By Mike Rainone for the News
It is so very gratifying when people get in touch with me to thank us for the local stories that we have done over the years for the Reflections and Remember When feature in your Ponoka News. Through these phone calls, emails, and contact with the office there have been those who have so kindly provided me with some more ideas and photos with which I can put together some new tales about the colourful and fabulous history of Ponoka and surrounding districts.
There is absolutely no doubt that each and every house could tell us so many great stories if they could talk. Back in 2006 I had the privilege of doing a story on a very interesting and historical home at 5109-53 Ave. in Ponoka, and just recently our office received an email from Evelyn (Harris) Rodney and Ron Harris, the family of Irvin Harris, son of James Harris who wanted to pass on some more information on this long-standing and palatial dwelling and its residents.
James and Annie Harris
On April 4, 1892 Miss Annie Morgan was married to James Harris at Newport, Monmouthshire, England, then immediately sailed for the United States, where they settled in Kansas and farmed there for 10 tough years. During that time they would welcome their children, sons Irl and Irvin and daughters Ruth (Mitchell), Gertrude (Hambly), and Florence (Nickolas). In 1903 the family moved to Ponoka where they later purchased a railway quarter near the Hazel Hill School west of Ponoka. Together they gathered logs and shiplap for a granary that would later be enlarged to become the home of their entire family, which would also later include a son Ivor and daughter Lorna (Shearlaw). In those busy years the family pioneered with the Crawfords, the Gees, the Russells, the Morrows, and many others. James Harris would also become the first manager of the farm at the new Provincial Mental Hospital. It is very interesting to note that James Harris taught himself how to read in his youth during the time he was being raised by his grandmother in Wales, and while working in Kansas on his first trip abroad, he and his friend would baptize themselves in a horse trough after a spiritual renewal.
After six or seven years Mr. and Mrs. Harris longed for more land so they filed on a homestead and purchased a quarter section in the Anthony Hill district, which is still known as “The Home Place.” When James and Annie moved into town their son Irvin farmed the homestead and would eventually purchase it, later selling the property to his son-in-law Gawney Hinkey and daughter Shirley, who farmed and raised their children Mark and Christie in the area over the years. While farming in the area James Harris would serve as a Councillor, organized the UFA at Brook’s School House, taught Sunday School, helped build the Brooksona Hall, and would proudly purchase the first Chevrolet car in the community in 1917 along with the first powerful I.H.C. Titan tractor and separator in 1920.
Throughout the years the Harris family took a very active interest in the community, taking part in all sorts of sports, church, picnics, parties, dances, and other events. They always looked forward to loading up the old family organ on the sleigh or wagon and visiting the neighbours or local halls, churches, and schools to share many hours of joyful music and singsongs. The five youngest Harris children would finish public school at Anthony Hill, and several completed high school in Ponoka. In the spring of 1930 James and Annie had a big sale and then moved to Ponoka, where they had purchased the Old Primary Cottage School on 53 Ave., which had been built in 1915 west of the Ponoka United Church across from the white school. James Harris would turn the former school/teacherage into a triplex, creating unique and comfortable upstairs apartments, all with private entrances. Along the way some have told the family that the main initial Ponoka School was located across the street to the south of the white cottage, but that the remaining shed behind the home was originally the school outhouse, with a backdrop for emptying pails for many years until indoor plumbing arrived in town. Mr. and Mrs. Harris lived in the main floor apartment, which became the joyful center of family activities until Ann passed away in 1953 at the age of 85. James Harris sold the house in 1954 and spent his years living with his children until his death in May 1960 at the age of 95 years.
In those early years there would be many tenants who lived in that big and friendly home on 53 Ave. Granddaughter Evelyn (Harris) Rodney lived with her grandparents for eight years until the school bus finally connected to their farm home, while two other granddaughters Shirley (Harris) Hinkley and Margery (Harris) Fenske, the young daughters of Irvin and Alice Harris of Rimbey stayed there when they were employed in the Ponoka telephone office and bank. Many years later a granddaughter of the Irl Harris family Elsie (Harris) Strause lived in that always busy “House on 53rd” while attending school. There were other couples who started their young lives there and likely have so many wonderful tales to tell, and these included son Ivor and Millie Harris, Leighton and Elsie Hinkley, and later the Joe Ronnie family, and we have only just mentioned a few.
The ongoing generations of the Harris and other town and district families are very proud and grateful for the countless accomplishments of theirs and so many other pioneer families in and around the Ponoka town and district over the past twelve colourful decades. They would love to hear from other families or individuals who may have lived in that popular house on 53 Ave., which was apparently renovated in 2006, or out in the county over the years so that we might be able to tell their stories, and then I’m really looking forward to what great stories our houses might tell over the next hundred years. Please bring your story ideas and old photos into the Ponoka News office on Chipman Ave. or contact the families or Mike Rainone at 403-341-5750 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.