The long and colourful history of Chipman Avenue

This week's Reflections looks at Chipman Avenue in Ponoka and its history.

An early 1930s photo of Chipman Avenue

Having had the great pleasure of living in Ponoka for over 50 years, I have also seen a great many changes and met a whole lot of super people and special characters along the way. I still love to drive around the community, as well as strolling down Chipman Avenue amongst the new, the restored and the original buildings, some of which have been there for over a century, and have been witness to the amazing and exciting history and growth that took place.

Since Ponoka proudly became a town in 1904, it has played host and warmly welcomed many thousands of citizens and families from all walks of life into a friendly urban and rural setting, which, through countless challenges, has managed to thrive and grow through several generations. The great legacy that they have passed on has and always will continue to provide many successes and amenities along the way, as well to present so many powerful tales and experiences for all of us to share, today, and long into the future. As one browses through the Fort Ostell Museum and our local history books, it is quite obvious to see that there was always something going on in and around this great community. The first Chipman Avenue, which was later changed to 50 Avenue for a couple of decades, and then back to Chipman again during the ambitious Main Street Project in 2000, was originally named after Clarence Chipman, the Company Commissioner from 1891-1911, who originally surveyed and planned many areas during the early progression of Ponoka.

*From the very beginning our town was always bustling with activity as new pioneers toiled hard and passionately to establish their new farms and homes, and as the population exploded many new stores, businesses, professionals, churches, schools, and other vital amenities were added to serve their growing list of needs. The early ‘heart of the town’ was likely the Canadian Pacific Railway Station, at which new citizens, visitors, and the mail and countless supplies arrived daily, along with the infamous ‘elevator row’ and the stockyards along the track, to which the farmers and ranchers could bring their stock and grains to assure the vital income that was needed to purchase the supplies that were required to keep on going. The construction of the Provincial Mental Hospital in 1912 was also a milestone and strong impetus for our local economy.

*Along Chipman Avenue, the first hotels included the Royal and the Leland, which both had busy taverns, and the Temperance Hotel (for the teetotallers), which had posh surroundings and services, but no booze. It was tough during Prohibition from 1920-1933, when the Women’s Temperance Union took charge, but illegal stills were turning out lots of wicked moonshine, and a bottle could always be found somewhere. Many wild tales have been told about the well dressed pool sharks and gamblers and their ladies, and even a few of the ‘Chicago hoods’ on the run, who made many visits to town for some hot games, and quite often stayed for a week of action in the smoked filled upstairs rooms of the local hotels. If anything got out of hand, the reliable ‘Town Police’ always kept it under control, and were ably assisted by some of the community ‘big boys’ and bouncers such as Harry Morgan, Metro Hyryck, Webb Frizzel, and many others.

*Parades and bands were always present on the streets of Ponoka, which were lined with vehicles through the horse and buggy days and carried on into the era of the Model Ts, and all celebrated many gala occasions for thousands of happy locals and visitors, including the Ponoka Stampede, which is now in its 80th year. Down the street from the Royal Hotel were the Empress and the Capital Theatres, which played host to activities and meetings all year round that featured Vaudeville shows, concerts, boxing and wrestling matches, elections, and on and on. By 1928, the Elk’s Hall was a palatial social facility along Chipman Avenue that hosted gala dances, bingos, concerts, and other year round fund raisers and activities for the entire family.

*Ponoka Town and County have always been a great and active community of opportunity, as well for countless family sports and recreation activities, including baseball, fastball, hockey, curling, soccer, golf, tennis, and more, which all started with an outdoor skating rink, the first big wooden arena in 1947, and on and on. Over all these glorious years in and around Ponoka, no matter what the activity might be, the successes have been achieved by the traditional hospitality, spirit, and friendship of the hosts, and that will never change.


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