This amazing photo shows the arduous road work that was completed in the early 1900s east of Ponoka by our early pioneers in order to build the ‘town line’

Jenkins family longed for faith, family, and adventure in Wood River

This week's Reflections looks at the history of early pioneers developing the highways.

John Jenkins was born in Tredgar South Wales in 1853, and immediately inherited the rich and adventurous spirit of his coal-mining family. He married Mary Lewis in 1878, then after the birth of their three sons Thomas, Gomer, and Elias they headed west to Kansas to try their luck at farming in a Welsh community. It was not long however before they heard of the ‘Land of Opportunity’ across the border to the west. By the year 1900 many people were leaving the States to seek new homesteads in Canada, and in February 1902 John and his wife set out with their four strapping sons, and travelled by train with a few precious belongings and Jenkins riding in the cattle car with his horses and cows to save the fare money.

Those exciting faraway places had always looked ‘greener’ to John Jenkins, but the family must have been quite shocked and dismayed when they arrived in Ponoka in February 1902. The temperature was 30 degrees below zero and they had to set their tent up on a landmark spot that would later be known as ‘Jenkins Hill.’ where a Pioneer Historical marker now stands. This hardy couple were always full of the pioneering spirit and proudly instilled this enthusiasm in their sons, and together they bravely erected their first log house in the summer while facing all sorts of hardships along the way. The very close family lost several horses and cattle to disease and cold while constantly facing terrible road conditions to travel the long 12 mile haul into Ponoka for feed, supplies, and materials. Through it all they always shared their challenges and adventures with their many new friends and neighbours, who always thrived and laughed together during work bees, dancing, socials, and church events.

Mary Jenkins became one of the district mid-wives, with their home becoming a welcome overnight stopping place for people going east from Ponoka. This diminutive lady was only four foot ten inches tall and wore a size one shoe, but she was always full of determination and a great love for life. The family helped to organize the first Wood River Welsh Calvanistic Church in 1903, which would later become the new Wood River Presbyterian Church, built in 1912. They worked hard to clear the rugged land, growing mostly wheat and raising cattle and horses, these teams of which were used to build the ‘town line’, which is now part of our Highway #53 that comes down the long east hill into Ponoka.

While both Thomas and youngest son Elias served as Councillors in the Wood River district, the Jenkins family would also purchase one of the first steam engines and thrashing machines in the district and after Reuben got his steam engineer papers he became the first operator in the area. In 1919 when the Wood River hall was built all the lumber was moved in from Ponoka by steam engine, while the Jenkins family outfit also did lots of the threshing in and around the district for many years. Elias and Gomer later took on homesteads of their own, but Reuben, who was always a horse lover and not a farmer at heart worked on ranches as far away as Tees and Strome, where he also took up a homestead, but most of his time was taken up with horses, steam engines, machines, fast cars, travelling, and dancing.

Elias married Hannah George in 1914 when she arrived from Wales, and then in 1917 Reuben wed Millicent Millikin, who taught in the district schools for many years. Thomas Jenkins married a widow Mrs. Jane Jones, who had three children… Bill Lewis, and Ivor and Margaret Jones, who all came from Kansas and moved into a new house that had been built on ‘the Hill’. Gomer remained as an avid bachelor until 1920 when he left for Wales and returned the following year to Ponoka with a new bride, Lydia Rolands. After a very active life on the farm John and Mary Jenkins later moved to a home in Ponoka at 5305-50th Street, which stood for many years. John passed away at the age of 70 years and Mary died in 1932 at the age of 73.

For more than 114 plus years the countless proud traditions and colorful history that began and thrived among friends and neighbours in the early Wood River Colony during the arrival of John and Mary Jenkins and their four sons has carried on through many generations. Their countless heirs have all proudly strived to reap the golden harvests and proud heritage that has been established through so many decades from the ongoing labours and ideals of our staunch and determined pioneering families of yesterday and today.


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