In February 1922 Ponoka was a small but bustling town of about 800 people, and in order to extend their teachings and to assist the families and the growing community The Battle River #47 Order of the Eastern Star was formed, with Margaret Smith as the first Worthy Matron.
At that time life in Ponoka revolved around the four local churches and lodges, which included the Masons, Oddfellows, and Orangeman, to which the pertaining Ladies lodges of the Elks and Royal Purple were later established.
The long and proud history of the Order of the Eastern Star, which was a Masonic appendant body open to both men and women was established in 1850, was based on teachings from the bible, but was open to people of all religious beliefs. Over the years OES would quickly grow to approximately 10,000 chapters and 500,000 members in 20 countries, with headquarters located in Washington, D.C. During the 19th century the OES would form hundreds of Chapters throughout Alberta, but today due to declining memberships there are approximately 30 active Chapters.
The long history of the Ponoka OES Chapter #47
From the very beginnings of receiving their Charter in 1922 the Ponoka OES Battle River Chapter #47 became an active fraternal organization that would establish a long and extensive history of benevolence and community involvement which was always dedicated to charity, truth, fidelity, and loving kindness and responsibility, all based on virtue building with a heavy foundation of charity and social engagement. Following are some of the countless highlights of the long and colourful history of the Ponoka OES Chapter and of their outstanding and ongoing contributions and dedication to their community for close to 94 amazing and successful years.
• The rough and rugged years from 1932-1942 in our community of Ponoka were very difficult for everyone, but a caring and extremely active Sunshine committee was formed from all the local Lodges and churches to assist with cash, food, clothing, and whatever was needed. In 1939 the war had arrived, and in the same kindly manner a local Red Cross group was formed and representatives from the town and county organizations were called upon and responded magnificently by organizing card parties, teas, the sponsorship of movies at the local theatre, and made scarves and sweaters as a means to raise funds for the vital cause and to fill the ‘ditty bags’ for our soldiers. A grand tradition of the OES each and every year was the choice of the Grand Worthy Matron to support a special charity.
• From 1942-1952 the OES membership grew, and visitations to other clubs were much easier because of the new paved highway. In 1946 our first Ponoka General Hospital became a reality and the Chapter was pleased to furnish a room and sponsor the Ladies’ Auxiliary, and then later when Ponoka’s new arena and outdoor pool was being built the OES were pleased to give them a boost. Prior to 1949 the Battle River OES met in the Reid Hall above the Co-op store, then in the same year when the Ponoka Legion moved a war surplus building into town for use, both the OES and Britannia Lodge used it for future meetings.
• The years 1952 to 1962 for the OES was the ‘era of well-being,’ with traditional teas discontinued in favour of voluntary contributions as many of the members were now working full time, and many new local service clubs were becoming the driving force behind countless new town projects and social assistance programs.
• From 1962 to 1972 the Chapter featured an itinerant population as members were now more mobile, while their financial prosperity came from the sale of the very popular Easter Star Cookbook. Highlights of this period included moving to the soon to be completed Masonic Hall for meetings as well as a banquet in the United Church Hall and a dance at the Legion in a gala celebration of 50 years of service to the community for the Ponoka Order of the Eastern Star.
• During the period between 1972 to ’82 the OES remained active in co-ordinating their fundraising efforts throughout the community, and then from 1982 to ’97 the hosting of fundraising teas and catering to the Shriner dinners were always popular regular events, but unfortunately it would become an ongoing struggle for the Battle River #47 to survive. In 1997 Ponoka OES member Audrey Knudson compiled a history book in conjunction with the 75th Anniversary of the dedicated Battle River OES, while an invitation to other Central Alberta Chapters who had surrendered their charters was extended to join in with the Ponoka group. Sincere congratulations were extended to long-standing Battle River OES Chapter member Doreen Ross, our music lady, who received her 70-year membership pin in 2015.
• Some odds and ends of the Battle River #47 have been donated to the Fort Ostell Museum for everyone to browse through. The assistance of the public is appreciated to find photos of Past Worthy Matrons and Patrons Margaret Smith, Grace Bud, Mabel Cook, Angnes Beck, Elinor Bowtell, Mary McKelvey, Christine Michie, George Budd, Albert Thorn, and John Fleming. If you can help with finding these please call the Museum (403-783-5224) or Tara at 780-372-2478.
Unfortunately over the past decade membership continued to decline, and when it became increasingly difficult to fill the office positions the Battle River #47 Order of the Eastern Star would reluctantly surrender its charter in December 2015 after almost 94 years of dedicated and faithful service to their community. The OES was always based on the simple concepts that if you give a little and take a little that the big things can always be accomplished, and even though our Ponoka Chapter has now retired, many ardent members will travel just a little farther and continue to participate in their calling.