By Mike Rainone and Dorothy Houghton
For decades, hundreds of men and women, sons and daughters from our community and surrounding districts have bravely and unselfishly served our nation as members of the Canadian Armed Forces and overseas during war and peacekeeping efforts. So many of these individuals would pay the supreme sacrifice as well as suffering grave injuries and injustices, while others thankfully returned to their homes and families to carry on with the rest of their lives in this always friendly and supportive community.
In honour of our returning soldiers and their families, a group of residents would make application to form a Legion branch in Ponoka and would be finally chartered on May 4, 1928. The following members signing that official charter included: A. Beaumont, J.M Buchanan, A. Cole, W.R. Eastwood, L. Jones, R.J. Lewis, J.C. Matherson, W.C. Murray, P. MacDonald, S.A. McPherson, H.P.W. Napier, J.A. Richmond, S.C. Robson and Hector Skinner. The first meeting place was at the busy auditorium located above the old Town Hall on the corner of 50th Avenue and 51st Street. The active Legion branch met in various locations for the next few years, including the St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Peter MacDonald’s office adjoining the Community Rest Room, the County Office and the Elks Club Room on Chipman Avenue.
A milestone in the colorful 85-year history of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #66 Ponoka came in 1946 when they obtained a building from Merle Gee. The structure was carefully moved into town, placed on a basement on 53rd Avenue and became the first official home of the branch. Through a great deal of hard work and dedication the building would experience many additions and renovations over the years. Membership grew to more than 250 through the Fifties and Sixties, with honorary and associate members encouraged to join, all of whom became active in support of veterans and the community.
The original Ponoka Legion branch colors were unique and hastily handmade by a member of the Legion Ladies Auxiliary in 1939, then were initially paraded for the first time at the provincial convention in Edmonton. In the 1980s exciting new proposals arose to progress with the plans for a new branch to serve the growing community. Finally in 1989 the sod was turned to proceed with construction at the present building along Highway 2A, which was officially opened with a gala ceremony in 1990!
This bright, spacious and friendly clubroom has continued to be a busy and active home and centre for the Royal Canadian Legion Branch over the years. As well as the annual yearly observance of Remembrance Day, Vimy Night and other celebrations, the Ponoka Legion features many year-round social activities for youths and adults such as darts, crib, whist, bridge, pool and shuffleboard. The Legion also played host to many social events, poker rallies, auctions, dances, concerts, provincial competitions and much more in the auditorium, with visitors always welcome.
The initial Legion cenotaph, which was located beside the Ponoka Seniors’ Drop in Centre was officially dedicated and unveiled by Comrade Elmer Scott of Veteran Affairs on June 22, 1961. It was later relocated to its present location. Many members of the Legion and the community have gathered each year since the early 1930s at the Cross of Sacrifice in the Forest Home Cemetery to honour fallen soldiers well as for the annual Decoration Day to remember our veterans who have passed away. Here are some of the many fund-raising and community projects that the Ponoka Legion has been involved in for so many years.
• Right from the beginning, the Legion avidly promoted and supported special causes such as: track and field and the upgrading of the track at the PCHS, the purchase of the first Zamboni at the arena, the Ponoka Lions Bus, minor sports, boys and girls clubs, the junior hockey team, the Youth Centre, FCSS, Neighbourhood Place and the literacy group.
Milestones included the formation of a colorful Legion Pipe Band under the direction of Tom Bell in 1963, the beginning of the ongoing sponsorship of the Ponoka Air Cadet Squadron #65 in 1964 and the major project of the completion of the Legion Anniversary Arms in the 1970s, which has provided vital and comfortable accommodation for seniors.
• During their ambitious annual community poppy and wreath promotions in preparation for the Nov. 11 Remembrance Day ceremony, the Ponoka Legion always involves school children with their participation in a literacy and poster contest, as well as their presence at these annual activities.
85th anniversary celebration set for June 1
The 345 members of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch #66 will proudly host a casual afternoon celebration of their 85th anniversary of their ongoing service to veterans and community Saturday, June 1 from 1 to 4 p.m. in the Club Room. A light lunch will be served, everyone is welcome and encouraged to attend, and those who may need a ride are urged to call 403-783-4076. Visitors are welcome to browse through the hall, visit the Wall of Fame photos and mementos that honour some 750 veterans from our town and districts who have served and continue to serve in our armed forces throughout the world, as well as relax and chat and enjoy the friendly atmosphere of your local legion.
There is no doubt their future goals will include their strong and dedicated commitment to our veterans and our great community!