Reflections of Ponoka: The fine farming tradition of the Bednar family

In the colorful early history of the prairies, the proud tradition of farming has always been front and centre, with the deep and growing

Elsie Bednar with her marvelous horse Edith in 1926 down on the farm.

Elsie Bednar with her marvelous horse Edith in 1926 down on the farm.

In the colorful early history of the prairies, the proud tradition of farming has always been front and centre, with the deep and growing roots of countless families leading the way in establishing the bright and prosperous future of our thriving urban and rural communities. From the Eastside, Seafield, and surrounding districts in the County of Ponoka, several generations of the Bednar family have excelled and left a lasting impression in the rolling fields of agriculture, and that proud tradition still carries on.

First Bednar family came from Nebraska

Martin Bednar was born in Czechoslovakia in 1876, and his parents Frank and Mary Bednar brought him to Nebraska, U.S.A. when he was only four years old. In 1900, he married Mary Holecek, who had been born in Nebraska of Czech parents, and then in 1910 they embarked on the long journey with their young children William, Gustave, Martha, and Martin, finally arriving in the friendly little town of Ponoka.

Martin worked as a blacksmith in Ponoka, where the family lived in a home near the old town hall, but in 1913 the ‘farming fever’ took over and they moved onto their first homestead in the Seafield district. Martin’s parents, Frank and Mary, later joined them, and they all lived together in a palatial home that stood on a hill between the railroad and the Calgary Trail. All the children attended Seafield School, while Grandpa Frank still loved farming and leading the teams of horses with the walking plow and breaking many acres of land. Eleanor was born in 1917 and the family moved a half a mile west to the buildings that were later known as the ‘MB Ranch’, and was shared, farmed, and expanded over the years by Bill, Martin and Gus Bednar families until it was destroyed by a stubble fire in 1937.

As a skilled blacksmith, Martin continued to excel at his trade, fashioning such great vehicles as a Bennet Wagon, a classic Bob Sled with a coupe on top, a huge 1927 combine that was pulled by 12 horses, and on and on. Mary was a master of fine Czech pastry, as well as a long-standing member of the Seafield Ladies’ Club and the F.W.U.A. They retired to Ponoka in 1945, celebrated their 60th anniversary in 1960, and lived happily together and enjoyed their family times for many years, with Martin passing away in 1965 at the age of 89 and Mary in 1970 at the age of 88.

Gus and Katherine Bednar

Gus Bednar farmed with his father Martin and brother Bill in the early years, then later rented the Charlie Segerstrom land northwest of Ponoka as well as three quarters at Nebraska. He loved toiling in the summer with his four-horse team building highways as far north as Stony Plain. Also an avid athlete, Gus played ball with the Pleasant Hill team and hockey with Seafield, loved dancing and music, and was an accomplished violinist.

In November 1932, he married Katherine (Dollie) Fink of the Hazel Hill district, and lived in a house on the first Bednar farm, raising their constantly growing family of Ronald, Richard, Marilyn, Frank, Bernard, and Larry. They moved to the Slepicka farm in the spring of 1936, where Gus built more buildings, raised horses and cows, and loved to thresh each fall with Dick Jones and the crew throughout the districts for many years. Vivid family memories included tough farming with only horses through the ‘dirty 30’s’, but the thankful return of the Beavers in 1938, as well as purchasing more farm land from Clayton Hepburn in 1943. Frank took over the farming after Gus died suddenly in 1961, then Bernard moved home in 1962 to share the ongoing work.

William and Elsie Bednar

William Bednar, always fondly known as Bill, was 9 years old when his family moved to Ponoka. He attended school in town and later at Seafield, and as a young lad became very skilled at driving large teams of half-wild horses used in the field work. In 1929, he married Elsie Kendell from Tofield, and they would later live in a house on the banks of Wolf Creek, just west of his parents’ homestead.

Through the toughest of times, Bill and Elsie always strived to bring a keen mood of optimism, as well as the meaning of true values and joy to the Eastside district. Along the way, he assured all families that working together with the farming, the threshing, the wood sawing and the chores would always make it easier and even fun to succeed and carry on. His constant clowning and joking would perk up everyone, young and old, and Bill would always be there to help out, no matter what. Elsie, who taught school at Eastside from 1948 to 1950, was also a true homemaker, and although they had only one child, Joyce, their home was always open to other children, as well as friends and neighbours over the years. Bill, who purchased the Eakin farm in 1946, was always active in community affairs, especially the Farmer’s Union, and received the distinction of being named as the ‘Bacon Champion’ of the Ponoka area in 1961.

Bill passed away at the young age of 62 years in 1964 and Elsie later moved into Ponoka, where she enjoyed taking in boarders in her big house and pampering them with her wonderful meals and baked goods. Elsie taught Sunday school for many years, and it was her constant ‘polite nagging’ that finally got the iron railing built in front of the United Church. Her failing eyesight forced her to give up her favourite pass-times of bowling, quilting, driving, scrabble and other pleasures, and she passed away peacefully at the Ponoka Hospital in 1991 at the age of 89 years.


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