young man who is thrown into a family dynamic he didn’t ask for.
With her application approved, Chase dove into her documentary about the grain elevators which were a huge part of her childhood.
“I noticed the grain elevators started disappearing and it was very surprising to me that something like that would even happen and it went from there, the interest in that,” she said. “I remember talking to my mom about it and how proud she was of her father for working there and helping sustain the local community.”
In the summer of 2019, Chase and her crew got to work.
“It was a combination of written archival research as well as talking to people who worked at the grain elevators,” she said. “So quite a few of my interviewees had a direct connection to the grain elevator.
“We also went to Parrish & Heimbecker Ltd here in Lethbridge and we interviewed operations managers just to compare what grain elevators used to be like compared to how the grain industry is run now.”
In her grain elevator research, Chase said she learned of small communities around Alberta she hadn’t heard of.
Talking with P&H representatives allowed her to see how grain is processed, turned into flour and shipped out from Lethbridge.
“It was amazing to see how the whole process and the part southern Alberta plays in not just the regional economy, but in the global market as well,” said Chase. “With industrialization, the process has changed immensely, even when it was just personal storage and grain turned into the mass production of flour, then to find out how many different types of flour there are and where it goes in the world.”
Chase worked closely with her director, Michael Warf, in piecing the documentary together.
“The two of us did the bulk of it,” she said. “But I also had another cameraman who did all the aerial shots with his drone. We contracted two guys out of Calgary for sound and I had a researcher based in Edmonton who went to the provincial archives for me.”
The Vanishing Skyline was completed in August of last year.
“It took about a full year to produce then it rolled to Telus Storyhive,” said Chase. “Telus Optic TV picked it up (last December) and it just went online (last month).
Chase said the feedback has been positive, including people she had never met telling her how much they enjoyed the documentary.
“It made me think of my dad or my grandfather,” she said. “I remember driving through Warner or Milk River. It’s amazing the people who have said thanks for the piece of nostalgia.”
The accolades didn’t stop there. The Vanishing Skyline was also nominated for a Stinger Award out of Calgary for Best Short Form Documentary and while it didn’t win, it was one of the finalists.
With The Vanishing Skyline completed, Chase said she’d like to get back to her own writing and screenwriting.
“I’d like to do some more projects in the future being behind the lens and directing. But writing is definitely where my passion is.”
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