This magnificent home was built in 1917 for George D. and Tillie Clark at 5120 52nd Avenue, where they lived and raised their family of six until 1954. Known as one of the earliest and largest homes in early Ponoka, the two story house was then sold to Glen and Martha Johnston, who along with their family of seven children became very active in the community and rural districts, as well as pursuing colourful careers in business and politics. The Johnstons sold the home to the Oliphant family in 1995, and they continue to proudly maintain its grand traditions and splendour to the present day. Photo by Jeffrey Heyden-Kaye

Reflections: The Johnston family and one of Ponoka’s largest early homes

A look at an early home in Ponoka, which at the time was one of Ponoka’s largest

By Noreen Olson and Mike Rainone for the Ponoka News

George D . Clark came to Ponoka in 1901 from Cashel, N.D.

George was a grain buyer who wanted some land of his own to raise cattle. He heard of free land in Alberta and came to Ponoka as a jumping off place but liked the area so well that he stayed here and brought his wife and children.

His wife was the former Matthilda Mattern. Her brothers and some of their Mattern cousins, also from N.D. by way of Norway, soon filed in the same area and also became Albertans. George and Tillie’s children were; Jennie, 12; Ethel, 10; Edythe, eight, Donor, six and baby Myrle. Another son Harold was born after they came to Ponoka. They lived first in the Brooksona District and then moved to the Chesterwold area 19 miles northwest of Ponoka where they bought Hudson Bay land Section 8-44-27-W-4. They built a house on the Chesterwold section but when it burned in 1910 they moved into town where Mr. Clark followed his old trade as Grain Buyer for Alberta Pacific Grain Co. He also had a retail coal business.

In 1917 they built the house at 5120 52 Avenue right across the street north of the Catholic Church. The house has been continuously occupied since then and is probably Ponoka’s oldest private residence and is still in good condition. It would have been an imposing sight in 1917 as it was the biggest house in town and was set on two lots. It had a cast concrete basement with a coal bin, furnace, central heating, and an 8x8x8 cement cistern that caught rain water, which was hand pumped upstairs to the kitchen sink. A door from the basement led to cement steps and a big double door that lay parallel to the ground and gave access to the outside. The house was 26×40 and two storied. There was a generous covered verandah off the front door and from the second storey a railed, open deck accessed from an upstairs bedroom. The front door featured an oval, four-foot long, bevelled glass window, a seriously demanding hand-cranked doorbell and opened into an entry that contained a generously proportioned stairway, under stairs storage closet and the door to the living room. The living room was large as was the adjoining dining room. Also on the main floor was kitchen, pantry, one bedroom, the bathroom, which featured a cast iron tub and flush toilet, and the back entry. Upstairs were three bedrooms and a walk in attic.

The main floor had nine foot ceilings, 10-inch clear fir baseboards as well as door casings, stairwells of fir, along with matching three-inch picture rails. The entire house was back plastered throughout every inside wall. Floors were all hardwood. On the west wall of the dining room were big windows with a built-in window seat. The dining room table accommodated 12 comfortably, 15 if necessary. The south and west facing living room windows were also very large for the day. The outside finish was stucco.

The Clark children were mostly grown by the time the house was built so entertaining involved adult parties, weddings and teas. In about 1922 to 24 Tillie’s niece Martha Mattern, daughter of John Mattern, boarded with the Clarks while she worked at Edward’s Dry Goods Store, downtown. Mr. Clark died June 30, 1926 at age 64 but Tillie lived on in the house until 1954 when she went to live with her daughter Ethel Woods in Burnaby B.C. She died Sept. 8, 1956 at the age of 87.

Tillie’s neice, Martha Mattern Johnston, had always loved the house and when Matthilda decided to go live with her daughter, the house and its contents were sold to Martha and Glen Johnston. Glen was the Social Credit MLA 1952 -1967, Martha clerked and did alterations at Dress Rite Ladies Wear and their four youngest children; Noreen, Howie, Dale and Donna were still at home. The three older children, Marjie, (Roy Kinley) Allan (Gwynneth McGonigal) and Ronny (Jeanette Archambeault) were now married and producing the first of the 18 grandchildren that would fill the house with noise, laughter and excitement.

For the next 42 years the house was a hub of activity. Four wedding parties came down the wide staircase, showers, birthday parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, innumerable family dinners, and dozens of guests, some invited and some a total surprise. Glen hosted Social Credit policy meetings and guests that included Ernest Manning and members of the Cabinet. He met with constituents in his office in the front hall, there were boarders in one of the upstairs rooms and the kids joked that if they came in late they had to check their bed in case it was already occupied by some friend, relative or stranger in crisis.

During this time there were upgrades to the house. The enormous coal furnace had already been converted to natural gas but some of the wiring and plumbing needed attention, most of the floors became either carpet or lino and the stucco was covered in siding. Martha loved wallpaper and she chose designs that complemented the high ceilings and lovely woodwork. The four younger children, Noreen (Ralph Olson) Howie (Gail Pratt) Dale (Dianne Friestad) Donna (Jack Howden) established their own homes and careers and in about 1985 Marjie moved in with her parents to help them in their retirement. She too loved the house and she and Martha added window boxes, hanging plants and climbing vines to the front verandah.

By this time Dale was first, a county councillor and then Reeve, of the County of Ponoka. He and his wife Dianne had their own home and farm in the Dakota area, in fact, part of his farm bordered on the land George Clark owned in 1910. Dale stopped often to see his parents and he oversaw any repairs or maintenance so the house was still a part of his life. He became Reform MP in October 1993, served the Canadian Alliance and Conservatives until January 2006.

Glen died in 1991 and when Martha died in 1995 the house was sold to the Oliphant family, who treasure it and continue to look after the majestic 101 year old structure to this day. Meanwhile, the longstanding and colourful traditions of both the Clark and Johnston families have proudly carried on through countless generations.

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