During a rugged, colourful and progressive 80-year history the Calgary/Edmonton trail progressed from a crude pathway in an unexplored wilderness to a strategic highway in an ultra-modern Alberta civilization.
By 1881 the dirt cart trail had developed from Fort Edmonton to the Red Deer River, and would later be joined by the road from Calgary. At the same time the massive wooden ties and steel rails of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway were methodically being laid from the two major Alberta cities across the lush and rolling central prairies of Alberta.
With the completion of these major milestones of our history, the demand for the regular delivery of supplies and mail to our early pioneers grew and the first mail service between Edmonton and Calgary started in July 6, 1883, with Ad McPherson and John Coleman obtaining the contract. The hardy pair made regular fortnightly trips between the two points with their horse drawn wagon carrying light freight, Royal Mail and passengers. The heavy freight and livestock were handled by the company’s wagon trains, and then during the same summer, the first stage-coach passenger service was started by Mr. D. McLeod of Fort Edmonton. McLeod faithfully promised that his weekly stage would make the 200-mile journey in five days, with stops at Peace Hills, Battle River, Red Deer River and other points along the rough and dusty road. In January of 1885 crews of men were sent out from Fort Edmonton to build a bridge across the Battle River at Ponoka, about a half mile downstream from the old ford, which resulted in a change in the original road by four miles to the south. The following year the improvements to the CE trail were underway from the Red Deer River to Calgary.
The first official Post Office between Red Deer and Edmonton was at Holbrook on the James Aylwin farm located west of Menaik. At the turn of the century the mail for the Village of Ponoka and districts was brought to the Algar Store at 5020-50th Street for distribution (now the Busted Ladies Lingerie Shop). Later on C.E. Algar would have to rush across the street to punctually meet the train at the Ponoka station and catch the letter bag thrown from the mail car. However, for those customers wishing to receive or send registered mail, it still had to be done from the main Holbrook Post Office. In 1900 Mr. Algar was appointed as the first Postmaster of the Village of Ponoka, a position he held until 1913 when he retired and moved to Edmonton. Mr. George Gordon then took over the Postmaster position for the Town of Ponoka and served until 1940, when he handed the keys to Mr. Charles Healing, his faithful assistant since 1920, who held the post until his retirement in 1955. The first stand-alone modern Ponoka Post Office was a 600 square foot structure at the corner of 51st Avenue, which contained 200 odd boxes, but then due to the ongoing growth of the community, a magnificent 3,600 square foot Post Office was opened in 1951 at the west end of 51st Avenue, which served over 1,000 boxes and had a staff of five. Quite a few years later the present Ponoka Post Office outlet was built on 5030-51st Street, which had less lobby boxes in the service area, but accepted countless mail trucks everyday on a 24-7 basis, from which the massive loads of mail are sorted by the carriers and promptly delivered throughout the town and surrounding districts. Added mail services for the customers have also included outlets in businesses throughout the community.
Salute to the mail carriers
Another very colourful chapter of the longstanding ‘Post Office saga’ in and around Ponoka was the dedicated service and efforts of our rural mail carriers like Paul Delong, Earl Kyler, Howard Lucas and countless others, as well as from the local Dray operators. From the early beginnings of the mail delivery in and around our community there have, and always will be, those hardy and colourful mail carriers who faithfully deliver their much welcome and vital cargo of letters and packages for countless miles on most days of the week on a hectic year round schedule. Beginning in the early 1900s a long list of local dray operators would pick up their mail and supplies at the train station, then carefully packed them into their horse drawn or hand-pushed wooden carts and delivered them around town.
In the early years the tons of mail used to be sorted and then delivered to sub-post offices at Chesterwold, Ferrybank, Home Glen, Wood River, Usona and many other districts, but as the system modernized the small outlets closed and thousands of personal boxes were placed along the rural roads, with large multi-boxes later installed in central and neighbourhood locations. The daily mail destined for the Provincial Mental Hospital (Centennial Centre) was picked in the early days from 1912 and on by their ancient school/supplies/passenger bus, and then distributed from their own Post Office in the Heritage building.
The first rural mail delivery was handled by the truly very dedicated but always friendly couriers on horse-back or horse and buggy, which were later replaced by the not always so reliable automobile. No matter what the case, each and every one of those many decades of daily mail deliveries may turn out to be a quiet pleasant run or a real adventure, depending of course on the weather, the roads, the seasons and the river. But always in a very long-standing tradition the mail always gets through, and hopefully there will always be a little time for a short visit, a hot cup of coffee, and some fresh baked treats?