By Mike Rainone
For the News
Among my most vivid memories of growing up in and around Ponoka were my encounters with our loyal and mostly friendly Town Police Department. Although most of us never got into too much trouble, we always knew that we had to be home before curfew, not to speed or drink and drive around with open booze, and to try and let loose and have fun while obeying the laws!
In those early days, and up until the arrival of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the late 1960s, the Ponoka Town Police Department was formed and administered under the watchful eyes of the town council.
One gained a little fear but a whole lot of respect for those fine gentleman in the brown suits with the big brass buttons, and while they were required to carry a gun and a night stick, they were always around 24-7 to keep the peace and make sure that we were all safe. Constable Vernon, a member of the North West Mounted Police, served the Village of Ponoka in 1901. As a one-man detachment he would patrol the streets on his horse, but stayed only a few months before being shipped off to the war in South Africa.
When Ponoka officially became a town in 1904, the first official policeman was Jack Few, who also served as the handyman, among other tasks. Our colourful history tells us that the first community jail was likely in an old shack located next to the Battle River in the trees near the Canadian Pacific Railway dam. The building also served as the place to quarantine those citizens who came down with a communicable disease, which must have been a real deterrent to stay out of jail. As taxes started to flow into the town coffers the council approved the construction of a fully modern two-storey town hall that stood on the corner where the Bank of Montreal is now located. This building would serve as the home of the volunteer fire department, the municipal offices and council chambers, district court, meeting rooms, the dogcatcher, and the new jail down in the basement. Many years later these similar facilities were re-located to what is now the Ponoka Town Hall, with the new Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment later established on 50th Avenue, which serves the town and highways today.
Most of the problems in the early days would come from the over-indulgence of patrons at the Royal Hotel and Leland Hotel taverns, vagrants, the odd cattle rustler, a friendly battle of fisticuffs out on Chipman Avenue, or complaints about the shady pool or card sharks who had moved in to make some easy money from the locals.
Many members would serve on the Ponoka Police Department, whose jurisdiction was initially within town limits, then later extended to the county as many late night parties and shenanigans had safely moved to the gravel pit and other favourite haunts.
Some of our old constables included John Schnoor, Andy McMillan, Frank Cavanaugh, Doug Jackson, Evans, and Bevans, as well as burly assistants such as Warren Hummelle and Metro Hyryck.
Al Krossa, 76, fondly remembers joining the Ponoka Town Police force in 1954, later serving as the chief for six memorable years from 1960-66.
“We always worked together quite well as a team, helping each other and developing a professional relationship with each other, as well as with businesses, and the community,” Krossa recalled. The local force was on duty around the clock, usually working as pairs on each eight-hour shift, much of which involved walking the streets to make sure that the businesses were locked up and in order after hours. Nightly bar checks were only done during Stampede time, or if someone called to help settle a misunderstanding or an unruly tipsy patron. For many years the local force only had one police car, on which the town council allowed only 25 miles a day, unless there was an emergency. The police force also included the old reliable cell guards, radio dispatchers, and metermen. Downtown parking meters cost five cents an hour, with fines for an expired meter being $2 and everyone complaining so much that they finally pulled them out of service in the 1970s.
Krossa admits that he was quite overwhelmed with his $550 monthly wage as chief of police, although there was no overtime pay, and a great deal of time was also spent on preparing documents for days in court. Most of the offences in that era included break and enter, small thefts, assaults, liquor, and traffic violations, which were handled immediately by local magistrates Jake Galbraith or Elmer Finkle.
Krossa, who also painted 126 houses at the Penhold Air Base during his tenure as chief of police, remembers attending only one murder during his service on the Ponoka force. A charge of impaired driving in the Sixties usually netted a $15 fine plus $3 in costs with no suspensions, but if you were found intoxicated too many times your wife and the Crown would have you placed on the interdict list, where you were not allowed to purchase liquor. Most offences usually resulted in just one night, weekend, or a few days in jail, with more serious violations and prisoners sent on to RCMP K Division in Edmonton.
Chief Krossa, who once arrested a Ponoka town councillor, recalls that in those days most people from the community and districts made a good effort to get along, there were very few weapons and drugs, and most confrontations were usually one on one, and eventually resolved with a handshake. Those of us who were young and daring in those days will never forget our Ponoka Town Police force, and even though we may have ended up in their bad books once in a while, they always put us back on the right track and eventually, we quietly thanked them for that.