Shown in the top photo are Harold and Betty (Cooper) Gordanier, who attended the Ponoka High School (Red Brick), both worked at the Provincial Mental Hospital, were married in 1950, and raised their family in a house just across the road from the Ponoka Golf Course. In the bottom 1966 photo is the family of Ray and Rose Gordanier, centre, who came to Ponoka in 1940, also worked for many years at the PMH, and brought up their family Edith, left, and Harold, right in the foreman’s house at the now historical Hospital farm.

Reflections: A look at the Gordanier family in Ponoka

This week’s Reflections looks at the history of the family Gordanier in Ponoka

By Harold Gordanier and Mike Rainone for the News

Ray Gordanier was born in 1890 on a farm near Salem in McCook County, South Dakota, and then in 1909 decided to embark into a new adventure that took him to the lush and rolling prairies of Alberta.

After arriving in Berry Creek he filed for homestead on S 1/2 11-28-9 in the Youngstown district Ray patiently began putting up buildings and fences, acquiring livestock, working the land, and of course looking forward to raising a family sometime in the future.

In 1923 Ray took some time to make a trip back to North Dakota, where he visited with Rose Lellico, and it wasn’t very long before they both headed back to Youngstown, but stopped in Saskatchewan to get married. As the happy couple settled in and worked hard on the farm their first daughter Edith would be born on February 29, 1924, followed by Gladys in 1925 who sadly died of appendicitis at the age of five, and then welcomed their son Harold on July 22, 1930 just shortly after Rose had returned home from a day of picking Saskatoons in the nearby coulee.

Along the way there were countless hardships and challenges on the farm, with Ray later recalling that during some very harsh winters the little family had to live on mostly eggs, jack rabbits, and wild game. But with will power and determination they survived and thrived together, with Ray serving as a councillor for the Collhome Municipal District from 1929-1931, and as an avid baseball fan he would make sure they would never miss a game and later would even get to umpire some of the games at the prestigious Lacombe tournament. In 1933 when Ray was 42 years old and had worked the homestead for 23 year gruelling years, the latter with very poor crops and low prices, he and many other farm families decided to move on to seek survival on ‘greener pastures.’ The Gordaniers eventually settled in Strome, where they rented a farm three miles east and two north of town; were joined by Mac McKinnon and would begin their new challenge with no running water, sewer, or electricity, but were blessed with a well, a windmill, a barn, a chicken house, a workshop, and lots of enthusiasm. They were always so very busy from dawn till dusk, but there was also some quality time to visit and assist the neighbours, as well as attend church and other activities on the weekends.

Their long road to success would take many paths over the next few years, during which Harold began his education in those tiny Grade 1 to 9 schools. In 1936 Ray and Rose decided to hold an auction sale, sold all their machinery, tools, and other belongings and moved to Edmonton, where Ray sold Watkins products to farmers north of the city. Due to the high expenses living in the big city the little family only spent one winter there before moving to Morinville, where the rent was only $5 a month. In July of 1940 the family packed up everything once again and moved from Morinville to a government house on the massive grounds of the Provincial Mental Hospital near Ponoka, where Ray Gordanier would begin his new career as the farm foreman. The hospital farm was a very busy and successful operation and featured a number of barns to accommodate a herd of Holstein cows and work horses, as well as pens of pigs, chickens, sheep, and turkeys, all of which for decades supplied milk and meat to the over 1,800 patients and staff at the first class treatment and completely self sufficient facility, as well as to other institutions throughout the province. Surrounding the facility were large fields on which grain, hay, and other produce were planted and harvested annually, and there was also a dormitory to accommodate about 100 patients who worked around the farm as a part of their treatment programs.

Along the way Rose Gordanier also began working at the Provincial Mental Hospital laundry, while after graduating from the Ponoka High School, their daughter Edith would later work and take her nursing training at the Provincial Mental Hospital and in Edmonton and then in 1949 married Louie Voghell, who taught school for many years in Ponoka. After graduating from PHS in 1948, son Harold, who always longed to be a commercial pilot, began working on the many wards at the hospital as well as entering into the psychiatric nursing training program. He later transferred to the power house staff just when they were transferring from coal to natural gas, worked shift work firing the big boilers, and also achieved his 3rd Class Engineering Certificate. It was here that he renewed acquaintances with Betty Cooper, who he had known in school and was then working on the domestic staff at the hospital They were married on Oct. 9, 1950, and they would later build their first home across the road from the pristine Ponoka Community Golf Course, and would later welcome their daughter Brenda and son Jerry, and later on Rick and Cathy. In 1954 Harold and Betty sold their house in Ponoka and moved to Fort Saskatchewan to work at the new Sherritt Gordon nickel plant, but are now retired and living in Olds, they always look forward to returning for the gala class of 1948 Ponoka High School reunion, as well as sharing countless memories of the good life and the great friends in and around Ponoka.

Ray and Rose Gordanier worked and lived in their PMH farm home until their retirement in 1955, when they moved to a house in Ponoka. The happy couple and their family were also very active in the community, with Rose volunteering at the Ponoka United Church and enjoying her craft projects, canning fruits and vegetables, and working together in their magnificent garden, while Ray served as the president of the Hospital Credit Union and on the board of the Ponoka Co-op, loved playing crib, and always kept his great interest for the game of baseball. Ray Gordanier passed away in 1977 and Rose in 1987.

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