This first humble beginnings of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 66 Ponoka building program was hauled into town from Merle Gee’s gravel years in 1946 and placed on a new foundation at the east end of 53rd Avenue. Then through the decades of keen progress, team work, promotion, and community support the present modern clubrooms and auditorium on Highway 2A south was completed in 1990. Photo submitted

Reflections: Celebrating 90 years of the Ponoka Legion

The Legion is hosting a special night of celebration in May

By Mike Rainone and Hugh Greene

For countless decades hundreds of men and women and sons and daughters from our community and surrounding districts have and always will continue to bravely and unselfishly serve our nation as members of the Armed Forces in Canada and overseas during countless war and peacekeeping efforts.

So many of these individuals would pay the supreme sacrifice as well as suffering grave injuries and injustices, while others thankfully returned to their homes and families to carry on with the rest of their lives in this always friendly and supportive community.

On Friday, May 4 the 350 plus members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 66 Ponoka will proudly celebrate its 90th Anniversary by hosting the gala president’s dinner and social. Everyone is invited to join members, friends, and special guests in toasting the countless and ongoing events, successes, and dedication that this very active club and Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary have devoted for nine decades to their special causes and community. Cocktails will be served at 6 p.m. and supper at 6:30 p.m. with tickets still available at the Legion Clubroom or Phone 403-783-4076 or 403-783-6333 for more information.

The long and proud history of the Ponoka Legion

In honour of our returning soldiers and their families a group of individuals would make application to form a Legion Branch in Ponoka, and would be finally chartered on May 4, 1928.

The following members signing that official charter included: A. Beaumont, J.M Buchanan, A. Cole, W.R. Eastwood, L. Jones, R.J. Lewis, J.C. Matherson, W.C. Murray, P. MacDonald, S.A. McPherson, H.P.W. Napier, J.A. Richmond, S.C. Robson, and Hector Skinner. The first meeting place was at the busy auditorium located above the old Town Hall on the corner of 50th Avenue and 51st Street. The very active Legion branch met in various locations for the next few years, including the St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Peter MacDonald’s office adjoining the Community Rest Room, the county office, and the Elks Club Room on Chipman Avenue.

One of the countless milestones in the colourful 90 year history of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 66 Ponoka came in 1946, when they obtained a building from Merle Gee. The structure was carefully moved into town and placed on a basement on 53rd Avenue, which became the first official home of the Branch, and through a great deal of hard work and dedication would enjoy countless additions and renovations over the years. Membership grew to over 250 through the 1950s and ’60s, with honorary and associate members encouraged to join, all of whom became extremely active in support of veterans as well as throughout the community. The Ponoka Legion branch colours are most unique, and were hastily hand-made by a member of the always enthusiastic Legion Ladies’ Auxiliary in 1939, then were initially paraded for the first time at the Provincial Convention in Edmonton. In the 1980s exciting new proposals arose to progress with the plans for a new branch facility to serve the growing community, and finally in 1989 the sod was turned to proceed with construction at the present facility along Highway 2A, which was officially opened with a gala ceremony in 1990.

This bright, spacious, and friendly clubrooms and auditorium have continued to be a very busy and active home and centre for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 66 over the years. As well as the annual yearly observance of Remembrance Day, Vimy Night, and countless other branch celebrations the Ponoka Legion features many year round social activities for youths and adults such as darts, crib, whist, bridge, pool, and shuffleboard. The Legion also plays host to year-round social events, poker rallies, auctions, dances, concerts, provincial dart competitions and much more in the auditorium, with visitors always welcome. The members of the Legion, the community, guests, and visitors have gathered each year since the early 1930s at the Cross of Sacrifice in the Forest Home Cemetery to honour our local soldiers who have laid down their lives for our freedom, as well as for the annual decoration day to remember our veterans who have passed away. Here are some of the many fund-raising and community projects that the Ponoka Legion has been involved in for so many years.

• Right from the beginning the Legion avidly promoted and supported special causes such as: track and field and the upgrading of the track at the PCHS, the purchase of the first Zamboni at the arena complex, the Ponoka Lions’ bus, minor sports, boys and girls clubs, the junior hockey team, the Youth Centre, FCSS, Neighbourhood Place, the Literacy Group, and on and on. Milestones included the formation of a colourful Legion pipe band under the direction of Tom Bell in 1963, the beginning of the ongoing sponsorship of the Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron 65 in 1964, and the major project of the completion of the Legion Anniversary Arms in the 1970s, which has provided vital and comfortable accommodation for our seniors.

• During their always ambitious annual community poppy and wreath promotions in preparation for the Nov. 11th Remembrance Day ceremony, the Ponoka Legion always involves our local school children with their participation in a literacy and poster contest, as well as their presence at these annual activities.

• As the Ponoka Branch 66 proudly strives to carry on the vital aims and objectives of the Legion cause for nearly a century, newest additions to the local program have included: the catering service of Bob and Deb Hepp, the designation of Veteran’s Memorial Way, the annual Legion parade during Canada Day at the Ponoka Stampede rodeo performance, memorial highway signs and flags along the Lion’s Centennial Park, along with so many more exciting programs and plans going into the future.

Visitors are encouraged to browse through the facility, visit the wall of fame photos and mementos that honour some 750 veterans from our town and districts who have served and continue to serve in our armed forces throughout the world, as well as to relax and chat and enjoy the friendly atmosphere of ‘your local Legion’. There is no doubt that their future goals will always include their strong and dedicated committment to our veterans and our great community.

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