Reflections of Ponoka: The grand tradition of our local winter sports

Throughout the over 50 amazing years that I have had the great privilege of growing up and living

The curling rink at the Alberta Hospital was built by staff and volunteers and opened in early 1944. This two-sheet facility was a bee-hive of activity for many years

The curling rink at the Alberta Hospital was built by staff and volunteers and opened in early 1944. This two-sheet facility was a bee-hive of activity for many years

Throughout the over 50 amazing years that I have had the great privilege of growing up and living in and around Ponoka, I was always so very impressed with the overwhelming participation, support, friendship, pride, and spirit displayed in all areas of community sports and other recreation activities.

As hardy Albertans, we will soon be preparing to head into our cold but invigorating winter season, when our daily lifestyles and habits will change just a little bit, but to which we will adjust to face all challenges with our usual great gusto, grit, and enthusiasm. Many of the traditional winter sports and activities that we will choose to take part in and support have likely been around our community for countless decades, and have been firmly established, promoted and enjoyed by several generations of families. Of course, there have been a few exciting technical changes to our winter activity calendar along the way, with new sports and events being added, but the joy of the game will always be the same energetic and healthful pastime that young and old alike can always look forward to during the long months of snow and sunshine in and around our community.

The history and heritage of local sports

The early roots of our long-standing winter sports legacy likely started on outdoor patches of ice and in cold wooden arenas or curling rinks, community halls, in snowy parks, backyards or anywhere else where families, friends and neighbours chose to gather together and organize a game of fun. Hockey started outside with a stick and a ball in the 1700s, but today is now played in 73 countries, while the grand sport of curling was introduced to Canada in 1895 by Scottish miners in B.C., and the original rocks included sliding projectiles of iron, wood, jam cans, and granite and were even called ‘thunder mugs.’

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 Seniors’ Drop-in Centre now stands, but the roof collapsed under the weight of too much snow in 1925. Our first major community curling rink was built in the same area and thanks to the overwhelming support, the mortgage was paid off during the 1938-39 season and a complete set of second-hand rocks was purchased for $20. Yearly curling fees for the Ponoka Curling Club were $10 for seasoned men and women and $6 for green curlers and students. This keen sport of curling became so popular that a whistle had to be blown to make sure that the 7 p.m. draw would start on time and be done in time for the 9 p.m. event every night.

The first official curling bonspiel was hosted in Ponoka in 1927 and attracted 15 of the best rinks from our town and district and throughout the province. As the popularity of the game increased, several small and very active curling rinks began popping up throughout the county and at the Alberta Hospital. In the 1950s, an amazing total of 85 rinks were competing in the weeklong perennial Ponoka Town and County Bonspiel at the Ponoka Arena, and other curling competitions were being organized each season for all age groups from adults, children, schools, families and seniors. In the early days, the curling fanatics had to wait for the weather to get cold enough before they could make ice, but on the most frigid days, the ice would swing and snap in many weird ways, while the ardent curling fraternity always prayed that the spring melt would not come to early to spoil their fun. Once artificial ice was introduced, the season lasted much longer, was more organized, and the curlers can now finesse the rocks into those big colored circles from October to April in our first class facility at the Ponoka Culture and Recreation Complex.

Organized hockey began in and around Ponoka in 1923, with most games played on outdoor rinks, which had to be cleared of snow before starting. The rugged contests on the wind-blown rink across from where the town hall now stands would run 60 minutes straight with each team allowed to dress eight players. From the most humble beginnings of pick-up games and road hockey sessions, the spirited local farm hockey and commercial leagues were born, and then in the 1950s, the legendary Ponoka Stampeders’ senior ‘A’ team was established and would thrill thousands of avid local and central Alberta fans for many decades, while winning countless C.A.H.L., provincial, and Western Canada championships along the way. That proud Stampeder name and great spirit of community hockey has continued to this day, from our earlier Junior ‘A’ and Chinook Hockey League teams, to the present Heritage Junior ‘B’ squad, and the countless ambitious boys and girls who compete in our Ponoka Minor Hockey program at the Ponoka complex or Kinsmen outdoor rink. One of the other annual popular winter sports at the twin-sheet facility is figure skating, which has been hosted by the local club since 1947 with hundreds of girls and boys from tots to teens learning their delicate figures and dances and preparing for their annual glitzy carnival in April.

Of course there are also many other winter sports, some that have been around for years and others that are now a new adventure. Outdoors there will be those energetic individuals or families who love to ski or fire up their snow machines, others who will retire to their fish huts to try and catch the big one for dinner, and the younger set will take to the biggest hills for sledding and sliding. Many sports will move inside during the cold months, with lots of school and adult activities going on at our local gymnasiums as well as thrilling events at the spacious Calnash Ag Event Centre, the bowling leagues are now open, the drop-in centre has many activities for seniors, our gymnastic club will soon have a new facility, the Aquaplex plays host to all sorts of aquatic activities, and there will always l be so many others. Whatever sport activity you may choose this winter, as a participant, a coach, a parent, a volunteer or a fan, please have fun, play safe, and get everyone else involved in what can be also great social events.