Reflections of Ponoka: Ponoka’s historical home away from home

During the exciting early settlement of the Village of Ponoka and the lush surrounding countryside, many years of tenacious hard work

Here are the members of the 1960 Ponoka Community Rest Room Association

During the exciting early settlement of the Village of Ponoka and the lush surrounding countryside, many years of tenacious hard work and determination would lead to the establishment of a bustling and successful community and countless active rural homesteads and districts.

A real treat for those hardy growing families would be a trip into town for supplies, to trade or sell the products of their labour, for appointments, and possibly a little socializing. While the men attended an auction sale, stopped in at the Blacksmiths for repairs, sold some livestock, or even popped into the local tavern, the mothers and their children looked for a comfortable and friendly place to relax after shopping, read, enjoy a cup of tea, a meal, a congenial chat, or some games. To serve these growing needs the first organizational meeting for the purpose of acquiring a building for the first Ponoka Rest Room was held in the Presbyterian Church on June 27, 1920. A fine building near what is now 5014-51st Avenue was made available by owner Mrs. C.D. Algar, and without hesitation kindly community folks like Mrs. Evelyn Graham, Mrs. Aro Crawford, M.L.A. Mr. C.O. Cunnington and others gathered together to form the first Ponoka Community Rest Room Association.

At a time when most of the population lived in rural areas, travel into Ponoka was necessary for groceries, farm repairs, mail, and supplies. Initially the long and tough trip into town was done by teams of horses or oxen pulling a wagon or sleigh into town, and then later when the first cars, trucks, and tractors appeared on the scene with a loud and smoky dominance, the trek usually became a whole lot quicker and often exciting, depending of course on the weather and the roads.

Many local and district clubs, organizations, and individuals responded quickly with donations and assistance in favour of purchasing the Algar building for purpose of hosting a ladies’ restroom. The support of this much needed project was overwhelming, with monies flowing in, and splendid turnouts for teas, dinners, sales, and catering to other functions for proceeds that would help the cause. Especially noteworthy was that one of the first Ponoka rodeos in 1920 very kindly donated $600.00 to the restroom building fund, and the committee made the decision to purchase and open the existing facility the same year. Although finances and spirits had become very low in 1922, the Ponoka Community Rest Room had quickly become a friendly and happy social haven for countless mothers and children year round, so the committee bravely decided to push on towards their lofty goals.

By 1925, The Ponoka Community Rest Room Association had become a large and very dedicated group of women from town and rural areas, who were thrilled to receive their first official charter. A milestone occurred in 1930 when a kindly member sponsored the association in the amount of $1450.00 in order that a mortgage could be secured to finance the construction of a new restroom. Mr. Jas Caine and Mr. R.A. Sorenson had been contracted in 1929 to build the magnificent two-story facility of cost-efficient and fire resistant cast stone, which was officially opened on November 30, 1929 during an informal tea and celebration, and all completed during the Great Depression. The former building was moved to the back of the lot, then later sold to Les Russell and moved to the cemetery. Later features of the always busy new Ponoka Community Rest Room were the addition our very first free public library of donated books, a telephone, as well as a caretaker’s suite, offices, and rental apartments upstairs that helped with the finances.

Over the years the Ponoka Community Rest Room was able operate on a debt-free basis, thanks to the generous support of the town and county, numerous fundraisers, and the supreme dedication of the over 100 ladies who diligently served on the board and strived for decades to keep this vital women’s facility running smoothly for decades. Expenses, of course, increased considerably over those years, with taxes rising from $47.48 in 1920 to over $700.00 in 1969, but the Town of Ponoka would respond with annual rebates, while the only wages were paid to the secretary, treasurer, and janitor. Ongoing improvements and renovations were made to the restroom over the years, including new taps, linoleum, rewiring and new pipes, and four lavatories. Countless items such as pictures, furniture, and other items were also donated by the community.

From 1920-1992 the Ponoka Community Rest Room provided a welcome amenity to farm women, one which no doubt reinforced Ponoka’s growth as an agricultural service centre, as well as contributing to the social, commercial, and social fabric of our growing community. The building, which was declared as a heritage site by the Ponoka Main Street Program in the 1980’s, was also recognized as one of the first affordable housing projects for single women in Ponoka. Our Ponoka Community Rest Room was sold to two young women in 1981, who, in a continuation of the association’s proud entrepreneurial spirit, have operated two successful businesses there. The association dissolved in 1992, donating $18,820.00 back to the community in the longstanding spirit and tradition of giving and caring for needs of so many in our town and surrounding districts.