Reflections of Ponoka: Ponoka’s new building era of the roaring 70’s

When Ponoka officially became a town in 1904, the ‘building boom’ began in earnest

Top: Our Ponoka Provincial Building

Top: Our Ponoka Provincial Building

When Ponoka officially became a town in 1904, the ‘building boom’ began in earnest, and eventually three big lumber mills along the Battle River just east of the community were turning out millions of board feet of lumber to serve the ongoing construction of homes, businesses, barns, churches, schools and whatever else would be required to serve the rapidly expanding population in the rural and urban areas.

If one gets the opportunity to browse through our history books or visit the Fort Ostell Museum, they will see that during this exciting turn of the century, these magnificent wooden structures were quickly filling the skyline. It wouldn’t be long before the citizens would welcome the arrival of a colorful row of stately grain elevators, several fancy three-story hotels, the tall spirals of local churches, the livery stables, the stores, a movie theatre, wooden sidewalks and on and on. As our town expanded by leaps and bounds, more changes were added to the building mix, including the use of brick, mortar, stone, steel, and tin and all this would help to offset the always impending danger of fire, which ravaged many a structure in those early days.

Some of the other unique facades that appeared on these  new early businesses and homes would include: decorative awnings, recessed and stained windows, white stucco, balconies, elaborate brick and tile designs, barber poles, tongue and groove panelling, false store fronts, gable roofs, flashing neon signs and anything else that might attract the inquisitive new crowds of clientele. Heading into the ‘roaring 60s and 70s’, an overwhelming array of modern changes would be begin to emerge in the construction industry, featuring exciting new and durable materials and structure,  as well as universal designs and colors from throughout the world.

Three of the most vivid introductions to Ponoka’s new building trends and styles included the new Ponoka County Office at 5018-Chipman Avenue in 1963, the most unique construction in 1977 of the Ponoka Provincial Building at 5110-49 Avenue, which was designed by internationally famous architect Douglas Cardinal, and the Imperial Bank of Commerce at 5002-51 Avenue, which was built in 1959, and introduced a spectacular new concept in the appearance of financial institutions.

Ponoka’s first Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce was built on the same sight as the historical Algar Store, which burnt down in 1902, was replaced by the Brady and Morgan Garage, later owned by Hughie Roberts, but was also destroyed in the dramatic blaze of 1952. The 1959 opening of the Imperial Bank unveiled a striking angular ‘butterfly roof’, and the airy interior was targeted to tastefully serve the clientele in a bright and wide open kiosk. The CIBC only operated in that location until 1961, when their amalgamation with the Bank of Commerce relocated them into their building on Railway Street, from which they have faithfully served the community since 1903.

Our Ponoka Provincial Building was completed in 1977, and undulates along a quiet street in the magnificent curvilinear style of the internationally renowned architect Douglas Cardinal. Initially the home of the Provincial Treasury Branch and the Alberta Opportunity Company, it continues to host hundreds of clients from various government offices.

Built in 1963 for the Ponoka County offices at 5018 Chipman Avenue, this building at that time was likely the best local example of the influential and widespread International style. The construction used unabashedly new industrial materials such as I-beams and concrete blocks, and the elements were assembled into a unique composition of right angles, recesses and ledges, complemented with a series of aluminum mesh panels on the front. After the County of Ponoka moved into new offices along Highway 2A, the Ponoka Outreach School took over the premises for many years, after which the building was eventually dismantled. These are only three early examples of the changes in our building trends and highlights as they popped up in the community over a half century ago, during which time there have been many more, and of course, will continue to be long into our bright future!

Throughout those ongoing exciting decades of successes and growth in our Town and County of Ponoka, the founding families and new generations have always carried a great pride and interest in our long and outstanding and colorful heritage and history. In 2000, the councils of the Town and County Of Ponoka formed a local committee and joined forces with the Alberta Historical Resources Foundation to spearhead the exciting Ponoka Main Street Project. As a result of countless hours of research, great team-work and keen community spirit, 53 of our historical 20th century landmarks were identified and given the opportunity to revitalize and restore their buildings back to their original facades. As the program continued, others would join in, information plaques were put in place, and these sites, along with countless new additions to the mix, can always be enjoyed on a quiet family stroll throughout our friendly community.