By Patti Sweet Davidson and Mike Rainone
This is only the first part of a double whammy to be presented on the Reflections Page of the Ponoka News, and the reason for that is there is so much to say about the Sweet family, whose roots were first set in this district in the early 1900s, and have expanded rapidly, to say the least. Even without filling you in on the events covering 300 years or so before the following colorful history unfolds, it looks like it will be a fairly long tale and we hope that you will enjoy the proud family heritage that began so many decades ago with the union of George Weeden Sweet (1869-1956) and Emma Ashley (Shively) Sweet (1873-1956).
I told my Grade 3 teacher that my parents came over on the Mayflower, and I also used to boast of common ancestry with both Davey Crockett and Edgar Allen Poe. I was eventually set straight on the inaccuracy of the Mayflower statement, which was a misunderstanding caused perhaps by my failure to differentiate between pioneers and pilgrims, and I also realized that a certain dedication would be required to unearth the truth regarding my other two possible misconceptions! So when I was asked if I would be interested in submitting a history of the Sweet family in the Ponoka area it was very obvious that I was going to need some reliable information. Lucky for me, our family historian, Carol Murray, was amenable to the edification of yours truly. I had previously consulted a compilation by a distant relative that covered the years from 1632 onwards, but there was no way to get it all straight, what with dozens of Marys, Constances, Johns, Williams, and Amelias…..I was exasperated until I ran across later, much more interesting appellations like Stutely or Ezehiah for men, and Renewed, Joyous, Thankful, Patience, Mercy, Roby, Mereba, and Antha for women. Unfortunately, by that point I was simply distracted by the names and did not really absorb any real pertinent historical information. My aim here is to summarize the Sweets’ arrival in Alberta from Nebraska, as well as to identify some of their adventures, as well as their ongoing descendants who still inhabit our local community!
My Grandmother Sweet’s mother, Cora, was born a Crockett (aha!) in Harrison, Ohio in 1849, one of a set of twins to Jonathan and Jane Crockett. She married Henry Bacon Shively, who was also born in 1849 but in Penn., and after their marriage they travelled to Nebraska to live. They had five children, one of whom turned out to be my grandmother, Emma, after she married George Weeden Sweet. Another girl, Bertha, married George’s brother, Amos Leroy, both weddings taking place in Nebraska in 1892. So hence my relationship to the “Morningside Sweets,” about whom I lack the necessary genealogy but will try to acquire for a future story.
My grandparents first lived in Iowa, where they welcomed their first daughter, Nellie, in 1903, and then moved to Surprise, Neb., where five of their 10 children were born, including Ollie (1895), Olive (1897), Dorothy (1899), Fred (1901), and Miriam (1903). Here, the Sweets farmed, raised mules and natural high-stepping coach horses, as well as purchasing, then finishing and training mounts for the United States Cavalry. The family tried to make a go of it for about 11 years but the irresistibility of a prosperous future in Canada eventually led to a migration to Alberta, which wasn’t yet a province when they came. The Shively family had already settled in the Ponoka area in 1902.
The new family adventures in Alberta
Then it was Emma Sweet, with six children in tow and another in the oven (I hope that my daughter sees this as she complains of the inconveniences of one) boarded the train in 1905, and after a gruelling five day trip arrived at Morningside. Here, they would stay with her aunt Susie (Cora’s sister) and her husband Ephraim Palmers, patiently awaiting the of the arrival of their husband and father George, who would show up in a couple of weeks accompanied by his older brother, William (Uncle Bill) along with supplies, cattle, machinery, chickens, a dog and three cats. Bessie was born that spring at Morningside.
Uncle Bill and the George Sweets homesteaded in the Springdale district on the east fork of the Blindman River out Bluffton way, and about six years later they settled north of Ponoka near Meniak, with Bill buying an adjacent quarter. The eighth child, Edward George (my Uncle Ted) was born in 1907 while the family was living in Springdale, then two more sons, Don in 1911 and Amos in 1913, were added to the flock after they arrived in Meniak. Apparently, for 20 consecutive years, there were between one and four Sweet kids attending the Ponoka Composite High School. The family was always busy, farming, gardening, and raising Red Poll cattle. My grandfather worked building the Provincial Mental Hospital in 1910 and 11, and then later Fred and Ted began construction of the buildings at Meniak that would become the perennial and popular mechanic’s garage and living quarters that contained a general store and post office, with gas pumps in the yard. My Uncle Fred and wife Pearl operated the business there until my parents, Amos and Franky Sweet took over in 1941.
Please watch for the continuing chapters of the Sweet family saga in future editions of Reflections in your Ponoka News