One of the most colorful aspects of our longstanding community sports and recreation programs has been the outstanding successes and glamour of the Ponoka Figure Skating Club. The initial winter season for this active youth organization magically came to life in Ponoka’s first indoor arena in 1947 and their exciting on-ice winter activities for young skaters from tots to teens has strived to feature first class professional instruction, daily practises, competitions and testing at home or away, energetic fundraising events, and a magnificent windup carnival for an amazing run of 66 years.
The new skating club grew by leaps and bounds In 1947 Ponoka and districts were celebrating the completion of a new arena at the south end of town, and the new arena committee of Garnet Ranks and Dick Slater quickly went into action to promote activities for all clubs and age groups in this massive wooden ice rink that also included bleachers for the fans.
Ponoka School principal Howard Larson was one of the first people to be approached and was asked to form a figure skating club to encourage more children to get involved in this invigorating and enjoyable winter sport. The little club’s first instructress was Miss Lillian Monroe of the neighbouring Wetaskiwin Club, who began giving lessons half a day a week, but quickly increased that to a full day. The first executive of the PFSC were president Howard C. Larson, vice-president F.L. Galvin, secretary Art Perkins, treasurer Mrs. Hugh Twa, press correspondent T.D. Thorson and ice supervisor Mrs. Rex Younge. This new community recreational venture exploded with popularity, more junior and senior classes were formed, and the club’s membership has grown at a rapid pace over all those many years.
In 1948 the bustling new Ponoka Figure Skating Club had gathered a great number of fans from near and far so a major decision was made to organize their first Ice Carnival. A talented gentleman by the name of Walter Kassa, who had put himself through university by producing skating carnivals in small Alberta communities, was hired to organize the initial Ponoka show, to be called an “Arabian Night Fantasy.” The amazing show, which featured colorful costumes, lights, sound, scenery, and a carnival queen contest, was an outstanding success for the club and community, and Kassa was quickly signed to be the first pro of the Ponoka club.
Not only did Kassa lead the Ponoka Figure Skating Club for many years, he also helped to enlist new instructors and volunteers to teach and assist the ever-growing list of young members, invited talented guest skaters into the carnival mix, and gave PFSC the reputation of being a tough act to follow when it came to putting on a great show on the ice each and every season. As a talented skater and actor, this vibrant gentleman went on to be one of the greatest pioneers of Alberta culture, helping to build the art programs in Alberta to a fever pitch in the mid-1950s, finally retiring in the early 1980s, and was deservedly named to the Alberta Cultural Hall of Fame and Order of Canada for his outstanding efforts and contributions.
Over the years some of the wonderful carnival presentations hosted by the Ponoka Figure Skating Club included: A Night in Vienna, Globe Trotters, 56 Ice Follies, Once in a Lifetime, Around the World, Space Holiday, Silver Blades Revue, 1961 Ice Chips, Around the Year On Ice, Along the Skyway, Peter Pan, Toymakers’ Dream, Ice Flytes 66, A Century on Ice, Wizard of Oz, Snow White, Canada 2000, Under the Big Top, Mary Poppins, and that same skating magic has continued each and every March.
Personally, I have many fond memories of the PFSC, as my father helped with the carnival music in the early years, then later as a staff member at their new home at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex we were able to help them with their scheduling, carnival and event set-up, as well as occasionally being invited to perform a comedy act during the Ice Carnival weekend. I was always impressed by the happy enthusiasm and grit of these young skaters, avidly working on their jumps, twirls, figures and dances each and every day, and somehow always bouncing up quickly from the odd tumble.
Today the Ponoka Figure Skating Club, whose vibrant motto is Passion, Spirit, Triumph…Creating the Edge for Life, is stronger than ever, hosting more than 100 members each season and offering ongoing annual instruction in both beginner and advanced programs that include: CANSkate, STARSkate, and Pre-School Skate, as well as hosting five Synchronized Skating teams. The leadership of these extensive skating programs comes from a strong and dedicated team of 16 executive members and eight nationally certified coaches, along with an enthusiastic group of volunteers, supportive parents and families and a great deal of much appreciated community support. Ponoka has always been proud to have one of the largest and most active figure skating clubs in the province.
Plans are currently in full swing for the gala presentation of the Ponoka Figure Skating Club’s 66th Ice Carnival, “Dreams and Wishes” on March 16 with performances at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Centre. Advance tickets will be going on sale soon. The sheer joy of the annual Ice Carnival unfolds when the arena lights go dim, the theme music begins and the spotlights follow the talented groups of young skaters and special guests in their magnificent costumes, gliding across the sparkling ice surface and presenting the performance of their lives for everyone.
It is the culmination of their busy September to March figure skating season, and congratulations are extended to the Ponoka Figure Skating Club for carrying on the proud tradition, and making the magic happen for over six exciting decades in our community.