Richard Henry Slater came west with his parents and brother John from Watertown, S.D. in 1900, settling on a farm south of Ponoka, and then moving into the vibrant new town in 1904. This would mark the beginning of many generations of the Slater family, who together have helped to build our community, worked for many decades at the Provincial Mental Hospital, and farmed throughout the districts.
The diminutive young Slater finished his schooling in Ponoka, and then was employed at the Provincial Mental Hospital during the hectic planning and construction stages from 1910-1920. In 1917 he married Gertrude Weaver of Birmington, England, who had immigrated to Eastern Canada to take her training, and then later became the first psychiatric nurse on the staff of the mental hospital. As family began to arrive, Gertrude would take her first born to work with her during the gruelling 12-hour shifts, and along the way her and Dick were blessed with four children, Margaret, Bud, Floyd and Norman.
In 1920 R.H. Slater, who was now well known to everyone in town and districts as Dick, would purchase the busy dray line from Cliff Stickler. Along with trusty reinman Hobart Armstrong, the ambitious Slater would operate this busy community delivery service for an amazing 48 years, initially with a fine set of horses and wagons, then later with motorized equipment. Always very active in the community, Mr. Slater was a longstanding member of the Odd Fellows and Elks Lodges, as well as serving on the Sports Association and the Ponoka town council.
Along with her nursing career and raising a family, Gertrude was an avid volunteer with the Red Cross, knitting and sewing items for our soldiers during the war, and together the family would spend many joyous years in their Ponoka home.
As the family grew to adults, Floyd and Norman would marry and carry on the family tradition of farming, Margaret married Glenn Wolley and moved to the United States, and Bud married Vera King in 1949 while both employed at the Provincial Mental Hospital. Along the way, the Slater kin were blessed with eight children, including Dick and Linda for Margaret and Glen Wolley, Margaret Ann and Susan for Bud and Vera, Doug and Robert for Floyd and Phyliss, and Glen and Lorrie for Norman and Mary. Needless to say many grandchildren have followed over the years to carry on those proud family traditions.
Combining work and family was very important
Vera King was the youngest student to ever enter the nursing program at the Provincial Mental Hospital at Ponoka, completing her training from 1942 to 1946, and attaining her registered psychiatric nurse and registered nurse status. This ongoing extensive training program considered these men and women graduates to be dually prepared to work in a general hospital or psychiatric hospital setting.
It was during her training that Vera met Bud Slater. Bud worked in various levels at the maintenance shop of the massive PMH, attending to tasks with electrical, plumbing, carpentry, blueprints, and much more as a dedicated congenial employee until his death in 1978. Along the way, Bud and Vera were blessed with two children, Margaret Ann and Susan, who took all their schooling in Ponoka, with Margaret Ann later enjoying her summer student employment as a ward aide at the hospital. Like so many other people working at the Provincial Mental Hospital and around the community, their families were closely knit, and dependable babysitters, followed by quality time together away from the job and shift work were vitally important.
The Slaters always enjoyed being active in their girls’ activities, going on vacations, and being involved with neighbours, friends, and family. Bud really enjoyed making or fixing things, loved helping his brother, Norm, on the farm, and thrived on being busy and assisting others.
Vera has many fond and vivid memories of the 34 years that she worked at the Provincial Mental Hospital, and recalls the changes that have occurred for the role of nurses over that time span. Most of her busy career at the hospital included serving as a head nurse on various units, countless meetings, staff training and presentations, and the spearheading of continuous upgrading through in-service education to keep staff skill levels on a current and high quality basis.
Mrs. Slater explained that during those early days, the staff at the hospital would quickly develop into a family team, and as they were always short-staffed, they strived to work cohesively together to get the job done, each and every shift. She strongly feels that hospital patients have always benefited by this closeness and personal care, as it created a vital ongoing continuity of their care and treatment programs.
Previous to the late 1950s, much of the nursing care was custodial, then with the advent of tranquillizers, new medications, and modern treatment methods, it would all change. With the advent of community clinics and support, the admissions count would steadily drop at the hospital, smaller units were introduced, and patients were allowed more freedoms and exciting new therapeutic and social daily programs.
Among the many highlights of Vera’s long career at the hospital was being one of the originators of an adolescent unit (Apollo), which accommodated 30 disturbed young people who required care in a close setting. The students on Apollo were assimilated into some regular classes at the Ponoka Composite High School, as well as being introduced to the normal friendly stream and daily events of our local community.
Throughout her retirement, Vera Slater has kept busy in and around her favourite hometown, enjoys her comfortable suite at Legacy Place, and also finds quality for visiting and helping others, cooking, sewing, a little travelling, and staying in touch with her daughters, and grandchildren. She has served on the board of Ponoka Big Brothers/Sisters, is active as an executive member of the Provincial Mental Hospital Nursing Alumni, and has been a delightful and much appreciated daily volunteer at the Fort Ostell Museum for many years.
She offers sincere congratulations to the Centennial Centre for achieving their historical 100-year milestone, and is so proud that the Slater family has been an active part of it right from the beginning.