By Mike Rainone
For the News
When the Ponoka Agricultural Society plays host to their 2008 County Fair from Aug. 8 to 10 they will be proudly celebrating 100 years of agriculture growth and success. Their dedicated mission right from the beginning has been to promote, support and encourage agricultural opportunities in our vibrant urban and rural community.
The homesteaders who first settled in the Ponoka area were instantly enthused about the favourable conditions for plant growth. Those who settled first east of town and broke sod by 1900 told glowing tales of heavy grain crops and ample garden vegetables. As the excited families explored along the creeks and banks of the river they found a bounty of wild berries such as Saskatoons, strawberries, chokecherries, pin cherries, raspberries, gooseberries and on and on. Vital stores of berries were preserved for the long hard winters and as each family brought their belongings into the new land they always included their own cache of seed grains, vegetables and potatoes. To brighten up the new homes flowers and houseplants were not forgotten, and while some years yielded bumper crops, occasionally the grains and produce would suffer from early frosts.
As the communities, districts and families steadily grew their hard work and determination paid dividends, and they celebrated with huge picnics, where their farming, cooking/ baking skills, successes, hardships and new ideas were willingly shared with everyone. Along with games and entertainment these hardy settlers visited and shared stories about such bountiful bonuses as 100 bushel per acre grain crops, heads of lettuce as large as water pails and 25-pound turnips. Mrs. Joe Broulik had emigrated to west of Ponoka from Bohemia in 1906 to marry and became famous for her bread, cream puffs and poppy seed biscuits; C.S. Wing dug 73 potatoes out of one hill in her huge garden; the chickens laid lots of eggs, the herds were frisky, and everyone watched after each other and managed to survive.
In 1903 a group of interested people applied to establish an Agricultural Society, and in 1904 the first fair was held in tents along the railroad tracks. After several years of popularity barns and other buildings were constructed at the Stampede grounds, and the two-day affair was held in conjunction with the Stampede. By 1921 the County Fair was hosted in August, and in most following years, depending on weather and growing conditions, would feature over 1,200 exhibits of livestock, agriculture, horticulture and unique home-making arts. Other milestones for the very active County Fair and Agriculture Society over the years included: the sponsorship of the flower show by the I.O.D.E., the addition of home landscaping awards, the formation of the Ponoka Horticultural Society in 1949, the introduction of annual sponsorships-cash prizes-trophies-trays and new special events and show competitions for all ages, the gala recognition of our Canada Centennial in 1967 and much-much more.
The popular show carried on for countless years in mid-August at the first hockey arena and new Ponoka Arena Complex; then over the past five years many changes were made within the very active Ponoka Agricultural Society. The Alberta Association of Agricultural Societies has established a more ‘business like’ tone for their volunteer societies, who were asked to review their long-term goals and visions, while establishing new plans and events for all age groups within the vital family setting.
The enthusiasm, excitement and spirit of the County Fair has always remained the same, while the Ponoka Agricultural Society has added one more day to their annual event, as well as additional feature year round attractions such as: the Spring Twist Off Bullarama in May, and the sponsorship of a Harvest Hoedown, a Volunteer Appreciation evening and more. The volunteer society also strives to work very closely with the Ponoka Stampede Association and the Town and County of Ponoka. Present Ag society executive include: Sherry Gummow (president), Ray Pugh (vice-president), Gail Luce (secretary), Cecilia Dykstra (treasurer); and Directors Larry and Maria Lentz, Joyce Winter, Kelly Christensen, Greg Bowie, Debbie Hameluck, Craig Jacklin and Lauranie Weir.
Of course there are the usual sections available for our talented town and county exhibitors of all ages to display their unique skills and green thumbs in the areas of: photography, agriculture, landscaping, horticulture, arrangements and houseplants, vegetables, fruits, domestic arts, art, arts and crafts, quilts and rugs, knitting and crocheting, sewing and seniors handicap divisions. Entries are accepted on Thursday, Aug. 7 from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Aug 8 from 8 to 11:00 a.m. at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex. Judging takes place on Aug. 8, followed by the official opening of the family fun fair at 4 p.m.
Special attractions for the 2008 celebration will include: the celebrity challenge, a petting zoo, pancake breakfast, antique truck and tractor display, bike rodeo, rides for the kids, beef on a bun, Community Church Sunday at the curling rink, followed by a brunch and an Equine Extravaganza at the Stampede grounds. Entry booklets and posters are located throughout the community, and everyone is invited to join in on the gala century celebration of our County Fair tradition.