Alice Brekke

Reflections: Saluting Ponoka’s pioneer ladies

Looking at Ponoka’s history and the ladies who helped build it

By Mike Rainone for the News

For more than a decade the Reflections and Remember When features in your Ponoka News have told the story of the long and colourful history of our town and surrounding county districts.

These stories and photos have proudly highlighted the generations of families, individuals, special events, and so much more that has assured the ongoing and outstanding legacy and countless successes that so many citizens of all ages continue to enjoy to this day.

During the celebration of the Ponoka centennial in 2004, a booklet was put together to honour the outstanding contributions of the pioneer ladies of our community and surrounding districts. This scrapbook now has a permanent home at the Fort Ostell Museum for everyone to see and the Ponoka News is pleased to bring their colourful stories and photos to our readers in future editions.

Cora Amalyne Wing Cissell

Cora Wing was born in 1873 near Sutton in Brome, County, Que. and immigrated at a young age to South Dakota with her parents David and Julia Wing. She married Frank Cissell in 1894, and after many crop failures on their Dakota homesteads a group of farmers led by David Win and E. R. Olmstead looked to the north west for a better place to live. They arrived in Ponoka, Alberta, Canada in 1900 and because they wanted enough land to settle a complete neighbourhood of folks from the Dakotas they chose an area located about 15 miles west of town at the present sight of the historical Dakota Church. In those early days before roads and bridges it was a difficult task to cross the Battle River, so they had to devise their own ways to get to their new homesteads. Among those first homesteaders arriving in the fall of 1900 were Cora and Frank Cissell and their two children, Florence (McClaflin), who was born in 1895 and George Cissell in 1896 and then Lodema, Emma, and Merl were welcomed along the way.

The new district of Dakota grew quite rapidly and Cora quickly became involved in the development of the community, having the great honour of christening the first school in the new Dakota School community. This settlement would also need a cemetery, so in 1902 it was situated on land kindly donated by David Wing and E.R. Olmstead, and the first trustees of the Dakota Cemetery were George Hoar and Cora Cissell, a position in which she faithfully served (as well as a term as President) until her death in 1940. To this day four generations of Cissells are still doing their part to continue Cora’s work and involvement in caring for and serving the Dakota Cemetery Association over the past 116 years. In those challenging early years where everyone toiled very hard on their farms this dedicated couple also did so much to assist others in the Dakota district and beyond, Cora helping with the undertaking when a death occurred while Frank helped prepare the caskets. Not only was Cora there to help when life left this world, she also acted as a mid-wife and assisted in bringing over 200 newborns into the new community, and because of the distance to Ponoka and a doctor not always being available she also tended to many a sick person and made her home available for their care.

The Cissell home was always host to many community get-togethers, and Frank and Cora and their family always loved to organize delightful blueberry picking trips each August and served those amazing pies at countless social gatherings. This ongoing and pioneer spirit dominated and thrived in those most challenging years because they all needed each other to survive, and it was so much better for everyone when there were those who were so unselfishly willing to offer themselves in times of need. Cora Cissell was one of those kind and amazing ladies.

Alice Brekke

When Alice Brekke moved to Ponoka in 1935 with her new husband Howard her extreme talent at the keyboard and her love for others would instantly become the wonderful gifts that she gave to her community for so many years. At their unique home which still stands along 48th Avenue there was always an open door to people who needed help, as well as a pair of hands and a willing heart when music was required for any occasion. Howard was the popular maintenance supervisor at the Provincial Mental Hospital, and their busy family grew to include sons Allister and David and a daughter Marleen.

Alice also became the director of the junior choir at the Ponoka United Church and then later the church organist and the Senior Choir director. She also taught piano and voice lessons throughout the community and accompanied her students and any others who needed a piano for their performances in countless festivals and other entertainment events. The congenial Mrs. Brekke also played for innumerable brides at their weddings, eased the passing of many Ponoka folks at their funerals, as well as willingly playing for the Kinettes at their annual fashion shows and blood donor clinics, and loved to join in with the band at numerous dances and socials. She really enjoyed sewing costumes for the Figure Skating Club as well as dressing up for most of the gala events that she attended over the years.

Alice Brekke was also very active in the Ponoka General Hospital Auxiliary, the United Church Women, the Home and School, The Eastern Star, and served as the president of the local Red Cross and on the Alberta Council for Aging. A fine lady with a keen sense of humour and a big heart Alice always jumped to the occasion when anyone needed a ride somewhere or some baking for a fundraiser, faithfully visited the patients in the hospital as well as shut-ins, and took many a meal to the door to ease a time of trouble and sorrow somewhere around town. It was in the 1970s that Alice Brekke started the Sunshine Singers for the pure joy that it gave her and the other members a chance to make music and bring joy throughout the community. Even after she suffered a cerebral aneurism and became a patient at the Northcott Lodge and while both her sight and her hearing were failing she would still entertain her fellow residents, staff, and visitors on the keyboard.

When asked on one of her visits to Scotland where her accent was from, she didn’t say Canada or even Alberta, she just sincerely replied ‘I am from Ponoka,’ because that was where her heart was.

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