The Elkhorn School served hundreds of district students for a half a century from 1902 to 1952. Shown here is the class of 1926 (from left to right) in the back row Pearl Kempf (Kroening)

The Elkhorn School served hundreds of district students for a half a century from 1902 to 1952. Shown here is the class of 1926 (from left to right) in the back row Pearl Kempf (Kroening)

The long and colorful history of the Elkhorn district

The Elkhorn district west of Ponoka was established in 1890

The Elkhorn district west of Ponoka was established in 1890 when the North West Territories Government abandoned the original Sharphead Indian Reserve and added that large expanse of land to the previous four sections that had been made available for our earliest homesteaders. A few families had come from Novia Scotia in 1895 and settled close to Wolf Creek, and the first white child in the district was born to Mr. and Mrs. Bell Ogilvie. Among the first Elkhorn families were the Ogilvies, Wrights, Rowlands, Taylors, Clinks, Frys, Smiths and Chris Asmussen and  they were followed at the turn of the century by a large number of immigrants from the United States.

With the arrival of so many young families the first school was held in Mr. Clink’s log cabin, with Mrs. Sarah Clink teaching the three Rs until a Miss Speakman was hired as the district’s first official teacher at a wage of $30 a month, which was always late. The rough and very hard lumber benches were donated by the Lacombe United Church, and the first students were the Clink children (Murray-Art-Kate and Dolly), Mabel Ogilvie, Paul and Leroy Beach, as well as Chant and Bill Brewer and Anne Brown from the Fairview district near Lacombe. Between 1900 and 1902, more pioneer families arrived resulting in the formation of the Elkhorn School district and followed by the construction of the first school in just a few days by carpenter Cunningham and local helpers at the N.W. 7-42-26-W4th on two pristine acres of land that had been donated by Mr. Clink. As they were clearing the land, they found hundreds of Elk horns, so the appropriate name would be forever registered as Elkhorn School. Kate Bragg, who was a life-time member of the Elkhorn district and recently passed away at the age of 96 years rode her horse ‘Annie’ two miles  to that tiny country school starting in Grade 1, and with just a little friendly persuasion, that grand tradition carried on in Kate and Angus’s family for many happy years.

As well as being a busy learning centre, Elkhorn School also hosted the first district church services and Sunday school until Mr. Perkins donated land to build the first Free Methodists Church in the 1920s. Also in the early days around the Elkhorn district, a Society Club was formed, which organized monthly social gatherings at district homes to share the local and world news as well as to host music sessions, dances, pie and box socials, games and all sorts of other family activities. Right from the beginning, the Elkhorn men’s baseball and ladies’ softball and basketball teams became very popular and well respected around the local leagues, and some of the players included Jim McGarvey, Bert Unwin, Paul/Leroy/Raymond Beach, Jim and Harry Auten, Bill and Chant Brewer, Bernard Cissell, Kate and Jerry Knadle, Irene McDonald, Hazel and Pearl Kempf, Dora Bragg, Mary and Vera Beach, Lem and Jake Beach, Irving Knadle, and Hugh and Jack Grierson. There were always lots of good times in the closely knit district of Elkhorn, but when sudden seasonal hazards such as fires, floods, storms, illness and all the rest happened, each and every family pulled together to assist each other and overcome adversity.

Some of the teachers over the years at the school were Deforest Nelson, Mrs. Pearl Kroening, Miss Margaret McLean (Doran), Miss Ruth McConnell, Miss Ivy Hickmore (Wills), Miss Ruth McConnell (Ogilvie), Mrs. Frieda Wills, Mrs. Edna McGarvey, Miss Barbara Smith (Uhl), and many others, who shared their skills and kindness with hundreds of districts students until 1952, when the popular little country landmark was closed and the children were bussed to Ponoka. The Elkhorn School, which was later designated as an historical County of Ponoka School site by the Ponoka and District Retired Teachers Association, was purchased in 1951 by the newly reorganized Elkhorn Ladies’ Club.  After this new home of the district community centre was renovated, electricity, a tin roof and small kitchen were added, it was used for many decades to host year round family events such as weddings, Christmas concerts, card parties, school and family reunions, fund-raisers and so much more, and along the way, even became the home of a pesky colony of honey bees. In the early 30s, the first Elkhorn Ladies Aid was formed, and many of the members belonged to the Fairview Baby Band, which, during the war, knitted hundreds of scarves, sweaters, socks and mitts for our boys serving their nation in WWII and other areas of the armed forces, as well as putting together baby layettes and quilts for the always active list of district ‘moms to be.’ A Sunday school was also organized by the United Church, with a student minister holding services through the summer months, with many of the district mothers teaching Sunday school.

Although the Elkhorn district was in the County of Ponoka, many of the early settlers who lived in the southern part did most of their trading in Lacombe due to the fact that they did not have to cross the Wolf Creek or Battle River, which flooded quite often. In those days, they built their roads as much in the hills and the high ground as possible. The first well known doctors in the district were Dr. Sharpe and Dr. Simpson from Lacombe, who were among the original pioneers in the field, and never hesitated in all kinds of weather and conditions to come out into the rugged areas to tend to those in need of medical assistance, whether by riding on horseback, by horse and buggy or even walking. Elkhorn’s early mailmen included Mr. Kyler, Mr. Lucas and Mr. Delong, hardy gentleman who somehow always got through with the goods.

As the next vibrant generations of the Elkhorn district proudly carried on, the longstanding and busy Ladies Club disbanded in the early 2000s after over 80 years of dedication and service to their community. Linda and Glen Plested currently own the land where the Elkhorn School (1902-1951) and later renovated Community Centre stood for 113 years, and while it may eventually be demolished, an exquisite commemorative marker will represent the countless memories, contributions and traditions of the school, the students, the teachers, and the exciting history of decades of district families will always proudly stand at the same original country location.