This classic 1917 photo was taken along the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks on 50 St. Ponoka, and shows the massive crowds from town and districts ready to have some family fun at the Ponoka Agriculture Society Fair. This great annual summer community tradition has carried on for over 100 years and in the 1920’s moved up to the present Ponoka Stampede grounds, where all the action of the rodeo, wagon racing, the midway, and all the rest of the hoopla has attracted thousands of avid spectators of all ages for over eight exciting decades. Photo courtesy of Peel Library

Celebrating over 100 years of fun and family fairs in and around Ponoka

By Mike Rainone

For PONOKA NEWS

There is absolutely no doubt that over the years families of all ages and walks of life have always loved the fun, flair, and fantasy of a community fair. Our history books tell us that for countless decades several generations of Ponoka Town and County families and friends have gathered together in great numbers to enjoy all sorts of fairs, picnics, games, and so many other special events and gala occasions. It is these keen hometown traditions that have carried on and grown over the years and proudly resulted in so many annual colorful events such as the Ponoka Stampede, the county fair, farmers markets, and countless other family recreation and social events that we always look forward to and whole-heartedly support each and every year.

Our early homesteaders thrived on nature’s blessings

As hundreds of new families began settling in the Ponoka area at the end of the 18th century they worked extremely hard to establish their new farms, homes, and businesses in the soon to be Town of Ponoka and throughout the lush surrounding country districts.

Those who settled first told the glowing tales of being rewarded with heavy crops and magnificent gardens, while along the creeks and banks of the rivers there was always a bountiful supply of wild berries such as Saskatoon’s, blueberries, gooseberries, and on and on.

These would of course be picked, preserved, and carefully stored to help those ever-growing families survive the hard prairie winters or could be sold in town for a little extra spending money. Along the way over those challenging years the fruits of their labour were also heartily shared with each other when everyone shut down their daily tasks and got together for delightful social and recreational gatherings and picnics at community halls, and on makeshift ball diamonds or rodeo grounds.

In 1903 an ambitious group of people applied to establish the first Ponoka and District Agricultural Society as a strong community effort whose lofty mission would be to promote, support, and encourage agricultural opportunities in our urban and rural communities. In 1904 their first gala show was hosted in tents along the Canadian Pacific Railway tracks, with hundreds of excited guests invading the community in their wagons, on horseback, on bikes, or on foot to see what it was all about.

It turned out to be a great experience for folks of all ages as there were tantalizing items of home-cooking magic, some grand old bartering, games of chance, clowns, magicians, horseback rides and other attractions for the children, as well as a local band that encouraged some ambitious singing and dancing until the sun went down. With the hardworking district ranch-hands always looking for a little extra action and social life the rough and tumble sports of rodeo and wagon racing was also becoming very popular out in the Ferrybank and other districts and communities surrounding Ponoka.

Along way the agricultural fair and other events would become so popular that the volunteer boards decided to move the summer events up to a grassy hill on the southern outskirts of Ponoka. In 1921 their first gala two-day family show would attract over 1200 items and exhibits of livestock, horticulture, and home making arts, as well as amazing displays of flowers, vegetables, fruits, and games, with special events and added attractions including sports and races. In 1931 the Ponoka Sports Association was formed and over the years up on the fair grounds many amenities were added, including corrals, bleachers, and a grandstand, which would eventually host the first thrilling edition of the one day Ponoka Stampede in 1936.

As well as the rugged rodeo and chuck wagon racing events the Ponoka Stampede Association would bring in their first Midway in 1945, which included exciting rides for children to adults, as well as a nightly carnival and dances and so much more, and which over a span of 83 years has become Canada’s largest seven-day Pro Rodeo and WPCA chuckwagon racing events.

Also included in the rodeo and racing mix are many first class specialty acts and entertainment, a Western Art display and auction, a colourful parade, action at the Calnash Ag Centre, and so much more. After disbanding in 1957 the Ponoka and District Agricultural Society re-organized in 1961 and became extensively involved with many local and district clubs, groups, and volunteers, all who faithfully come together every August to organize and host the popular county fair.

In staying with the grand old traditions of the Ponoka community fair, which began in 1903, the Ponoka and District Agricultural Society has become one of the oldest Agricultural support organizations in the province, and have always been proudly committed to being an active part of the success and promotion of our rural and urban communities. Their annual Bench Show, which is one of the last truly agricultural events in the province, is slated this year for August 16 and 17 at the Royal Canadian Legion, where everyone is invited to attend.

Those wishing to take part in the many competitive and fun categories for all ages are urged to watch for the annual information booklet around town and join in.

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