The first Ponoka Municipal Hospital still stands very quietly at the corner of Railway Street and 57th Avenue, a serene location from where it proudly served the ongoing medical needs of our thriving and rapidly growing Ponoka Town and County from 1946 until the mid-1980s. For those of us who were fortunate enough to be living and growing up in and around Ponoka in that era, we will always remember that modern and new facility at the north end of Town, where the front door was always open with the kind and caring staff well-trained and ready to serve our most vital needs.
It was a bright and busy place where you would get a whiff of ether and antiseptic as soon as you came up the stairs and entered the building. It was also there on any given day or hour where so many of us had the scary experience of having to be admitted to have our tonsils or appendix out, to get a cut stitched up, to have a cast put on a broken bone, or to be treated for some sort of sudden affliction. Over the years on so many occasions we quietly walked down those long halls to visit a loved one or a friend, it was there where several generations of our children were born and sadly where many passed away. On most evenings a good number of the young lads in the community also visited the bottom floor residence of the hospital to court one of the young Student nurses.
For over 30 years, thousands of patients of all ages were treated at the Ponoka Municipal Hospital with care and compassion on a 24-7 year-round basis by a dedicated local team of medical, nursing and support staff, as well as being supported by skilled professional services in the community.
A history of Ponoka medicine
Many vivid stories have been told of pioneer medicine in and around our urban and rural districts. At times there were maternity homes run by nurses, but in the very early years most of the babies were delivered in the family home. Many miles of rugged travel were often necessary during that first decade to attend to the medical needs and emergencies of our urban and rural residents, and were usually completed on horseback or buggy, as well as by the kindly assistance from a neighbour lady who had been trained to deal with illnesses and other issues. As the only hospitals in the area were located in Lacombe and in the cities of Edmonton and Calgary, Nursing Homes were set up in town to care for the patients and to prepare them to be taken to the hospitals for further treatment.
Ponoka’s first physician was Dr. A.D. Drinnan, who arrived in 1903 and lived on his Fox Farm at Chain Lakes for many years. With the strong demand for medical assistance in the town and districts many other willing physicians, dentists, and other dedicated professionals arrived and set up their small practises or begin employment here, including W.A. Campbell. T.B. Stevenson, J.F. Brander, David Bell, and on and on. A milestone of this vital service in our community came in 1912 when Dr. Melvin Graham, a graduate of Toronto University Medical School arrived in Ponoka. The Medical and Eye Specialist opened an office in a residence on Donald Avenue (51st), from where he faithfully served hundreds of patients and even performed minor surgeries until his death in 1962. In 1963 the Ponoka Medical Centre would establish a support service with the Provincial Mental Hospital, which became the first of its kind in Canada.
To satisfy the growing demand for medical services in this area our first Ponoka Municipal Hospital was built in 1946, and was warmly welcomed and celebrated by the community and districts. A new west wing and operating theatre was added in 1952 and 1961 respectively as well as a comfortable waiting room in 1963 and at its peak the extremely busy 50-bed facility featured a staff of 60, including 30 nurses and eight doctors and Miss Ivy Morrell as the first Matron. Among the first Doctors who served the hospital and the community included: Doctors S.J.N and J.N.C. Byers, Dr. J.M. Cowan, Dr. Rex Younge, Dr. A. J. Elliot, Drs. A.B. and Winston Backus, Drs. D.D. and Robert Chesney, Dr. I.C.K. Tough, Dr. J. Spencer, Dr. S.A. Weaver, Dr. P. MacMillan, Dr. B. Bunting, and many other dedicated men and women over the years to the present date. Another great and longstanding tradition which began at the Ponoka Municipal Hospital was the establishment of the Ladies’ Hospital Auxiliary as well as the kind and caring Candy striper program. The Municipal Hospital was closed in the 1980s with the opening of the present ultra-modern modern Ponoka Hospital and Care Centre at 5800-57th Avenue, and this acute care and continuing care facility has carried on the same first class medical services, compassionate care and staffing that our Town and County has been blessed with for so many decades.