Here is a classic early photo of the first Ponoka Municipal Hospital, which was located at the corner of Railway Street and 57th Avenue, and would faithfully serve the vital medical needs and care of our rapidly growing town and county for close to 40 years. Photo courtesy of the Fort Ostell Museum

Reflections: Celebrating Ponoka’s first medical milestone

Ponoka’s first municipal hospital celebrated in this week’s Ponoka Reflections

By Mike Rainone for the News

It was early in the 19th century that the tiny but thriving Village of Ponoka, NWT had come alive with the day and night sounds of massive freight and passenger trains rolling into the new Canadian Pacific Railway Station that in the beginning was called Siding 14.

These cars were packed with passengers and the vital equipment and supplies that would be required by those hardy and excited pioneer families, individuals, and visitors who had chosen or were seeking to begin a new life while establishing a home and livelihood on the lush prairies of western Canada.

The overwhelming growth in both the village and surrounding country districts would result in Ponoka officially becoming a town in 1904. From that day on the newly elected town council would be faced with an arduous task of establishing the desperately needed infrastructure, businesses, and vital services that would be required to accommodate a community whose population would zoom from 151 in 1901 to over 1,000 by 1936. In those first days the medical needs of the town as well as rapidly expanding districts in all directions surrounding the town were served by a handful of physicians and nursing staff who worked out of their homes or small offices around the community. The only hospitals in the area were in Lacombe, Red Deer, Edmonton, and Calgary, which required a long trip by train or horse and wagon, with the good doctors having to make countless instant ‘house calls’ near and far, and would quite often be called on to solve many medical problems by performing ‘table top surgery’ or delivering babies at the home-place.

Our first hospital was opened in 1947

After much desperate lobbying by the Ponoka Hospital Board and town council the rapidly growing population of our town and county were excited through two and a half years of construction and turned out in full force for the 1947 grand opening of their first municipal hospital located at the corner of Railway Street and 57th Avenue. Mr. Jake Galbraith, the municipal secretary and the town council conducted tours of the ultra-modern medical facility, which was claimed at that time to be one of the finest in the Province of Alberta, and should serve our growing and bustling community for the next 100 years.

After contending with an ongoing shortage of everything from nails, to doorknobs, to operating tables, X-ray machines, and on and on the vital community facility was finally complete and ready to welcome new physicians, staff, and of course to serve the medical and emergency needs of patients of all ages from Ponoka and districts and beyond. During their careful and intense planning the dedicated hospital board vowed to get away from the orthodox and depressing white walls usually associated with hospitals, and the final results would include bright wards that were decorated in pastel tints and matching draperies and bedspreads, representing a welcome and pleasing homelike atmosphere for patients and their families, as well as visitors and staff. Although the project went over the budget the board had always stressed quality over quantity, assuring that the new hospital was fully equipped with a first class operating room, case room, nursery, doctor’s rooms, laboratory, X-ray room, built in sterilizer and other required medical accessories. The facility was also complimented with the finest of heating and electrical plants, main kitchen, and laundry, while the bottom first floor also included the nurse’s quarters, a sitting room, and the isolation unit.

After entering into the comfortable waiting room and going up the stairs past the matron’s room and secretary’s office, the long nursing floor consisted of nine semi-private and six private wards, nurse’s station, dispensary, and accessory rooms. At the gala grand opening of our first Ponoka Municipal Hospital the hospital board and town council expressed to the huge crowd of town and county citizens on hand that exciting future plans for the vital facility would include many new additions, expansions, and staff, and possibly a nurses’ home and some pristine landscaping in the large area behind the main building.

There is no doubt that everyone who has had the pleasure of living in Ponoka and districts over the years, that our classic municipal hospital became the ‘heart of the community’ in faithfully providing the vital medical needs and care of so many thousands of patients on an extremely busy 24/7 basis. As promised, expansion was always a priority, with the addition of a west wing and an operating theatre in 1952 and 1961, and at its peak the 50-bed facility would include a staff of 60, including 30 nurses and eight local doctors. With rapid community growth and needs going into the 1960s to ’70s and beyond the town and county was once again rewarded with the opening of the new and present Ponoka Hospital Care Centre at 5800-57th Avenue in the 1980s. For all of our family generations over the years how very special and important it has been that this grand and vital tradition has carried on for countless decades, during which we have and always will be blessed to have such wonderful medical facilities and community services and first class equipment and technology. So thankfully, all of these most vital day to day non-stop year round medical services and first-class care have always been complimented by our countless highly skilled and dedicated professional, emergency, and support personnel and staffs, which should always be so very much appreciated.

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