Ponoka was once called a two horse town

This week's Reflections looks garbage issues in Ponoka in 1954.

In June of 1954

In June of 1954

During my many rambunctious and often far to carefree years of trying to grow up, find a job, get married and raise a family in and around Ponoka, I have always enjoyed hanging around the community while playing or watching all sorts of sports, as well as rubbing shoulders with a whole lot of great people and quite a few amazing characters.

Somehow, I managed to excel only at Drama, Phys-ed, and English in school, which eventually got me a job in the newspaper business and then, with the help of family and friends, allowed me to settle down a little, get married, and raise four children. While working in the newspaper and communication fields for over 40 years, I loved to read and write about local politics, which has always been e a hot topic in both town and county and also encouraged me to serve for nine exciting years on Ponoka Town Council. Now, many years later, and thanks to the super staff at the Ponoka News and readers from our town and districts, I am still thrilled to be able to write the stories about our great community history and founding families, as well as about the wild and wonderful political potpourri of those days gone by, but never forgotten.

In 1954 Ponoka garbage was a hot issue

While browsing through some 1954 issues of the Ponoka Herald, where I worked off and on for close to 20 years, I found a rather large and very explicit front page headline that read ‘Two-Horse Town Votes NO!’ The story and very meaningful photo in this June 29, 1954 issue reported that Ponoka taxpayers had turned down two bylaws in last Friday’s vote designed to allow the town to purchase a garbage disposal truck and a motor grader for the municipal work force.

Of the 817 eligible electors on the roll, exactly 150 voted, and there were no spoiled ballots. On the bylaw D-37 to provide for the purchase of a grader, the vote was 93 for and 57 against, and for bylaw D-38 to provide for the purchase of a garbage disposal unit, the vote was 91 for and 57 against. Both bylaws received support, but not by enough majority: They had to have passed with two thirds majority of the participating voters. The rowdy but right to the point editorial (written by flamboyant Keith Leonard) that accompanied the story blasted the Ponoka electors for their complacency and gave new directions to the much maligned town council.

The astounding proportion of electors, precisely 18.2 per cent, who turned up at the poll on Friday had decided that the Ponoka Town Council’s recommendations in regard to the purchase of a new garbage truck and grader was beyond reason, so they have turned thumbs down on the purchase of either. Now, this result has at least cleared the air, and it has told our council to get busy and build roads and collect the garbage any way it can. If the mayor and councillors would have to get out and do it themselves, that would also seem to be alright with the electors.

Actually, these purchases were long overdue. The garbage truck for example was a broken down relic, a 1932 model Chevrolet with no radiator cap, the right door wired shut, likely because the handle had long disappeared, and the speedometer did not work. How bad it is that the right front brake drum was held together with baling wire, as was the front bumper and various other parts of this unique wreck’s body and innards, for which parts were next to impossible to find. Furthermore particularly in cold weather, it was often impossible to get the brute started, let alone run, but then again maybe the people of Ponoka thought that the garbage would just freeze in the backyard and it wouldn’t really matter? And what of the grader? The town had a grader, but to quote one employee, using this grader to build all the new roads needed was just like ‘digging a grave with a teaspoon!’ It was simply too small and too light for the job.

However, maybe all of this was for the best as the result of the vote supplied the Ponoka Town Council, office staff and public works employees with a superb reply. When the bleats came in asking why the garbage wasn’t picked up or when they were we going to get the roads graded, the answer would be  “Brother, you asked for it.”

There was quite a disturbing factor in the result of the bylaw vote, which had nothing to do with the decision, but it was the fact that only 5 per cent of the ratepayers had decided that the town should not have a grader and a truck. There were always a minor percentage of people, even in progressive Ponoka, who could not or would  not see the advantage of modern machines. We were no longer a little burg of 500 souls, instead a fast-expanding town with a population of well over 3000, and still using methods that may have been sufficient unto the tasks of 1920, but would certainly not get us very far those days. Anyway, the will of the minority was now the rule of the majority, and the reason was because the majority (whom we were firmly convinced were in favour of the two bylaws) just didn’t give a hoot.

Whatever the case there was and always will be some political glitches and controversy along the way in the growth and successes of all municipalities. Thanks to the dedication, hard work, and planning of close to 40 Ponoka towns councils and staff over an exciting span of 110 years, our community has managed to weather the storms, taken care of the infrastructure, and enjoyed steady growth while adding many amenities on the way to becoming a successful and active town in the heart of central Alberta.

A tip of the hat also to the local newspapers, editors, reporters, and staff, who have avidly covered and taken photos of countless year round family events and happenings of Ponoka and districts for so many colorful decades, always saluting the ongoing accomplishments and successes, but also bravely expressing an opinion on issues that may not always be in agreement with all of their readers along the way.