It was at the end of the 18th century that our hardy pioneers would begin to create the humble beginnings of our earliest settlements amongst the thousands of miles of lush forest and rolling prairies that would become Alberta.
In 1903 the Village of Ponoka consisted of a store, a school, a church, and a boarding house, all made of logs, as well an immigration tent and an extremely busy railway station on the new Canadian Pacific line above the Battle River Dam.
As settlers began pouring into the area the desperate need for lumber arose, which was soon realized by a man named Folger of Pigeon Lake, who had access to a bounty of magnificent mature trees and encouraged the building of sawmills in Ponoka. Two piers were quickly constructed on the Battle River with booms in between and thousands of logs were floated in through Pigeon Creek and driven down the river to the dam. The booms were then opened to allow them to reach the massive Rowley’s/Zelky and Loewen Sawmills, which had been established just below the CPR station to serve the overwhelming building needs of the thriving new town and rural districts and beyond. With phenomenal progress and a population of 525 inhabitants the rapidly growing little Village of Ponoka officially received town status in 1904. At that time in the thriving community there were five general stores, two hardware stores, a dry goods and clothing store, a drug store, two flour and feed stores, a confectionary store, five farm implement firms, four real estate offices, a pump works, two licensed hotels, three boarding houses, two livery stables, three banks, a Dominion land office, a newspaper and printing office, one school, and two churches. A construction and development boom was also in full force, with the work being completed by hundreds of skilled trades’ personnel, families, and neighbours in both the town and rural districts.
Our history books vividly show the sawmills in action along the Battle River as well as the endless stacks of millions of board feet of cut and finished wood ready to be taken away by train or picked up by horse drawn wagons to complete projects in Ponoka or out in the thriving districts. Those busy mills each employed up to 20 people, who sawed, planed, and prepared the logs to be used in the construction of countless homes, schools, churches, businesses, arenas, sidewalks, barns, corals, fences, power lines, massive elevators grain elevators and feed mills, and on into the bright and colourful future of the town and county of Ponoka.
There were also a number of ambitious farmers out in the district like Mr. Klink, Cook and Zulky, Truman and Black, and many others who built their own small sawmills to serve the people out in the rural districts, several of which are still standing and in working order out in the Rimbey districts and beyond. Unfortunately by 1907 the depth of the lazy old Battle River was not enough to float the logs into Ponoka so the operation was taken over by large sawmills at both Gull Lake and Pigeon Lake, and our local mills were eventually abandoned, leaving a great and tranquil place to fish and swim below the dam. One of the grand tales at Gull Lake around 1901 was the huge Cummings boat, which towed logs to their sawmill near Sucker Ditch by day, and then became a gala pleasure boat for dining, dancing, and gambling by night.
The arrival of the lumber yards
In the era following the sawmills the lumber yards came into being and the first one to set up shop in Ponoka was Courtwright’s Lumber along 50th Avenue in 1901. The Mundy Lumber Company was also mentioned in 1908, but that was taken over by Revelstoke, the new ‘giant’ in those early years of the lucrative lumber business.
Colourful early Ponoka entrepreneur and funeral director George E. Bowker would add a lumber yard to his business empire in 1920, which he operated until 1947 and then sold to the Beaver Lumber Company, who immediately expanded the premises to serve the fast growing community. In 1951 Mr. Albert Rossander and his family relocated to Ponoka, where he purchased the Fertile Valley Creamery building and opened a door and window sash business. The following year Mr. and Mrs. Alva Crandall opened a lumber yard directly across from the elevators on Railway Street, which they operated until 1969 and then sold to Oliver Johnson, but unfortunately the big shop would later burn to the ground.
Both the Revelstoke and Beaver Lumber yards remained in business for many years in Ponoka, with Revelstoke adding the town’s first transit-mix cement service. It is interesting to note that one of the long-standing Managers of the Revelstoke operation was Mr. M.E. Granlund, who also served as our Mayor and Town Councillor, while one of the later Beaver Lumber employees was Ted Dillon, who later became the Director of Emergency Services for the Town of Ponoka, and is now enjoying his first term as a Town Councillor. Teralta Lumber was opened in 1960 by Bill Wilson along Highway 2A, which was sold to Sommer’s Brothers Contractors in 1971, who have faithfully served the community and districts to this day. Along the way other lumber and associated businesses opened in the Ponoka area were Lo-Cost Lumber and Ponoka Cabinet Makers, while the long-standing Ponoka Co-operative Association expanded their operation to include lumber and building materials to the UFA across from the Composite High School.
There is no doubt that over the years our busy lumber yards have visibly changed their operations to include paint, rugs, light fixtures, and all sorts of other accessories to make our homes, offices, social, and recreational facilities magnificent and comfortable at an affordable price. Meanwhile our precious lumber products will always continue to roll on a 24-7 basis across the nation and beyond to assist in countless exciting building projects and progress going long into our exciting future.