Reflections of Ponoka: The exciting saga of early Ponoka–area families

One of the most enjoyable projects of my retirement years is browsing through history books and photos, as well as chatting

Ben and Jenny Fink on the porch of their first country home.

Ben and Jenny Fink on the porch of their first country home.

One of the most enjoyable projects of my retirement years is browsing through history books and photos, as well as chatting with relatives and friends of early families and individuals who settled in our town and rural districts so many decades ago. I have found each have their unique story, full of adventure, joy and sorrow, as well as extreme hardships and challenges. But through each colorful chapter, there were always countless amazing accomplishments that along the way have been a major factor in the ongoing success and growth of the community that we so proudly call home.

In honour of our heritage, the Ponoka News is pleased to be able to continue to salute our early pioneers and milestones each week on our Reflections and Remember When feature page.

One of Ponoka’s first, always jovial butchers.

Fritz Bachor arrived in the United States from Germany in 1893 and then three years later embarked upon a gruelling journey on horseback into the rugged Northwest Territories of Canada. Upon returning to Red Deer, Bachor discovered that it had been such a dry year in the area that the Battle Rivers and others were only a mere trickle and there were cracks in the ground wide enough for a man to put his arm in.

He would work in various jobs, eventually taking a homestead in the Reo School District in 1902, but being a butcher by trade, he decided to purchase the Pioneer Meat Market in the new Town of Ponoka in 1907/08. This necessitated living closer to town, so in an April 1909 edition of the Ponoka Herald he offered his quarter section for sale at $10 an acre and then went out and bought the Kennedy part of N.W. of the 6th. Fritz erected his abattoir just west of a steep hill, where he later added a smokehouse and other buildings. He quickly became known as a determined man who always built everything for strength and durability and his extreme skills were prominently featured in his palatial country home. The history books tell us that Bachor once built a trailer so securely that it could not be moved and in later years new owners found it nearly impossible to dismantle or move his masterpieces of wood and brick.

Mr. and Mrs. Bachor were widely known as energetic workers as well as happy and cheerful neighbours, who were often seen driving their horses and van to the shop in town or dawning their buffalo coats in the winter and going for visits with their horse and cutter. The Bachors’ fine store in Ponoka was always full of the finest meat and many other products and would serve a growing list of customers from town and districts until 1940. They sold the farm in 1948, and then moved into their fine new home on Fisher’s Hill. Fritz Bachor’s longstanding golden rule: “Never entertain the thought of defeat, because with all your determination, you must always say to yourself, I can and I will!”

Ben and Jennie Fink

Ben Fink was born in Oregon in 1878, grew up in Wisconsin, then later taught school and worked in a store in Montana. In the early spring of 1911 he purchased 724 acres just north of Menaik, then went to work and bached with his hired man, surviving mostly on the fine bread and goodies baked by the neighbourly Mrs. Charles Park Sr.

Ben’s fiancée, Jennie Fountain, a schoolteacher from Paradise, Mont. Arrived in June and they were married on June 27, 1911 at the Ponoka Catholic Church. Jennie had made her first trip to Alberta with her family by covered wagon to Wetaskiwin in 1896 but returned to Idaho a year later. At first there was no house for the newlyweds so they had to live in tents until the summer when Ben’s father, Joseph, and Jennie’s uncle, Jim McLeod, came up from the United States to settle and help them build their first home. Vivid memories told of the first framework of the home being totally flattened when two hailstorms met head on.

Over those long but happy years of hard work and dedication, 10 children were born into this union: Helen, Katherine, James, Mary, Bernard, Roger, Rita, Jean, Gerald and Josephine. Helen, Katherine and Jim initially rode their horse, Cricket, to school at Arbor Park but other country schools were later established in the area for all the children to attend. The initial farming operations of the Finks’ 724 acres and McLeod’s 240-acre spread was an arduous task, requiring many men, as well as 27 horses working together for clearing, planting, harvest and other year-round tasks. Their first tractor was acquired in 1920, and many of the Fink family’s hired hands looked forward to returning to work for them for many seasons, including a Russian count by the name of Alex Kazimbek, who also dressed in white to play classical music on the piano or to entertain the folks from the district by reading their minds.

On many occasions around that busy and happy homestead there would be 17 regulars for dinner, as well as 25 visitors from near and far staying overnight. Ben, his wife and family also loved to raise and tend to his Holstein cattle, Percheron horses, Yorkshire pigs, Suffield sheep, chickens and turkeys.

Ben and Jennie and their children were always very active in the social affairs in Arbor Park, enjoying taking part in plays, socials, card parties, picnics, and dances, as well as belonging to local clubs, attending the Catholic Parish, and of course in many happy hours of baseball, hockey, swimming or skating on the Battle River. In the spring of 1932 the family moved to the Joseph Fink farm in the Hazel Hill district, where the rest of the busy family history unfolded, and of course the many generations have continued to thrive and carry on the keen family spirit and traditions to the present day and long into the future.