Sharphead district known for colorful history and hospitality

This week's Reflections considers the days of the Sharphead district.

The Sharphead School class of 1914 included (back row

The Stony Indians were a small, peaceful tribe who faced the threat of starvation at their settlement in the Pigeon Lake area in the early 1880s, followed the Crees onto a reserve at the north end of the Bear Hills, but were later driven out and wandered east in search of water, game and safe shelter for their failing family tribal members. Led by Chief Sharphead, the weary Stonies finally settled on a new 14-acre site at the confluence of Wolf Creek and the Battle River, the tip of which was only a few miles from the present Town Of Ponoka. Sadly, between 1886 and 1890, illness and hunger would ravage the small tribe, drastically reducing their numbers and forcing Sharphead and his family to take the survivors and join another Stony Band at Lake Wagamun.

The sale of the Sharphead Reserve

In November of 1890, the Indian Commissioner was forced to lay off the Sharphead Reserve staff and the government farm was eventually abolished, and then in 1899, the Dominion Government opened up the land for sale at a purchase price of from $2 to $4 an acre. With widespread advertising into the United States, settler families quickly flooded into the area from Iowa, Nebraska, North and South Dakota, and Oregon, and by 1901, the land was all sold and the District of Sharphead was established, and proudly named after the great but gentle chief of the Stony Tribe.

Due to great demand, the first Sharphead School was built in 1903 on property donated by George White, and later owned by the L.J. Auten family. Situated four miles west of Ponoka, the little old country school sat on a hill which commanded a magnificent view of the surrounding district, including the beautiful and rolling Battle River valley. Emma Hunter was the first teacher, who planted trees around the school which lasted for many decades, and started a fund well as to purchase a fine piano, which served the district for countless years. In 1929, a new school was built on the N.W. 11-43-26-W4th, and would remain to serve the ever-growing families of the district until 1944, when it was closed due to a teacher shortage. Some of those legendary early pioneers in the district whose descendents still farm on the original land over the years included W. T. (Tim) Russell, W.G. (Will) Cerveny, the resident poet D.A. (Dan) Morrow, John Hagemann, Evan Lloyd, Aaro Crawford, Lars Larsen and the Edward Elofson families.

Over those exciting early years, it was always said about the Sharphead District that a finer group of people have never graced a community and displayed the ‘proper pioneer spirit’ any better than these. Whether it was a neighbour, a friend, a salesman, or a visitor from town, they were always made to feel welcome and at home at any front door, and over the years it would be these congenial traits coupled with their abilities and ambitions that made them very successful over the years. Following are only a few of the highlights told of those who settled and grew up in the legendary district of Sharphead, as well as those generations of fine families who established and carried on the traditions of living life on the prairies of Alberta.

*People of the Sharphead district have always had a special niche in their hearts for the memory of Dan Morrow, who was a skilled teller of tales and a fine singer and poet of the good word, and his 1948 booklet ‘Homespun Rhymes’ can still be found and enjoyed at our local museum or library, and in many district homes.

*The home of Will Cerveny was always a rendezvous for the young boys of the neighbourhood to gather for a few hours, and if the weather got too bad or the river flooded, their folks always knew that they would always have a warm place to stay for the night. Tim Russell was one of the real district characters, who was full of the ‘old Nick’ and was as witty as any son of the “Olud Sod’ from which his ancestors came.

*John Hagemann and Evan Lloyd, both small men in physical stature, but were mighty in their ability of accomplishment. Both gentlemen settled within a half a mile of each other on land overlooking the Battle River and carved out their fine farms, which still flourish in the area to this day. Both took great pride in raising fine livestock, were superb stockmen who were quickly able to diagnose ailments, and were more than willing to assist their neighbours in this regard.

*Transportation to school in the early days was by horseback or on foot, but there were always many lively pony races on the way home. A little later, when the noisy cars arrived on the scene, the horse and wagon were not used and relied upon as much, but either way it was only a short trip into Ponoka, especially on the weekend for some supplies and a little socializing. Janitor work at the Sharphead School was done by the children of the nearest homes for $2.50 a month, while the ‘moms’ held the major clean-up work bee in the summer. During the 1915-1916 semester, the always full class of grades 1 to 8 included 20 boys and one girl, the latter who quickly decided to attend school somewhere else. Nature hikes, treasure hunts, and outdoor study were favourite lessons, everyone went outside for recess, and a real treat was chasing bushy tailed gophers or watching the adults doing stump-blasting. Country students who wanted to get a further education went to the Ponoka High School, which opened in 1902.

Of those who came later to Sharphead, stayed, and left their mark were the L.J. Auten, Charles Lee, Mat Cameron, Amad Kvestad, Allan Crawford, Soren Elgaard, Anton Lux, Duncan McMillan families, along with many others who carried on the proud traditions of hard work and hospitality through many colorful decades and several proud generations.


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