Manitoba's --- Uncommon Sites and Sights
Spotlight #10 -- Sunken barn (?) east of Lockport on Hwy. 44 near Hwy.206
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The building shown is known as a root cellar. The root cellar's main purpose was to store potatoes, approximately 375,000 lbs when full! Because the building was built below ground, it was able to store the potatoes without ever having to heat the storage facility.
The "skylights" (in image #3) is where the potatoes were brought into the root cellar. During harvest time, a potato digger would dig the potatoes from the ground and place them on top of the soil. In the early years, potato pickers would pick the potatoes from the field and place them into a pail, which would then be dumped into burlap bags. The bags would then be lifted onto a wooden trailer and transported to the root cellar.
The bags would then be dumped into the "skylights". The "skylight" opening would have a canvas chute attached, which ran from the opening of the skylight to the floor. The canvas chute would cushion the potatoes as they went down into the cellar. A person at the bottom of the chute would hold on and guide the potatoes into the various areas of the root cellar (how else would you get the potatoes to the corner of the building?).
In the latter years, the potatoes would still be picked into pails, which were then dumped into a "potato truck". The potato truck would then transport the potatoes to the root cellar, and unloaded onto a conveyer. The conveyer would then bring the potatoes to the skylights (the canvas chute though was still used to guide and place the potatoes into the cellar).
At the end of harvest, the skylights would be covered up and filled with insulation to protect the potatoes from the cold. During the winter, the potatoes would be sorted and cleaned, placed into 75 lb burlap bags, and sold to the many customers that visited the farmstead, transported directly to homes or to vegetable wholesalers located in Winnipeg.
The first section of the root cellar (image #1) was built in 1948. The hole for the root cellar was dug out by a tractor pulling a dredging bucket (about 3 feet wide). Once the hole was dug, concrete was mixed on site and spread out for the floor of the root cellar. Cinder blocks were used for the 8-foot walls.
Initially, a rounded roof made of bricks was constructed. When the forms were taken off, the roof fell in, mainly because the building of the roof was done a number of months (while tending to the crops). This did not allow for the mortar to be properly set. After that first failed attempt, a second roof was erected made of wood, covered with cedar singles. The earth that was dug out for the cellar was then placed against the wall for insulation purposes.
Approximately 5 years later, a second section was built (the hole shown in Image #2). This addition partially collapsed in the late 80's, due to water eroding the sides. A bulldozer later pushed in the walls of this section. The root cellar was used till 1986 (almost 40 years!). In the picture, you will notice the building has only a few cedar shakes left - that is because someone bought the used cedar shakes to be used on another building!
I remember as a young child, I asked my mother what that was because she was raised in that area pretty much her whole life. She informed me that it was an outdoor cold storage for potatoes.