Nestled in the rolling countryside northeast of Ponoka the pristine setting of the 15 kilometre long Red Deer Lake has enjoyed a long and ever-changing chapter of area history. The real story likely began way back in 1893 when the first hardy pioneer families slowly began to settle and establish the Water Glen District.
Hazel Johnson will always consider it as a real honour and a privilege to have been asked to write the history of ‘The Island,’ which it was known in the beginning. It was such a favourite and magic spot of Leonard’s and holds many fond memories for her, as it was there where we spent every evening and Sunday, weather permitting, long before there was any development here. It was where our children learned to swim, dive and water-ski, and where the mothers always went looking for that one lost sock, or towel and sometimes even a shoe. The great memories of so many meals that were packed down here, the wiener roasts we had and all the birthdays that were celebrated at the Island will always be among the highlights of our two sons growing up as well as for those countless neighbours and friends that we all made along the way.
The Island has been in the Johnson family name since 1894, and was given that name because in the early years this property was totally surrounded by water and has always been pasture land. Throughout the years, the water subsided and it was no longer an island, but always remained as an ideal paradise for Saskatoons and countless other berries, where families for miles around came to pick the bountiful gifts of nature, and I am told that while the women and children picked what they could reach, the men would pick the high ones from the back of their horses. When we were married Leonard’s mom expected me to go picking those Saskatoons, which was something I really detested, as I was so scared of hornets nests, skunks and especially snakes, but because it was expected of me, I went. We must not forget to mention the loads of sand and gravel that was hauled out of here by all the farmers for miles around, which was free whether it was supposed to be or not. Our Mecca Glen Memories History Book also claims that many of the district’s early pioneers took their sheep and cattle over to the Island to graze as well as to protect them from the coyotes or other predators.
In 1953 a group of farmers, namely Leonard Johnson, Aldo Johnson, Martin Toth, Bennie Orom, Walter Spelrem and Herbert Schultz joined together and decided to work up the beach for community use. Clarence Jevne, our Mecca Glen School principal made and donated a kiddies’ slide while Bennie Orom kindly fashioned the first swings and teeter-totter. The beach was worked up two or three times each summer and the grass mowed, all by donated labour and machinery. Next came our first real diving board, which was made by the Lake Committee at Walter Spelrem’s, who also donated the material, and then they all got together to help haul it out to the lake. About this time the first of many piers was built and when I say many piers I mean just that, as every winter the ice would take them out, but the diving board was saved in the fall when we waded into the cold water and pulled it out with ropes, which was not a pleasant job. Here are some of the other ongoing highlights of the countless milestones and improvements at friendly Johnsons Beach, where so many families come each and every summer to enjoy camping, swimming, and so many other delightful special events.
• In 1957 Charlie Johnson donated his old cabin at Point 13 east of Bashaw, which was scrubbed, cleaned and painted and then moved to Johnsons Beach to be shared by all.
• In 1959 the Lake Committee put in a Texas gate, which thankfully eliminated gates being left open and the cattle wandering throughout the district. In 1960 the men built a ball diamond, which resulted in many more folks from near and far visiting the beach to play and also enjoying Sunday picnics, events and a cool dip after a hard day of haying or week of work. Some of the most popular events were Farmer’s Day Picnics, the gala Centennial celebration, Antique Car shows, family reunions and so many others through the ongoing generations.
• In 1961 the County of Ponoka became involved, caretakers were hired to look after the beach, and in 1961 a kitchen was built. Then in 1962 Leonard Johnson built two change rooms, while the Manfred F.U.A. kindly donated a small building to be used as a concession stand. The busy Lake Committee built a new log pier in 1965, and then in 1966 a nearby pasture was cleared for an airstrip, and created great excitement among visitors when a plane came in.
• On June 19, 1969 the Lake Committee moved that the area be officially and forever be called ‘Johnsons Beach,’ the yearly operation budget was increased to $350, and the Bashaw Recreation Board later came on board to assist with the summer cleaning and maintenance. In 1975 with the help of local MLA Don McCrimmon a new pier and boat ramp was added, as well the beach area being fenced in 1976, enlarged in 1979 and the road paved from Highway 53.
• The highlights of 1984 included Aldo Johnson selling ‘the Island’ to fourth generation family member Tim Johnson, while a government grant enabled the committee to drill a new well, put in a dumping station, buy a new tractor and mower and install yard lights, trailer sites, road systems and a great new building to house a concession booth, showers and bathrooms.
This longstanding and wonderful success story of Johnsons Beach has been made possible by many decades of hard work, dedication and generosity from the Johnsons and other district families and volunteers, members of the Lake Board, Ponoka County Council, as well as countless others. Their efforts, then and now, have assured that thousands of Ponoka and Bashaw and district families and visitors have and will always be able to enjoy the casual summer enjoyment and countless amenities and friendship of that magnificent Johnsons Beach on Red Deer Lake.