John Bures among the first pioneers to arrive in the Ponoka settlement


By Mike Rainone for the News

A scrappy young gentleman by the name of John Bures from the state of Nebraska, U.S.A would arrive in the tiny settlement of Ponoka in 1897 in search of land, employment and new opportunities on the Alberta prairies.

After being very impressed by what he saw, he would head back to the States, got married on March 21 and returned with his bride Christina to settle into their future home.

It was the beginning of another tough winter and the first person to greet them was Fred Alger, who had just opened the first store along Railway Street, and his first words were about John’s very petite new wife: “Better watch her John, she’s so small that if she drops into one of those snowdrifts, we won’t find her until the spring thaw.”

Bures worked as a carpenter and general labourer around Ponoka and then filed on a homestead in the pristine Chain Lakes district east of Ponoka, where he cleared land, sowed oats and wheat, bought a cow and built their first humble home.

He and his wife lived there for some years, but when their three small children were approaching school age, he disposed of the farm and moved into the now thriving Ponoka town site. After living in the community for a few years John and Christina would purchase a farm about three miles south of town at a site just a short distance from the present historical 120 year old Canadian Pacific Railway trestle, where he acquired farm stock and machinery and felt very comfortable.

A new daughter also soon arrived in the family, while the three older children enjoyed attending school in Ponoka, despite the fact that they had to pack up their books and lunch and make the long walk back and forth every day.

John would become quickly known as an avid sportsman, never missing a game of baseball, hockey, or horseshoes. and loved to go out hunting the rugged local countryside in search of his fair share of ducks, geese, partridge, prairie chickens, and all the rest.

He was always the very best and most loyal of neighbours, doing all of his own chores and then heading out on horseback to assist anyone else who needed assistance, especially during the horrific flu epidemic of 1918.

The following year, John Bures decided to move back into Ponoka, where the now seven-member family would settle into a new home and became very popular and active citizens of the community.

John would later decide to secure the local dray in partnership with Frank Newton, and with their fine teams of horses, would become a familiar sight in and around the busy town delivering the mail, supplies and people back and forth from the CPR station as well as up the long road to the new provincial mental hospital.

After faithfully providing this daily service for many years, he decided that this job was for a younger man and sold out to a young fellow by the name of Dick Slater, who would carry on the community tradition for many years.

A funny tale was told during a cold winter in 1910, when the town suddenly began to shake and rumble with many fearing they were having an earthquake. It turned out to be the likeable John Bures who, while digging a new well, had decided to put a few sticks of dynamite down the hole to remove a large boulder.

The explosion worked wonders, creating a well 48 feet deep with 20 feet of water, but the local Ponoka Herald newspaper asked John to give the community more warning if he was going to use dynamite, even though it really did spice up one very dull January day.

Over all those enjoyable years, John and Christina Bures and their children Anton, Mamie, Mike, Alice and Helen would become avidly involved in all activities of their community including business, sports, music, and assisting local clubs and organizations, while gathering countless longstanding friendships along the way.

It was during this early time that a theatre was built on Railway Street, where the silent movies were shown to large local crowds and where Christina Bures, one of our town’s first accomplished music teachers and pianists was chosen to play accompaniment during the motion pictures.

She was also an active member of the ladies auxiliary of the Methodist Church, the alto in the choir, as well as belonging to the Orange Lodge and Royal Purple, where she loved to play the organ. One of her favourite pastimes was faithfully ironing the shirts of the young boys who worked in the local banks and making sure that they were neat and clean before going out on a date.

Over the years, John in his congenial and friendly manor, became an active member of the local lodges, would play whist and dance at the first hint and never missed a town fair, rodeo or any game of local sports.

He and his wife enjoyed attending the school sports days and their large house became a year-round open home to the children and families of the neighbourhood and was always full of music and song.

John and Christina always knew where the first crocuses could be found in the spring and the best hazelnuts in the fall, and as lovers of horses and dogs, they always made sure that each of their children had a pet and that they were provided with the best education available.

After a very active and happy family life in and around their favourite Town of Ponoka, Christina Bures would pass away in 1943 and John in 1953.

They left behind them the great spirit of the hardy pioneers as well as a strong heritage for their children, while being loved, respected and remembered by their fellow townspeople and for generations into the future.

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