Our amazing Ponoka and district history books vividly show and tell us that when the first settlement began in and around our tiny village and rolling countryside there were absolutely no roads to speak of, just a series of rough and rugged winding sandy, muddy, flooded, or snow-covered trails that offered countless challenges, adventures, and quite often disasters around each and every corner.
Until 1910 during the month of June it was always most impossible to get in and out of Ponoka, but thankfully it would be in that same year that the first graded roads would make an appearance on our rolling landscape. In those very early days there were countless sloughs and muskegs in the way of the road allowances, creating so many difficulties in getting to or from your destination, as well as tough work for those brave souls attempting to build the new roads of the future. The first modes of transportation at that time of fast progress and growth in this area included wagons, buggies, democrats, and sleighs, which all of course depended on the power and determination of trusty teams of fast-stepping horses. Almost every pioneer family also had a powerful pair of oxen, which along with the horse were also used for gruelling field work and transportation, which would result in lots of shoeing and repairs going on in the many local livery stables or district barns tending to the needs of the owners of hundreds of working horses and related equipment.
The tough task of building our first roads
It certainly must have been a monumental and time-consuming task of constructing those first humble community and district roads, with crews of hundreds of men with their teams of horses, wagons, and equipment required to slowly dig out the path of the road across the muskeg while also removing countless obstacles. In many cases massive trees had to be cut and cleared as well as sloughs up to a mile long and wide having to be drained before the huge logs were finally laid across the new beds and allowed to rot to form a solid base before the corduroy topping could be set in place. One of the main purposes of all this gruelling work was to keep these new transportation lines running fairly straight as well as to form permanent roads that would be easier to maintain and could stand up to the rigorous year round weather conditions, floods, and other natural occurrences.
On the east side of the Battle River the initial main road became the township line, which ran east for 16 miles, then turned north and south, and the only way to get into Ponoka at that time was across the south bridge. The new Edmonton/Calgary Highway at one time crossed the river at fords four miles north and a few miles south of Ponoka, with the section from Calgary turning off at the Fair Grounds gate and then coming into town and going down Fisher Hill and onto Railway Street. The first bridge of any importance in the Ponoka area was the railway trestle, which over the years had to face many floods and ice-jams in the spring, the worst being in 1908, when disaster struck and a massive log jam in high water conditions completely wiped out the structure. Passengers on the CPR trains from north and south would have to walk across the river at the sight and board the train on the other side until the new sturdy and present steel trestle was built in 1911. Two significant and good-sized local bridges were constructed for vehicle and foot traffic, which included a steel structure at the south end of 50th street as well as our first north bridge at the lower end of the Riverside district. There were also six devastating instances from 1912 to 1923 when the Battle River rose so high during June and July that many canoes, boats, buildings, railroad tracks, bridges, and all sorts of property was washed away. During that period the now historical CPR dam had to be raised three feet to avoid further damage, and the only way across the flood waters on many occasions was by boat or very bravely in wagons filled with rocks and pulled by horses or oxen.
The noisy arrival of motor-mania
The first car ever seen in the Ponoka area appeared in 1912 in the form of a fancy completely glassed in model purchased by our first physician Dr. Campbell. This was just the magic beginning of the noisy invasion of the mighty Model T Fords, the Buick McLaughlin, and countless other fancy machines that roared on in a wild cloud of dust and total ‘motor mayhem’ for many exciting decades to come, and now in all directions along our highways and by-ways at an overwhelming 24-7 fast and furious pace.
At the beginning of that era of motorized frenzy it was interesting to note that the first trip to Edmonton from Ponoka by car along the C and E trail took place in 1912 and took a whole day to complete. Tires in those days were smooth, which made travel in the mud and on ice totally impossible, and needless to say there were many accidents or folks going into the ditch and having to be pulled out by horse or tractor, and night driving was also very dangerous as cars were only equipped with dim acetylene lights. The busy Canadian Pacific Railway quickly became very busy from the beginning of the 19th century with passenger and freight trains sounding their shrill steam whistles and rolling into the local station night and day. But then again during the complete early history of Ponoka our historians claimed that there were only two train wrecks near our town, one in 1914 just south of the railway bridge on Orangeman’s Day, where many passengers and bands had to be accommodated in town overnight, where a rip-roaring all night party occurred, but that’s another great story.