Reflections of Ponoka: A tribute to our early community legends

So many exciting chapters have been written about the early settlement and rapid growth of the Town of Ponoka and surrounding

Dr. Melvin Graham and wife Evelyn. The congenial physician served the early medical and eye care needs of the community for more than 50 years.

So many exciting chapters have been written about the early settlement and rapid growth of the Town of Ponoka and surrounding county districts. There were so many hardships along the way but there were also countless amazing milestone events and successes, which we should always salute, celebrate, and be thankful for in this friendly and vibrant community that we have so proudly called our home.

Throughout this memorable history there have been many hundreds of hardy individuals, colorful characters and ongoing generations of families who have worked and played hard together to establish their place on the prairies, along with a proud and ongoing heritage that we can now share today and long into the future. The Ponoka News Reflections page will always be dedicated to recognizing these early pioneers and their ancestors for their great enthusiasm, keen spirits, and vital contributions over all those challenging years.

Dr. and Mrs. Melvin Graham

One of the first physicians in our community was the diminutive Dr. Melvin Graham, who arrived in Ponoka from London, England with his wife Evelyn in 1912. The young couple settled in their first home on Donald Avenue (51st), then in 1922 opened a palatial residence, clinic, and surgery just a few doors down, which has remained there to this day.

The kindly Dr. Graham was also trained in eye refraction and diseases of the eye, and on many occasions in those early days surgery was performed on the kitchen table, babies were delivered in the spare bedroom and patients from the community and districts visited at all hours to seek attention for their ills and mishaps. As the town and county population grew quickly, midwives became common and the first Ponoka nursing homes were opened at the residences of Mrs. Service and Mrs. Roseberry. In those early years the more serious medical cases had to be transferred by whatever transportation was available to hospitals in Lacombe or Edmonton, while our local doctors were required many times to make house calls in their horse drawn buggies and later Motel Ts through all weather and road conditions.

Throughout those busy early years, more physicians and dentists arrived in the community to set up their practises, then finally in 1946 the much-needed first Ponoka General Hospital (still stands) was opened at the north end of town, and included 28 beds, a matron, eight nurses and four doctors. The popular Dr. Graham was also well known for his great sense of humour and could be seen on many occasions driving around town with his wife, and twin sons, John and Allan.

One of the favourite early tales explained that when barber Jack Richmond suffered a heart attack, he would receive a complete examination and sound medical advice from Dr. Graham, and was charged $2 for the service. When Richmond later decided to seek further attention from a heart specialist in Edmonton, he was given the exact same advice as from our local doctor, but the accompanying bill would be $20. A few days later Doc Graham dropped an invoice off at the Jack’s barbershop for the difference of $18, but no one knows to this day whether it was ever paid.

Dr. Melvin Graham continued to serve the community until his death in 1962.

Metro Hrycyk

This robust and likeable gentleman arrived in Ponoka from Canora, Sask. in 1934 and settled in the Riverside district with his wife, Lena. While raising sons Mickey, George, and Bill, Lena attended to the homestead while Metro was involved in many odd jobs, including at the Provincial Mental Hospital during the war years, and later with the Town of Ponoka garbage and sanitation department.

His infamous “honey wagon,” pulled by a tractor, could be seen on many occasions travelling around town servicing the countless outhouses and septic tanks in and around our growing community. Metro was also a fanatic Ponoka Stampeders senior hockey fan who never missed a game, was always willing to assist the town police with any rambunctious rowdies but also enjoyed letting loose and having a good time with friends whenever the occasion arose.

Metro and Lena’s son, Mickey, worked for many years at the Royal Hotel, while both George and Bill served in the Canadian Army overseas during the Second World War. After Bill Hrycyk returned home he worked at the Leland Hotel for many years, married Erna Brachmann, and together they raised their family of four, and were active in the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #66.

Metro Hyryck passed away on June 13, 1964.

Gordon Stretch

Gordon Stretch was a native of Ponoka, took all his schooling here, married Edna Kay in 1938, and raised their three sons Brian, Robert and Gordon Jr. At an early age Gordon became interested in auctioneering, then after buying a partnership in Ponoka Billiards (Chipman Avenue) the family moved into town in 1951.

The fun-loving and jovial gentleman enjoyed conducting farm sales at a local auction market every Saturday, and from this he conceived a plan with Charlie Palechek and Henry Channon to form the Ponoka Auction Mart. This bustling business opened in January 1955 with a crowd of more than 1,200 in attendance, operated successfully for several years, and was later sold to the partnership of Jones and Vold. At the same time Edna began her colorful teaching career, which would carry on for many years in Ponoka and district schools.

Both Gordon and Edna were active in the community in many clubs and organizations, with Gordon serving many times as a returning officer in provincial elections, as well as an assessor and right of way purchaser for the provincial government.

He was killed in a highway accident in 1966; Edna carried on raising her family, remarried, and just recently passed away at the age of 103.

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