Long time Ponoka district resident Mrs. Ilona Carter, 91, was thrilled and honoured to be named as the Honorary President of the 80th annual Ponoka Stampede.
This great lady has always been very proud of the long and colorful history of her early pioneer family, which began when her great-great grandparents David and Annie Wing established their first homestead in the Dakota district in 1901 and raised their children Corliss and Cora. Corliss and his wife Hattie lived on the home-place for many years, and then in 1921 their son Delmar married Cora Jensen from Minnesota, and would later raise their children Ilona and Darrell on the same original family farm, where they also operated a store to serve the new district.
A great place to call home
Ilona was born in 1925 on the pristine family farm in the Dakota district, and has many fond memories of her active early childhood, which included living out in the open countryside and then at age four moving into Ponoka with her parents and brother Darrell. Over the years, one of the grand traditions of the Wing family was taking part in local stampedes, races and picnics out in Ferrybank and other local districts. They all loved to cheer for the amazing skills and antics of such local heroes as Ray Graham, George McKeddie, Tommy Dorchester, Buster Doran, her brother Darrell and many others in the thrilling pony carts, chariot and Roman racing events.
From 1936 and on, the big summer family event for thousands of fans was the annual Ponoka Stampede and Fair, which attracted participants from near and far to take part in an exciting day of rodeo, wagon/horse/running races, games, food and treats, carnival rides, and dancing to the wee hours. Ilona Carter vividly recalls that her grandfather Corliss Wing was one of the judges in the wagon races, and when the big new wooden grandstand was built in the 1940s, he would have to climb up a shaky retractable ladder to a little shack on the roof. After the timing of each dusty race, he would place the results in a tomato can and then lower it on a string to a runner below who would dash across to the PA announcer so that they could be passed on to rowdy crowds to see who had won the friendly bets.
Ilona loved taking her entire schooling and making lots of friends in and around Ponoka, later worked for a while at Thirsk’s 5 to $1 Store on Chipman Avenue, and then met and married Mickey Carter on February 7, 1943. The happy couple, who would share their busy lives together for 67 years until Mickey’s passing in 2009, first moved to Ontario for a couple of years while Mickey served with the Royal Canadian Air Force, and then returned to their favourite hometown in 1945. In 1946, they purchased their beloved mixed farming operation just a few miles north of Ponoka along Highway 2 in the Arbor Park district, and along with their son Barrie, who was born in 1943, and daughter Janet in 1952, they would together expand to over 2000 acres during a span of 50 years as a part of the family.
As a busy farm wife and mother, Ilona and Mickey always spent lots of time with their children, who loved animals and cherished their own pets and horses. Barrie and Janet both went to school in Ponoka, with Barry later playing hockey at Colorado College and Janet attending Notre Dame College in B.C. Barrie currently lives in Las Vegas, and Janet, who went on to enjoy a career as a flight attendant and a lawyer, unfortunately passed away from cancer. With both Barry and Mickey very much involved in hockey and Janet in figure skating, Ilona spent countless hours at the Ponoka arena as a supervisor, a mom and a fan. As well as operating her very successful Classic Style Ladies’ Wear Shop on 50t Street in Ponoka for 20 years, she learned to fly in 1959-60 and spent many happy hours in the air as well as helping to host Ladies’ Fly-in breakfasts and events at the Ponoka Airport.
While Mickey and Ilona were long-time members of the Ponoka Kinsmen and Kinette Clubs, the entire family were avid and dedicated community supporters in countless year-round promotions and activities. During her ongoing love and pride for the ongoing success and friendship of her community, Ilona Carter has always shared a strong passion and keen support for each and every edition of the annual Ponoka Stampede. Along the way, the highlights have included hosting the very first tea for the mothers and contestants running for Stampede Queen, selling tickets and volunteering for many events, dressing up her staff and shop to the theme for entering into all the parades, and on and on. She is really looking forward to meeting friends old and new at this gala 80th edition of the Ponoka Stampede.