Taken on Aug. 19 at the Dakota Hall, 70 descendants of Frank and Cora Cissell gathered to celebrate 118 years of the Cissell family. Included are (L-R, middle row) Frank and Cora’s grand-children Connie Petrula, Frank Cissell, Judy Jones, Elaine Groom, Judy’s husband Merle Jones, Donna Street, Carrie Frey and Gertrude Prefontaine. The rest are several generations of the family’s nearly 300 descendants. Photo courtesy Cissell Family

Reflections: Cissell reunion celebrated in Dakota district

Several generations of one of the Ponoka area’s founding families gather for reunion

Seventy descendants of Frank and Cora Cissell gathered at the Dakota Hall on Aug. 19 for a reunion to celebrate 118 years of the Cissell family in the Dakota district.

As well as meeting and greeting old and new family members, the special day featured a family tree depicting how they are all connected.

This is the area where Frank and Cora Cissell and family, along with their parents, David and Anna Wing and Nerius and Alice Cissell and Frank and Cora’s brothers and sisters, Corliss and Hattie Wing, Leon and Clara Cissell, Bessie Cissell and Emma Cissell Wold, homesteaded in 1900s.

There are nine surviving grandchildren of this pioneer family, ranging in age from 91 to 65 years — Gordon McClaflin, Carrie Allison Frey, Gertrude Allison Prefontaine, Donna Olmstead Street, Nita Olmstead Allen, Judy Cissell Jones, Elaine Cissell Groom, Frank Cissell and Connie Cissell Pretula. There are also close to 300 descendants that include great grandchildren and great, great grandchildren.

In the summer of 1900, a group of immigrants from South Dakota arrived in Ponoka and ventured west in search of a homeland to begin a new life. The Dakota’s in the late 1890’s had been suffering with bad weather, drought and insect problems, so the Cissell clan and their neighbors decided to seek better farmland.

At the time, Canada had opened up land for immigrants in the Northwest Territories and the Dakota group chose the deal where land — in what was to become Alberta — could be purchased for a $10 fee for 160 acres with title given in three years if required improvements were made each year.

This determined group selected the area around the present cemetery and Dakota Hall and named the region after the area from which they had come.

This long and rugged adventure wasn’t without challenges and hardships.

It was a difficult trek as there were no roads or bridges to cross the Battle River, so they had to devise ways to get to their chosen pieces of land. But with the sheer grit and determination to plant the first seeds in the area and with cooperation and sharing, they steadily built their homes and developed their homesteads and community.

Frank and Cora were among the first group of settlers along with David Wing, who had secured homesteads for many other family and friends.

Frank and Cora arrived with two children — Florence born in 1895 and George in 1896. A bit of interesting family history included a newspaper report from the Saint Paul Globe for 1896 wrote that a hurricane passed over Madison, South Dakota and Mrs. Frank Cissell and daughter were injured – Cora suffering a broken collar bone and daughter, (Florence) having her face cut. Florence carried that scar all her life and her grandchildren remember her always wearing her hair across that part of her forehead. Frank and Cora moved to their homestead the NW 22 in the spring of 1901.

They were always active and loyal participants in the development of the community.

In 1901, Cora had the honour of christening the new Dakota School District, then there became an instant need for a cemetery. So in 1902 — on land donated by E.R. Olmstead and David Wing — the Dakota Cemetery Association was formed and Cora along with George Hoar became the first trustees, positions they both held until their deaths. Cora also served as the president for a few years as well. Five generations of Cissell’s have and are still faithfully and proudly doing their part to continue Frank and Cora’s work and involvement in the cemetery.

Four more children joined the Cissell family — Ray in 1902 (passed away in 1905), Lodema in 1906, Emma in 1910 and Merl in 1914.

From the beginning, Frank and Cora won a special place in the hearts of everyone throughout the district, never hesitating to help others in time of need.

Cora became a skilled midwife, attended to the sick and took care of preparations for burials. Frank established a blacksmith shop and did work for many neighbors. He was also a skilled carpenter, building and plastering many of the houses in the district.

Frank and Cora’s home was host to many community get-togethers and hosted one of the first Christmas parties in the new community. All who came brought something for dinner and Frank built doll beds and the women made the dolls, clothes and bedding to the delight of the girls. Not sure what the boys received, but all can be sure they were not forgotten.

These early pioneers had to be very resourceful and took advantage of all that the new land had to offer. Summers were spent in picking wild berries. A favorite was the wild blueberry and all members of the families were expected to help in the harvest. Many of the Cissell descendants still crawl around on the ground in search of the blueberry, using the “blueberry combine” (blueberry pickers) to scoop as many as possible into pails. This was a fun time as well as everyone joined in for a picnic.

Four of Cora and Frank’s children continued to live in the community to farm and raise their children. George married Alma McCullough and eventually moved to B.C. Their two children were Glen, who married Cynthia Bertram and Margaret, who married Art Lemke.

Florence married Lynn McClaflin and eventually they purchased the Nerius Cissell homestead (SW16-43-27-W4) where they farmed and raised their family — Lawrence, Opal (Kessler Nagel), Leaolla ( Jensen). Audrey (Warnock), Myrtle (Hill), Gordon and Thelma (Riddiough).

Lawrence continued to live and farm here with his parents until their deaths. He married Irene Webster and they then raised their family here as well. Now, son Lorne and wife Shirley are doing the same, making five generations on the land.

Lodema married Ernest (Pete) Allison and spent their life on the farm in the Dakota area raising their family — Carrie (Frey), Gertrude (Prefontaine) and George. George continued farming here with his wife Margo until his passing in 2018.

Emma married Milton Olmstead and they spent their lives in the Dakota community, farming and raising their family — Louise (Doupe), Ken, Nita (Allen) and Donna (Street). As well, Emma was a teacher for a few years as well. Donna and husband Nick Street farmed this land for a few years too.

Frank and Cora left the homestead in 1936 and moved to their other farm (SE 33-43-27) where they lived until their passing — Frank in 1936 and Cora in 1940.

Son Merl — while living with his parents — bought the Wing Homestead. Merl married Hilda Mass in 1941 and they lived here raising their four children — Judy Cissell Miller Jones, Elaine Cissell Groom, Frank and Connie Cissell Pretula.

Son, Frank Cissell married Pat Palechek and joined his father in the farming business and now his son, Chad Cissell and wife Alana and their children Erika and Brett, farm along with Frank and still living in the house that Merl and Hilda built 69 years ago.

Six generations have now lived on this original land. Judy and family lived in the community, farming just south of the Dakota church for several years.

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