This amazing photo was taken in 1914 and features our town and district soldiers gathered at the Canadian Pacific Railway station in Ponoka preparing to board a big train that would take them to the various locations from which they would be assigned for service in the Armed Forces in Canada and overseas. This grand community send-off by families, relatives, neighbours, and friends has been repeated many times over the years as hundreds of men and women from Ponoka and surrounding communities have bravely left their homes to proudly serve their nation. Photo courtesy of the Fort Ostell Museum

Reflections: Ponoka before and after the war years

Looking back at Ponoka and when its young men and woman fought to defend the country

By Mike Rainone for the News

From the earliest beginnings of the rapid settlement of our community and rural areas our hardy pioneers and their ongoing generations have worked, played, and shared very hard together with great determination, sacrifices, and sheer grit while facing countless challenges along the way.

For well over a century of amazing growth, successes, and colourful history our rapidly expanding population from all nationalities and walks of life have bravely faced three World Wars, a horrific period of depression, and just about everything that nature, our environment, and the tests and stresses of everyday living could throw their way.

Those hardy first settler families started moving into this area in the 1880s, coming from across Canada, the United States, and later throughout the world, looking to establish their homesteads, their businesses, their livelihoods, and seek exciting new opportunities on the lush and rolling prairies. The invasion of these optimistic but eager newcomers grew at a very rapid pace, especially with the completion of the rough and rugged Calgary/Edmonton trail in 1886 and the Calgary and Edmonton Railway in 1891, which would quickly open up the lobbying and politics that would lead to the milestone event of a vibrant Ponoka proudly being declared as a town in 1904.

Along the way during these exciting events back here at home the dark clouds of rebellion grew throughout the world, which would eventually result in the Boer Wars of 1880 to 1902, and not long after that the ravages and horrific action of First World War from 1914 to 1918. The results in this area saw many young men called up for service in the Canadian Armed Forces and having to put down their tools, say farewell to their families, and join the confrontation. Once back home again the town and county districts and amenities began to grow by leaps and bounds on all fronts for two glorious decades, but then disaster struck once again in 1929 with the arrival of the dreaded depression. This devastating drought and famine would affect most areas throughout the nation until the late 1930s, and not long after that the Second World War would strike with great vengeance and shook the hemisphere until the much prayed for Declaration of ‘VE Day’ on May 7, 1945. Following are just a few tales and vivid memories of our Ponoka town and county residents who grew up and lived here during those most challenging times of hardships and survival.

• During the depression many people lost their jobs and their homes, and in order to seek work for food and very low wages they would often have to travel far away from home by way of railway boxcars, on horses, bikes, or even walking. Farm produce sold for very low prices, but thank goodness that the farmers could raise enough food for themselves as well as provide for their relatives and friends in town, while others raised livestock on their farms and acreages.

• With the declaration of war against Germany in September 1939 many of the local men and woman bravely went into service in the Army, Navy, Air-force, and Nursing Corps., both in Canada and overseas. Back at home, rationing of gasoline, sugar, coffee, tea, and butter began in full force in 1942 for everyone. As always over the years the Ponoka town and county districts would respond immediately by bravely carrying on and offering assistance on all fronts, supporting the war effort by working together and putting on functions to help make up the Red Cross care packages and warm clothing for our soldiers, as well as filling in at local businesses, on farms, and other areas who were missing employees who had enlisted to serve their nation. Even the young children of the community pitched in by going out with their bikes and wagons to pick up newspapers, scrap metal, silver paper, bottles, and rags to raise funds from recycling, while the school children knitted 10” by 10” squares to be sewn together to make blankets, as well as knitting mitts, socks, and other items to keep our soldiers warm.

• During the war the highway passing through Ponoka was jammed night and day by massive vehicles carrying troops, tanks, guns, and other vital equipment for the war effort, while the skies above were full of planes with Allied Pilots in training from the Penhold Airbase. Throughout the holocaust a total of 6,700 prisoners of war were brought to Canada, with some being located in southern Alberta.

• Once the Second World War was finally over hundreds of family members, relatives, and friends were thankfully finally coming home to Ponoka from the war, with many of our soldiers bringing wives, but so sadly there were also countless others who had given their lives to the war issue and will always be missed, honoured, and never forgotten for their dedicated service and sacrifices. As life after the war slowly started to get back to normal Ponoka would thankfully get its first General Hospital in 1946, the dreaded rationing was gone, and although funds were still meagre for most families, the lively town and districts began to thrive and grow once again in all directions. It wasn’t long before businesses, schools, new homes, churches, and many other services were popping up everywhere and there were lots more jobs available. These vibrant and determined citizens and hardy families were once again able to purchase all sorts of new farm machinery, recreation equipment, appliances, and other delightful amenities, and a happy new work and social life would began to bloom for family, friends, and neighbours, old and new, throughout the urban and rural areas.

One could sit and write for long hours so many great tales about the long and colourful history of the town and county of Ponoka. I will always enjoy browsing through the history books, as well as getting the opportunity of putting these stories together in individual settings and pictures, and that way I get to meet and chat with so many very special people each and every week. Our community has and always will make every effort to honour and show deep appreciation for those thousands of pioneer families, individuals, war veterans, and ongoing generations for their ongoing dedication and contributions to the amazing growth, successes, and milestones through the best and toughest of challenges over the past 125 years, and this powerful tradition and heritage must also be proudly carried into our bright and bustling future.

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