Reflections of Ponoka: Our pioneers prevailed in the toughest of times

In those earliest days of our settlement the hardy newcomers to the village and surrounding districts of Ponoka

1930’s Ponoka entrepreneurs

1930’s Ponoka entrepreneurs

In those earliest days of our settlement the hardy newcomers to the village and surrounding districts of Ponoka worked and played together for many decades to help build what we all now know as the thriving Town and County of Ponoka. Throughout this exciting and colorful history countless families and individuals from all walks of life faced ongoing challenges while establishing their farms and businesses and the early foundation that has now become our proud heritage. Reflections will strive to continue to relate the amazing stories and achievements of these men and women and their families, as well as recalling the colorful entrepreneurs, heroes, and characters of our past.

G.B. Kirk and his six-ox team

About 1904 a fellow by the name of C.B. Kirk landed in Ponoka and eventually settled with his family at Bismark, 16 miles west of town. He later opened a general store and kept the Post Office, but this powerful gentleman would become known far and wide for his famous team of six oxen, which he would use to haul supplies and deliver mail throughout the districts.

At that time the road allowances were not opened, and the travel was mainly done on old Indian trails. Culverts had never been heard of, and often the team would pull the big wagon through the mud and muskeg, and on many occasions would pull out others who had become stuck up to the wheel hubs. Legend has it that one could hear this powerful but friendly man coming three miles away, long before he came into sight, but always recognizing the crack of his 30-foot bullwhip and shouting directions wooo-harrr-taaaylah to his charges. Taylor was his lead ox, which he bought off Naz Taylor, and the white face one on the pole was called Skinner, because it had been purchased from Ed Skinner.

Charlie Kirk would sell just about most things at his store that he could get his hands on during that time. Barbed wire was $2.50 a spool, nails were $2.50 for a 100 pound keg, and when you asked for something he would utter, ‘how much and what kind?’ He never carried but one kind, except tobacco, and most times he’d be out, but he would always have some on order in Ponoka. He always had evaporated apples, which came in wooden barrels, and when the barrel got down a little his pet cat would climb in and go to sleep, which sometimes hurt the sale some, if not the flavor.

Bertram Davidson wrote in the Ponoka 50th Anniversary history book that one hot day in 1908 he needed flour, which Charlie had, but it came in 100 pound sacks. Kirk didn’t deliver that day so he had to pack it two miles home through the bush, for which he never forgave Charlie.

Prominent local gentleman

During the ‘roaring twenties’ in Ponoka, there were many enthusiastic up and coming businessman, politicians, and sportsmen who played a big role in the early successes of the growing community. Three of these were Dr. Addinell, Vern Longman, and Mike Bures.

From a young age Mike Bures inherited his father John’s great love and talent for the sports of baseball, hockey, and horseshoes. The family was born and raised in the Chain Lakes area, where they farmed and as a carpenter John helped to construct many of the new homes and businesses in and around Ponoka. Mike married Gertrude Brady, became the first dray operator in town, and stayed in business until his death in 1956.

The James Longman family moved to Ponoka in 1902 and purchased a farm in the Sharphead district. One of five children Vern and his brother George (Shorty) married twin sisters Victoria and Myrtle Mattern from the Dennis district, they continued to farm the home place as well as going into business in Ponoka.  Both George and Vern, who opened one of the first men’s stores in Ponoka, were great athletes, playing baseball in the summer and hockey in the winter, helping our community to win their first Alberta Intermediate Hockey Championship with our  first 1924-25 team.

Dr. W.E. Addinell opened his dental office in the Bird Drug Store on Chipman Avenue in 1927 and practised there until the war years. The good doctor also served as the Mayor of Ponoka for two years in the early thirties, and was always known as a great teller of amusing tales and a practical joker.

In the early days dental practices were deeply tied to mysticism, with the universal belief being that teeth conferred power because the mouth was the center of speech and nourishment. Early remedies and practises were intended to maintain the power of the teeth, striving to maintain them for a lifetime, which has carried on into modern dentistry, but with much more refined methods.

Early beliefs for the quick relief of toothache included: boiling earthworms in oil and pouring the hot liquid into the ear on the side where there was pain, holding a small frog against your cheek, placing tobacco in your armpit, or keeping your feet in hot water until the pain went away. Remember when our parents used to pull out a real loose tooth by tying a string on the tooth and the other end on the doorknob, then closing it quickly? It might have hurt just a little bit, but there would always be some cash under the pillow from the tooth fairy the next morning?