Reflections of Ponoka: The golden early era of Ponoka garages and owners

In the early years when Ponoka became a town, the bustling community quickly came to life with the arrival

In 1925 Donar Clark built the Maple Leaf Garage

In 1925 Donar Clark built the Maple Leaf Garage

In the early years when Ponoka became a town, the bustling community quickly came to life with the arrival of many new businesses, homes, schools, churches and other facilities that would be needed to serve a fast growing population of families and individuals in both the urban and rural areas. The only form of transportation for our pioneers at the turn into the 19th century were the always reliable horse and a few oxen and temperamental donkeys, who faithfully pulled the wagons, buggies, plows, machines, and whatever else was necessary to carve a tough but exciting new life out of the prairies.

The most prominent local hangouts in those colorful days were likely sawmills, hotels, the train station, the post office and the livery stables. Then, after a steady growth surge in all areas, it was around 1916 when the whole world would change forever with the exciting arrival of a noisy and dusty assortment of all sorts of cars and trucks, as well as a heavy fleet of tractors and farm machinery. These smoky, slow moving, but somewhat amazing inventions were designed to take everyone into a new era of easier and more efficient modes of travel, work and play, and would soon be arriving on the CPR train every day at the Ponoka station. It was rather sad to see the many livery stables and hitching rails fall quiet, but they were quickly replaced by a host of garages and machinery dealerships that would be required to fill this motorized mania with gas, as well as fix, sell and service these mostly plain and family jalopies, as well as a primp and pamper a few fancy models. Their rather spectacular arrival on the scene would hopefully evolve into a bright future in the fields of transportation and progress for citizens far and wide.

The wheels of progress rolled on

The first vehicles that were unloaded from the flat-cars in Ponoka had radiators that were filled with water (anti-freeze hadn’t been invented), so they would freeze up in the winter, and had to be thawed out with hot water. They also broke down a lot and had to be towed home or to one of the many new up and coming garages in town, where the first skilled mechanics would become much sought-after gentleman and small town heroes. Here is just a little history of the exciting, quite often hilarious beginnings of our automotive era, when the roads were terrible and the driving habits worse, but somehow they usually managed to eventually get to where they were going..

● Henry Taylor was believed to have been the first person to open a garage in Ponoka, which was a tiny shop in the north end with a big sign ‘Garage’ painted on the front that brought a lot fine citizens to wonder what on earth it was for. Bert Pendleton opened a large garage in the area what is now the Capital Theatre, which sold and serviced the extremely popular first Ford cars. In 1916, Mr. Neff, a former local jeweller would set up a car business next to Algar’s log store on 50 Street, and then in 1921, helped to build the first Chevrolet garage, which many years later would become Badry Sales and Service. Lux and Stephens opened the first Highway Service garage south of the Royal Hotel in 1920, and then two years later Johnny James sold Massey Harris Implements across from the theatre, and then added the English Essex cars in 1927.

● Even during the ‘dirty 30s’, there were close to 15 garages or service stations operating in Ponoka, all waging a keen competition in price wars on gas and cars, as well as offering many free perks to customers. After the depression, many other garages and service stations appeared on the landscape to serve the public, including Cornel and Honn, Milton Leek, and McKelvey Motors.

● In the 1940s, some of the most prominent car-truck and farm implement dealerships appeared on the busy streets of Ponoka. District farmer Jewel Stretch opened our first bulk fuel station at the bottom of Fisher Hill in 1941, and then in 1947, would add the posh Mercury/Lincoln line of vehicles to his showrooms. Just across the street another new facility, which still hosts a specialized vehicle business, was erected and over the decades has played host to several successful dealerships, including: Derksen Motors (Volkswagen), Walton/Pushak Farm Machinery, and Hal Nelson’s Midway Pontiac. In 1940 the ultra-modern Wilder’s Motors Garage was built on 51st Avenue, and would faithfully service the community for 28 years.

● Along the way there would be many more entrepreneurs and true ‘community characters’ who came into this progressive town and got involved in the garage, and auto dealership business as well as many other activities.  Some of these included: Skinner and Wilkinson, Skinner and Labrie, Loucks Motors (George also served as Mayor for many years), Ed Wilkie at Husky Motors, Gerry Nelson, Ralph Bartram, Jerome Kraft,  Jim Mark,  Johnston and James, Al Shantz, Sid Kruse, Greg McMann, Larry Baisley, Irl Harris and so many other great and colorful promoters. Of course, the lucrative vehicle industry has changed just a little over the years, but the same great grand tradition of fine products and service, and keen competition will always remain the same, despite the fact that the prices are just a little higher and the technology is out of this world.