Reflections of Ponoka: Saluting the keen spirit of community sports

During the great 50-plus years that I spent tearing around Ponoka and districts I was always impressed with the overwhelming participation,

This delightful new display at the Fort Ostell Museum salutes the long and proud history of the sports of hockey and curling in and around our community. It contains photos

This delightful new display at the Fort Ostell Museum salutes the long and proud history of the sports of hockey and curling in and around our community. It contains photos

During the great 50-plus years that I spent tearing around Ponoka and districts I was always impressed with the overwhelming participation, support, pride and enthusiasm in all of facets of community sports. Whether one was a player, coach, sponsor, parent, or fan, all age groups and walks of life have been given the encouragement and opportunity to enjoy a wide variety of year round sports and recreational activities throughout our town and county.

The early roots of our longstanding sports legacy likely started at picnics and fairs, on dusty ball diamonds and makeshift playing fields, on outdoor patches of ice and in cold wooden arenas or curling rinks, in the backyard, or anywhere else where families, friends, and neighbours chose to gather together and organize a game of fun. In honour of the exciting history of our community sports and recreation programs, the Fort Ostell Museum has been busy gathering artifacts to put together permanent displays for the interest of the public, and invite everyone to drop in from Tuesday through Friday to browse and chat about our proud heritage.

If you have a cherished photo or memento of an event and great teams and characters of our colorful history you would like to share with museum visitors, please drop in, or give the ladies a call at 403-783-5224.

As the area grew at a rapid pace, many sports and recreation programs were being organized on all fronts. Both Ponoka and county districts formed baseball, fastball and hockey teams for all age groups, the Ponoka Minor Hockey Association and Ponoka Figure Skating Club were established, curling became popular, and schools hosted varied indoor and outdoor activities year-round. Many of us will fondly remember learning to play tennis at the Ponoka Mental Hospital courts, trying a game of golf on the friendly community course, shooting hoops or firing pucks in the driveway, or kicking a soccer ball around wherever we could find a patch of green grass.

Community sports programs were arranged for all levels, with ongoing opportunities to advance into higher categories, and to take part in tournaments, provincial playoffs, or annual competitions such as the Alberta Winter or Summer Games.

Along the way many new activities have been added, including competitive swimming, broomball, racquet sports, lacrosse, rodeo, equestrian and lawn bowling. Along the way, no matter what the game might be, it is always great to win, but it should also be an honour to be wearing a Ponoka uniform or sweater, to be a member of the team, and to hear the cheers from the sidelines.

The newest display at the museum is a salute to our winter sports, featuring the early beginnings of curling and hockey in the urban and rural community. Some of the highlights include the original corn brooms, rocks, tams, and curling trophies, as well as photos, uniforms, and equipment from the glory days of our longstanding Ponoka Stampeders senior A hockey dynasty.

Here are some of the reasons why the coldest of winters were always ‘red hot’ on the sports scene in and around our community.

• Curling was introduced to Ponoka in 1916 when businessmen Dick Thomson and Mah Bow offered lessons to anyone who was interested. The first rink was constructed near where the Drop-In Centre now stands, but the roof collapsed under the weight of too much snow in 1925. Will Schierer, a prominent local politician, businessman, and community leader, lent the curling club the money to build the first major rink, the mortgage was paid off during the 1938-39 season, and a complete set of second hand rocks was purchased for $20. District pioneer Earl Berdine started a Farmers’ Curling League in the 1940s, the 1930 yearly fees at the Ponoka Club were $10 for seasoned men and women and $6 for green curlers and students. The game became so popular that a whistle had to be blown each evening to make sure the first draw started at 7 p.m. and again at 9 p.m. for the second draw.

• The first bonspiel was held in Ponoka in 1927 and attracted 15 of the best rinks from the area and throughout the province, then by the 1950s 85 rinks competed in the week-long perennial Town and Country Bonspiel at the arena, and that grand January tradition continues to this day. In the early days the curling fanatics had to wait for the weather to get cold before they could make ice, then on the most frigid days those classic wooden rinks would snap under a coating of frost, the ice would swing in weird ways, everyone had to dress in layers for the invigorating occasion, as well as hoping that the spring melt didn’t come to early. Once artificial ice was introduced the season lasted much longer, dedicated icemakers were hired, but still received criticism if the curlers missed too many shots.

• Organized hockey began in and around Ponoka in 1923, with most games being played on outdoor rinks that had to be cleared of snow before starting. The contest would run 60 minutes straight, with each team allowed to dress eight players. From the humble beginnings of pickup games, and the farm and commercial hockey leagues the longstanding Ponoka Senior Stampeders team was born in 1950s, and played for many exciting seasons in the rugged Central Alberta Hockey League. This popular and rugged team of local players and ex-pros attracted 4,000 fans to home games at the Ponoka Arena, rewarding them with many league titles, as well as a Western Canada Intermediate A Championship at the end of the 1955-56 season.

• The proud Stampeders’ name has carried on with the same gusto for many decades in our avid sports minded community. This includes the Ponoka Stampeders of the Alberta Junior A Hockey League, a member of the Chinook Hockey League, and ongoing Stampeders teams in the Heritage Junior B League and the Ponoka Minor Hockey program.

• If you have the opportunity during upcoming events at the Ponoka Complex, take some time to browse and enjoy all the many photos of our past and present hockey teams, stars, and their trophies, as well as visiting the curling rink lounge and viewing the colorful and longstanding history of that legendary game.