Reflections: Looking at the Nortthcotts who helped develop Ponoka

Quite a bit of Ponoka history was created with the help of the Northcotts

On February 10, 1965 the Northcott Lodge was officially opened on top of the hill on the north side of the Riverside district in Ponoka. The land was the first location of the palatial early farm home of Jess and Eileen Northcott, who were on hand to cut the ribbon, and honoured by having the care centre named after them.

By Mike Rainone for the News

Jess Northcott was the second oldest son of the eight children from the average size early family of Mr. and Mrs. Herb Northcott, who settled in the Ponoka district in the early 1900s.

After growing up in the early years of our fast growing town many of them would move away to seek their own fame and fortune, but Jess and his wife Eileen would stay in this area until the early 1960s, during which time they would become one of the communities most energetic farmers, entrepreneurs, and developers of land.

In 1919 Harold and Jess bought the A. C. Hare farm, which was the original Earlville Creamery sight east of Ponoka, and then the Northcotts would purchase a steam engine from the Stretches and began custom threshing in the area. In 1919 Jess married Eileen Henderson, an English war bride who had seen active service as a nurse behind the lines in the First World War. She had come to Lacombe to visit her brother, who had married Jess’s sister Evelyn, and when her brother Bill was married, she would later have two nieces Pat and Greta, who later became Mrs. Bill Savage and Mrs. Don Dillon, and raised their families in Ponoka. Jess’s brother Harold married Ruby Muirson of Clive, but would only live in Ponoka for a short time as Harold moved on to become a well driller and an active sportsman and boxer.

After completing the threshing run in 1928 Jess and his dad started scouting around Ponoka for a day and found that land close in, even in ‘undesirable spots’ could eventually be worth $100 an acre. They went to local real estate agents C.C. Reed, Cook Myers, and Dave Morgan, who were always eager to wheel and deal on land and came back with a price of $420 for a 42-acre parcel. When Jess and Harold quickly produced the money, the land owner thought that they were an easy customer, doubled his price to $840, and was turned down flat. But not to be denied, the determined father and son went out and bought two more local lots, and then with just two more Ponoka business hours left in the day they spied a ‘Farm for Sale’ sign in the front window of Charlie Seagerstrom’s law office along Railway Street. The price on the property located on the slope just east of the Battle River was $20 an acre and they were told to be here in the morning, act fast, and don’t tell anyone, as many people were after this choice piece of land over-looking the new thriving town. Jess quickly borrowed a shovel from Henry Taylor, dug a few test holes in the soil, and decided that ‘this was for me.’ Bright and early next morning Jess and Eileen were back at Charlie’s office with the $400 down payment, and the money was wired to Winnipeg to seal the deal.

In just a few days the happy couple moved to the lots in the north end of town, pitched a tent, and lived in it until almost Christmas, while Jess got a home established on the new pristine farm property across the river. Jess brought in the lumber from Willowsden Green that had been preciously sawed, built their first humble ‘shack’, and then they moved in. Eileen immediately went out and knocked over ant eaten stumps to fire up the cook stove, and later when the green lumber in the house soon began to dry and the wind was sifting through the cracks she had to make up a pot of flour and paste and papered the walls with the newspapers of the day. It was winter and in a short time the paste froze, the paper peeled from the wall, and the water froze in the pail in the corner, but that didn’t faze their sheer enthusiasm, as they were bound and determined to settle in their new home. In 1929 when the workload became heavier and Eileen went to work as Dr. Melvin Graham’s nurse, Jess sent to Edmonton for a winter chore man, where a widower Bob Lang was hired, and would end up staying with the Northcotts as a hard worker and a great friend for over 30 years. Lang would later secure employment as a cook at the Alberta Hospital, and in appreciation for the kindness that Jess and Eileen had shown him, he went out and purchased the very first T.V. in Ponoka from A.J. Crandall and had it installed in the family home. In our Ponoka Panorama History book Eileen vividly recalls going out on emergency medical calls with Dr. Graham in a horse and buggy and later car in area that included the Town of Ponoka, as well as a vast area that went as far east as Bashaw and the Finnish settlement as well as west and north of Home Glen, and beyond. Sometimes they had to stay for up to a week, or until the baby was born, the bone was set, the fever had dropped, or the weather was clear.

Over the years the Northcott farm and Riverside property would quickly develop into one of the most picturesque residential areas in Ponoka, and is still growing to this day. Jess sold the best part of land for a reasonable price to the County of Ponoka, which later became the sight of the Riverside School. The Northcott Nursing Home was also built on their property and was named the Northcott Lodge in the couple’s honour. Jess and Eileen, who were also very active in community activities sold their home and property in Ponoka and moved to White Rock, B.C. to enjoy a few years of retirement. Eileen passed away in April of 1971, while Jess would spend his final years in Ponoka. The long-standing legacy and contributions that they left in Ponoka and districts will never be forgotten.

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