The first F.E. Algar and Company Grocery and Dry Goods store was built at the corner of 50th Avenue and 51st street

The first F.E. Algar and Company Grocery and Dry Goods store was built at the corner of 50th Avenue and 51st street

Reflections of Ponoka: First Ponoka family survived through success and hardships

In the early settlement of our town and districts, so many families and individuals stepped forward to exemplify

In the early settlement of our town and districts, so many families and individuals stepped forward to exemplify the often tested but keen and ongoing pioneering spirit that assured the slow but steady growth and progress that is now our proud heritage. Fredric Edward Algar was one of those gentlemen, arriving in Ponoka in 1895 at the age of 19 to start out on his own and seek his fortune in the lush surroundings of the rugged prairies.

He had passed this way before along the Indian trail, taking an instant liking to the area, and very possibly realizing an advantage in the new and unused station house, which at that time was the only building to mark our future town site. Algar was granted the use of the rugged log structure to use as a store and living quarters, with lofty dreams of building his own in the future. He put up the equity he had, which was a team of horses and a cow calf given to him by his father and earned by working, and along with $150.00 cash from his brother-in-law Harry Finch, they journeyed to Edmonton and brought back a sleigh load of goods to supply the store and open their first local business. They sold the items through a ticket wicket to the 15 families who were living in the entire district at that time along with the natives from the Samson and Bobtail reserves.

That first winter of 1895 was very hard, and although Algar and Finch were nearly broke, they somehow managed to live off the supplies in the little store. An opportunity to build a new store became a possibility when Mr. McCue abandoned a sleigh load of logs on a lot across from the station, they were secured for $10.00 in trade, and the windows, doors, flooring, and roofing were obtained from Mr. Clink’s sawmill, also in trade from the original station store. For rafters, the partners headed out into the bush to cut spruce saplings, which they later trimmed, and secured the help of Alex (Sand Hill) Kennedy. The 18 by 24-foot log structure was erected on the corner of 50 Avenue and 51 street, and Ponoka’s first business opened in January 1896. Fred’s father C.D. Algar eventually bought out Harry Finch, and the store was officially named F.E. Algar and Company, and they enjoyed a brisk business with the new settlers moving into the area, as well as in trade with the Indians for furs (as many as 7000 muskrat skins at a time) and with white fish from Pigeon Lake in the winter. They bought the fish at 5 to 6 cents each for trade, then sold them for 3 ½ cents a pound, packing them into gunny sacks and shipping them as far north as Fort MacLeod, Crow’s Nest Pass, and Revelstoke, B.C. . Many Ponoka ‘firsts’ were recalled by Mr. Algar in those hectic early days, including: the first community Christmas tree program, the village’s first house built by C.D. Algar, the first school in 1896, the first election at the new school, the erection of the first church in 1897 for $60.00, the first white child (Charles Duncan Algar II) born to Fred and Margaret in 1900, the same year that Fred became the first Ponoka Post Master, distributing the mail out of the store.

During the depression, wheat sold for 35 cents a bushel, butter 13 cents a pound, eggs 8 to 10 cents a dozen, dressed beef 5 to 6 cents a pound, a good pair of shoes and bib overalls for $1.15 each and men’s suits from $5.00 to $10.00. Men worked a ten-hour day on the railroad for $1.75, and while there was very little mixed farming or livestock, more settlers began to flock into the area and the depression began to lift at the turn of the century. Fred Algar had earlier married Margaret Ledgerwood on January 6, 1895, and to this union was born Charles, Effie, Fredric, and Malcolm, then tragedy struck in 1904 when his young wife passed away suddenly. After moving his young family in with his parents, Fred continued to run and expand his business ventures, marrying one of his clerks Annette Dunning in 1907, and together over the years welcoming Gordon, Harry, Dorothy, Winnifred, Lloyd, Carolyn and Jessie.

Amidst all the hardships, there was also lots of fun in and around the community. They skated in the winter and met together to dance the night away at old time and square dances, becoming very adapt at the waltz, the schottische, the polka, the jersey, and one called the rabbit. Gilbert Whitford was the ‘community fiddler’, the Flegal brothers out at Morningside provided a good three-piece orchestra, and there were great picnics that featured food, racing, novelty races, and contests of jumping and games. Regular community gatherings celebrated all occasions, with settler families providing fine entertainment, and sharing keen camaraderie.

In 1907, the Algar family sold the store and leased the building to pursue other interests in Peace River and Edmonton, but had to take it over again in 1910. Tragedy struck once again on May 7, 1914 when the Ponoka store burnt to the ground with losses of nearly $11,000.00, the same year that his Tent and Mattress Company and Rotary Engine patent fell on bad times. However, with his usual faith and courage, the salvaged goods were moved to a temporary location in the Sage building, a new brick building was constructed on the old sight, and profits began to soar again as the district crops were good, the population zoomed, and business boomed. While Fred pursued more businesses in the Peace River, his son Gordon took over the Ponoka store in 1929 and held the management position until enlisting in the army in 1942.

In the later years, Fred Algar often came down to look after the family store, living above the old Kennedy and Russell building while in town. As he was getting on in years, the trip from Edmonton became too much for him; so in 1944, he leased the building to Abe Abousafy of Wetaskiwin, but was very sad to give up the family business after 49 very challenging, but successful years in Ponoka.

 

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