As far back as the pages of history carry the early saga of the Canadian west, it is clearly stated that the first inhabitants of the fertile regions and rolling hills of the Battle River valley were roaming tribes of Indians. In the early 1800s the vast prairie region was said to abound with all sorts of wild animals including huge herds of buffalo, and rivers and lakes full of fish. It was from this rich natural bounty that the carefree Blackfoot would supplement their food, clothing, implements, and whatever was required for their nomadic lifestyle.
With the signing of the friendly treaties at Fort Edmonton by the Blackfoot, Sarcees, and Stonies in 1876, led by missionaries, reserves for all tribes would be established throughout the province over the next two decades. The initial progress for settlement in this area really came to life in 1881 with the development of the Edmonton/Calgary trail, and then the construction of the C and E Railway just 10 years later.
In the hectic years that followed, hardy settler families poured into central Alberta from the United States and Eastern Canada. Areas to the north and south of Ponoka quickly attracted eager homesteaders to the lush fertility of the land, as well as the potential to carve out a home and livelihood from the rich virgin wilderness.
From 1899 to 1904, land sales boomed and the tiny whistle stop of Ponoka (Siding 14) would grow from a settlement to a village, and finally into a thriving and energetic town. Two rumbling passenger trains would arrive daily, always full of new settlers, interested visitors and countless supplies to fill the growing needs of the new populace.
One of the first businessmen to arrive in Ponoka was Frederic Algar, a young and enterprising gentleman, who in 1895 established the town’s first general store at the railway depot, doing a brisk business with new settlers and townsfolk. Algar expanded in 1896 to a nearby log building and post office at the corner of Railway Street and 51st Avenue, which burned down twice, and was finally replaced with the palatial red brick building that still stands to this day.
Saluting our history and our pioneers
For those of us who have been fortunate enough to have lived and grown up the Ponoka area for many years, we have witnessed the vibrant growth and successes, and can now share the many milestones with our vibrant new generations. These celebrations have included the town’s salute the 100th anniversary of the Centennial Centre, the 75th anniversary of our Ponoka Stampede and the Ponoka Community Golf Club.
Over all the years, citizens of all ages and the ongoing business and professional sector of both the town and county have achieved their countless successes and amenities by developing a formula of hard work and play within a strong family setting. Together, through many challenges and ups and downs, they would build their homes and farms, establish their businesses, and raise their families while striving to get the best out of each and every day and carefully planning for the future.
Here were some of the fine qualities, spirit, and adventures of our pioneers, which hopefully will never be forgotten, but in many wonderful ways have not changed that much right up to our present day:
• They went out into the fields in the morning to tend to the crops or the livestock, while mother stayed behind to look after the many household chores as well as sending her large family off to school. Occasions to gather together are always precious, and these included picnics, school concerts, weddings, funerals, meetings, and on and on.
• In town they worked all day at a local store, the big sawmill on the Battle River, the Provincial Mental Hospital, helped to build the roads or a new hospital, delivered the mail, or fixed those noisy new Model Ts. Later, officials would meet the train to welcome a new doctor, while mother made lunch for the kids, got them off to school, then in later years went to work herself!
• Out on the farms and ranches, the fathers and their sons would take a little time after building fences and barns, to throw up a corral, and then dared to ride a cranky steer or bronc, or rope a stray calf. It was in those early years at district shindigs or community picnics that the great sport of rodeo was born, where eager contestants rode their horses many miles to each event, slept beside the chutes, shared their grub, then helped the contractors to drive the stock to the next rodeo.
Old-timers claim that a friendly race between the cook wagons during a cattle drive was likely the humble beginning of our thrilling chuckwagon event, while those brave souls who performed roman riding and other stunts spurred others into future careers in front of the grandstand.
• Back in town it might have been your friendly banker, druggist, nurses, auctioneer, carpenter, or whatever who worked hard all day, then in the evening or weekends these hardy men and women enjoyed being a member or coach of the town band, hockey or baseball team, and countless other events and causes that supported the community.
• Everyone always looked forward to the occasional trip into town for supplies or appointments, to bring in grain or products for sale or trade, for an auction sale, a game, or other annual events such as minstrel shows, the circus, a talking picture, a boxing match, and of course the Ponoka Stampede and Carnival. The men may even pop in for a friendly pint at the Royal or Leland Hotel (now 110 years old) while mom and the kids visited and waited patiently at the Ladies’ Rest Room.
If we wandered around town we may even get a sweet treat at the bakery, try to sneak into the pool hall or catch a big pike in the Battle River, then watch one of the many parades that marked special events.
An opportunity to celebrate this proud history and heritage of our community and to honour all those families and generations who have been involved in the ongoing success will be at the 75th anniversary of the Wild Wild West of ’36 Ponoka Stampede from June 27 to July 3.
We have all been a part of it somewhere along the way, so please join in on all the fun.