In the years immediately following the construction of the Calgary and Edmonton Railway, Ponoka did not benefit as much as other surrounding centres in the steady invasion of settlers from the United States and Eastern Canada. During the summer of 1892 it would be Innisfail, Red Deer, Wetaskiwin, Olds, and Lacombe districts that received the rush for settlement and agricultural activity.
James Aylwin was the first settler to arrive in this district and establish his home and farm in 1892, and then in 1893 Indian Agent Samuel B. Lucas, who had suffered through many trying and often violent days of the Riel Rebellion, settled on a homestead about four miles east of the tiny settlement of Ponoka. A few hardy pioneer families were attracted by the rich potential and fertility of the land in the Battle River Valley; facing relentless elements but slowly carving a livelihood from the wilderness.
Early determined settlers such as S.B. Robinson and John P. Horn who battled hard and bravely to open up the region but the first real step to develop the siding of Ponoka (14) came in July 1895 when C. D. Algar heard of the opportunities of the district, and moved his family here. After getting permission to use the then vacant train stationhouse as a temporary residence, he set to work to build a log store on what is now 50th Street, which was completed in the fall and became the first privately own structure within the limits of the tiny Ponoka settlement. The dry goods, grocery and hardware store was initially opened under the partnership of Algar and Finch. Although it changed owners and burned down several times over the decades, it still stands proudly today in the same location as one of Ponoka’s oldest historical building and business sights.
More people slowly began to drift into the area, including the John Barrs, L.M. Haleys, the Cook Myers, the Leeks, the Ledgerwoods, Alex Strickler, Hans Larsen, Mr. Clink, Andrew and Will Reid, and others, all set to carve a permanent piece out of the friendly new settlement as well as the harsh but lush surrounding countryside.
In 1896 Tom Kennedy came to Ponoka to become the first section foreman, at which time there were only two passenger trains going through every week, as well as freights whenever required. The first post office between Red Deer and Edmonton was located at Holbrook on the James Aylwin farm just west of Meniak but with the increased activity in and around Ponoka the first official post office was set up in the Algar store in 1897. Bags of mail had firstly been transported by stagecoach along the rough Edmonton Calgary Trail but with the coming of the railway the mail and supplies came into the Ponoka station, then were picked up or delivered by Dick Slater’s dray around the community.
Other early milestones during that initial period for Ponoka included the appointment by the Federal Department of the Interior of Mr. Cook Myer as this area’s official land guide, who after only a year had sold 31 quarter sections and located 112 homesteaders on suitable land.
By the beginning of 1899 there were still only a handful of people in this area but over the next six years, Ponoka grew at a rapid pace from a whistle-stop into a settlement, from a settlement into a village, and from a village into an energetic town by 1904. Homes and businesses arose at an overwhelming pace ($23,000 in building permits in 1900), while out in the rural districts many hardy settlers were vigorously clearing the land, planting their first crops, erecting their log homes and buildings, raising their big families and their livestock and desperately striving to get the most out of the virgin rolling prairies.
Permanent medical services came to Ponoka in 1900 with the arrival of Dr. A. Drinnan, the first one-page edition of the Ponoka Herald newspaper hit streets the same year, and a provincial election at the schoolhouse in November drew only 69 voters, with Mr. Bennett just barely holding on to his Conservative seat in a hotly contest battle against the Liberal Mr. Oliver. This amazing progress and growth also featured the arrival of our first telephones at McKinnell’s Chipman Avenue Drug Store in 1908, which include a service to 35 phones and two chatty party lines.
Our history books claim Ponoka’s first building boom of high spirited expansion and success was led by an ambitious group of town and rural gentleman who worked together to achieve our town status in 1904, then roared into the future. As well as promoting new businesses, schools, services, and opportunities our early founding fathers, their wives and their families encouraged sports and social activities for all age groups, as well as constantly encouraging the provincial government to pay attention to the unique opportunities of the thriving new town and county of Ponoka.
Over the years the determination of these early pioneer families was vital in establishing Ponoka as one of the finest and friendliest centres in Alberta, a proud tradition that has carried on and grown through the generations over an exciting span of close to 125 years.