Our town and surrounding districts have been blessed with a long and colourful history that first gained some measure of provincial and national recognition on July 27, 1891 when the first noisy work and passenger train stopped at ‘Siding 14’ along the new Canadian Pacific Railway line between Edmonton and Calgary. The next milestone for the bustling Village came in 1904 when Ponoka was officially declared as a town of the North West Territories.
From that point on our urban and rural districts grew at an overwhelming pace as excited and ambitious waves of Pioneer families and individuals arrived and began to seek out the opportunities of establishing a new home and livelihood on the lush and rugged prairies. Their immediate needs included the establishment of new homes and farms, schools for their children, and churches for their worship, as well the vital businesses, services, and social amenities that would assist them to survive and progress long into the future. Needless to say the community would grow at a rapid pace in all directions, newcomers arrived in town by train or wagon each and every day, and the up-beat atmosphere was full of ongoing construction, hard work, and high spirits, despite the countless challenges and the totally unpredictable weather that they faced.
Over that amazing span of close to 130 years the Ponoka landscape has expanded and changed drastically, and along the way many of those unique and sturdy early original structures have long since been torn down, renovated, replaced by newer modern structures, or were ravaged by floods, fires, and the test of time. Thankfully, some of those historical buildings and locations have remained in place to remind all generations of our long and proud legacy and traditions, and this week in our Reflections feature in your Ponoka News we will salute their amazing longevity and ongoing contributions to our community.
The Royal and Leland hotels
These magnificent three story structures of very early 19th century architecture have been among the earliest and oldest corner milestones of Chipman Avenue and Railway Street since the beginning of the 19th century.
The Royal Hotel was built in 1900 by Joe Delphis and attracted thousands of visitors from near and far to enjoy a luxurious stay in its palatial rooms, some with balconies overlooking the Battle River valley as well as private rooms that hosted week-long hot and rich poker games. The social amenities of the Royal also included a coffee shop, a beer parlour and billiards room in the basement, a private southeast entrance for ladies and escorts, and a hitching rail outside for patrons to tie up their horses before going in for a pint. The original structure survived a horrific downtown fire in 1905, was later enlarged with an elaborate brick facade and white stucco, as well as bold circular windows and nostalgic ‘Old English’ decorations.
Jack McCue and George Sellers built the Leland Hotel in 1901, which, like the Royal and the Alberta hotels would instantly become a vital social venue and shelter for the early settlement’s transient population and countless visitors. The Leland was designed to follow early colonial style construction, underwent extensive renovations in 1952, and featured a cold room in the back where ice blocks from the Battle River were packed in sawdust, chopped up, and used for chilling beverages. More exterior enhancements were made to the Leland through the Main Street Project in 1999. Over the years both hotels have had many congenial owners and bartenders, including Earl Lightbody, Joe Kleckner, Dave Morgan, Joe Farrell, Prefontaine, Phelan, Stelmack, Kalweit, Bud Grant, Herb Johnston, Frank Volk, Mickey Hrycyk, and on and on. It was also rumoured that there was once a tunnel underground from the Royal to the Leland that provided a chance to pick up an ‘extra bottle’ as well as a quick escape from the ‘town cop’ or an upset wife or girlfriend?
Ponoka Shoe Repair
This tiny designated historical sight located behind the original F.E. Algar building at the corner of Railway Street and 51 Avenue has a long history. After the first two Algar Stores burnt down it was a part of the third store that was built in 1914, and was called the ‘Sugar Shack’, because it was where the sacks of sugar and other goods were stored after being delivered by the local dray man Dick Slater. In the later years it was the home of several very quaint but skillful Shoe Repair gentlemen.
The Brekke House
This very pristine ‘one of a kind’ cement home located at 50th Avenue and 54th Street in Ponoka was the remarkable work and design of Mr. Howard Brekke in 1942 after being inspired by a magazine article. At that time, the structure was considered by many as a ‘cluster of cubes’, and featured a flat eave-less roof, curving corners, a lack of window frames, bold wall graphics, and surrounding box hedges were all considered as characteristically modern. The novel layout featured one of the first local homes that was built around the garage, which reflected the integral role of the automobile in modern life. The compact plan also included a specious living room, custom built sewing room, built-in China cabinet of varnished plywood and many other practical and attractive amenities. Howard was the maintenance supervisor at the Provincial Mental Hospital for many years, and he and his wife Alice raised their three children Allister, David, and Marlene in this delightful home.