The first ever ‘building boom’ for Ponoka and surrounding villages and countryside likely began in the late 1800s, as excited families of settlers converged on the fertile land of opportunity from throughout Canada, the United States and overseas. These hardy pioneers would carve and fashion their initial homesteads and businesses out of the wilderness, utilizing the bountiful gifts that nature had to offer.
As the demand for precious lumber grew very rapidly, large sawmills were built and massive booms of freshly cut spruce and pine logs from stands around Pigeon Lake were floated down the Battle River. While hunting and fishing served to supply food and furs and the new farms were busy raising cattle and crops; many of the early supplies and mail would be delivered by wagon train along the initial Edmonton/Calgary trail or by daily train on the main Canadian Pacific Railway line.
The A.B. Rowley Sawmill was established on the river flats at the north end of Ponoka in 1904 and at the peak of operation was cutting over 20,000 board feet of lumber a day. Logs would average 16 inches to two feet in diameter and the huge saw blades were powered by a steam boiler. Several other lumber mills were also established in the area, as Ponoka had now become a town and the exciting new growth featured the construction of homes, hotels, farm buildings, schools, churches, hospitals, a wide variety of businesses and whatever else the future trends and activities would be required.
Our first ‘ready cut homes’ were on the market by 1904 at a cost of $100 to $300, which included delivery by train to local stations, but the buyer was responsible to get them home over the rugged terrain and then put them together. As our local mills became too small and slow to keep up with the demand, larger companies were popping up all over Alberta and British Columbia to harvest more trees for lumber. New companies such as Revillon, Aladdin, Eatons, Sears, Revelstoke and many others were also coming on board to manufacture alternative products such us blocks, steel, bricks, tin, cement, shingles, paint, doors, windows, wire and whatever else was required to satisfy new designs and requests.
A daily event in town for many of those early years was the unloading from the long lines of freight cars along the track siding of hundreds of tons of various material and supplies, which were in turn loaded by workers onto horse drawn wagons to be delivered to their destinations. This is how all of the early building material and supplies were taken to the Ponoka Mental Hospital sight, as well as the new patients who came in on the passenger trains.
As the sawmills were slowly shutting down around the Village of Ponoka, lumberyards began to take their place. Among the first was Courtwright’s lumber on 50th Avenue in 1900, while the Mundy Lumber Company is also mentioned and was taken over in 1908 by the new Revelstoke Company.
Local entrepreneur George E. Bowker added a lumber store to his funeral director’s business in 1920, which he operated until 1947 when it was sold to the Beaver Lumber Store chain and then was later expanded.
In 1951 Albert Rossander came to Ponoka and purchased the Fertile Valley Creamery building, then transformed it into a long-standing and successful door and window sash business. In 1952 Mr. and Mrs. Alva Crandall opened a lumber business on Railway Street directly across from the elevators, which was purchased by Oliver Johnson and son in 1969 but unfortunately later burnt to the ground.
The Revelstoke Lumber yard served customers in Ponoka and districts for many years, later adding a transit mix. One popular manager who stayed for many years and was very much involved in our community was M.E. Granlund, who also served a stint as town councilor and mayor.
Ponoka Co-operative expansion in the 1950s included the UFA Farm Supply store, which still operates across from the Ponoka Composite High School. Teralta Lumber was opened by Bill Wilson on Highway 2A about 1960 and was sold to Sommers Brothers Contractors in 1971; a family business which has continued to operate and expand in the Ponoka Industrial Park to this day. There have been others such as Lo Cost Lumber, Ponoka Cabinet Makers, Wilson Building Supplies and Ponoka Building Supplies; all who over the years have kept up the tradition of turning fine lumber and products into superb homes and buildings. If I have forgotten any, I am sure that you will let me know.