Throughout the early growth on the Alberta Prairies, each community, big or small, including our own Town and County of Ponoka, has proudly developed their own unique personalities, stories, characters and events that should always be told and never forgotten. As I browse each week through the history books, I really look forward to finding so many delightful vignettes of our colorful past, which I can, in turn, share with you in words and pictures.
*In the very early days most weddings and even funerals were held in the local hotels because the first churches were too small to hold everyone who wished to attend.
*The first sitting of the very popular and long-standing Ponoka Burn’s Night celebration was held in the posh dining room of the Royal Hotel, at which Mr. George Gordon, founder of the Ponoka Herald was quoted as announcing in all his Scottish wit that “from all the lumps on main street, you can sure tell that Ponoka is no one horse town.”
*Horse racing was very common in the early days, and the hardy contestants from in and around Ponoka and the Hobbema Indian Reserves made many a mad dash on their steeds from Alger’s Store on the corner of Railway Street to the bottom of Fisher Hill, with many a friendly ‘wager’ placed.
*The business of the Ponoka Town Council was always front and centre on many subjects of local interest. In 1914, they received a letter from irate citizens concerning the pollution in the Battle River, and then on February 2, 1917 a public meeting was held to discuss the question of a local municipal hospital, which wasn’t completed until 1947.
*In 1918, the thriving Town of Ponoka was thrilled to welcome the community’s first veterinary surgeon and dentist Mr. W. F. Scott, who worked on the horses downstairs in Larsen and Peterson’s Stable, and then tended to those citizens with tooth problems in the upstairs office. Chester Matuisch, the son of Mr. L. B. Matuisch was the first known flood victim of the Battle River in 1905, and a Mr. Greenison sold tombstones and made to order coffins in the early days of long ago.
*With steady growth and successes, the Town grew rapidly with the cost of expenses and amenities steadily on the rise. In 1915, the business tax assessment of the community was $19,008, but by 1971 had risen to $759,530. Early pioneer George Bowker sold enough lumber to build the entire town during the 1920s, and also opened the first funeral home while Walter Gee harvested from his gravel pit just west of town for many years, and shipped it by the train load throughout the province.
*When the Town of Ponoka was incorporated in 1904, the staff consisted of the secretary-treasurer and one gentleman who served as the handy-man and the policeman. With substantial growth along the way, in 1937 an electrician was added to the staff and the monthly payroll was $500, but then by the 1970s, the town staff had grown to 24 regular employees with a monthly payroll of $16,000.
*Throughout the years, the fine folks of Ponoka and district have always displayed big hearts and deep pockets when it came to helping others, gathering together to prepare care hampers for our soldiers overseas in two world wars, sending tons of food and supplies to families in southern Alberta who had been ravaged during the ‘dirty 30s’ by several years of devastation and poverty due plagues of grass-hoppers and army worms, loved to hold house raising-bees, and so much more. One stormy and cold December, when the roads were bad, dear old Santa Claus made his annual much-anticipated visit to Ponoka in a helicopter, which landed at the C.P.R. parking lot and was followed by a gala afternoon festive family party. Nobody ever complained about train whistles in those days, because it meant that the supplies, the mail and visitors were coming to town, and that all was well down the line to the rest of the world.
*Three of the biggest milestones of our colorful history along the way included: the first telephone pole across the street from the Royal Hotel in 1903, water and sewer in 1948, and the gas being piped into town in 1946. The gas prompted a grand celebration hosted on 50 street with a huge bonfire hosted by the Ponoka Volunteer Fire Department, who had collected all the obsolete ‘outdoor biffies’ just for the occasion.
We have only just touched on some of the ‘magic moments’ of our history, but with your ongoing assistance, hospitality, and community pride through several proud generations, we will continue to share these cherished tales of then and now for as long as all of us are willing and able.