There was a magic place in the forest east of Ponoka

Reflections this week looks at the history of a Magic School east of town.

The Magic School was built in 1903 in the ‘heart of Wood River’ east of Ponoka

The Magic School was built in 1903 in the ‘heart of Wood River’ east of Ponoka

When the first wave of hardy Welsh settlers arrived in Ponoka in 1900 they looked eight to 12 miles east and found a massive rough and rolling countryside on which they slowly gathered together and created a little ‘Magic.’ All those families that followed worked very hard to clear the rich land and establish their homesteads in the new districts of Eureka, Climax, Concord, and Magic, which in 1903 was officially declared as the predominately Welsh settlement of Wood River, and F.J. Bullock was authorized to open the first Post Office. In the beginning Gomer Jenkins broke lots of the barren land with his powerful team of oxen, and when they all got together to celebrate their successes they met and danced at Bob Bunn’s hall.

By nature the Welshmen were a very proud nationality who did not have a strong ‘roaming instinct’, so they set their sights and efforts on having their own home, and this pattern has always remained a powerful and successful influence as the vibrant districts grew. In the beginning when wages were a dollar a day and board they became industrious folks who learned that ‘barter and trade’ was the early way of survival. Unfortunately there were many who didn’t stay and went looking for their ‘Pot of Gold’ elsewhere, but those who did stay eventually prospered and learned to love ‘The Land of the Maple.’

Many of their first homes and outbuildings were made of the sturdy logs that they cut by axe from the thousands of tall pine trees that completely covered the area, and were a sheer delight to those newcomers who had come from the ‘treeless’ prairies. The ample supply of wood available was used for every purpose in those tough early years, not only for building, but also very valuable and vital for the firewood that would keep these new families warm in the extremely frigid winter seasons. It was the United States immigrants who came to the Welsh settlement that would solve the problems of building roads through the quagmire, especially in the spring. These men would methodically lay logs across the sloughs or boggy ground, and then covered them with branches and straw (if available) and topped them off with hard packed clay. Some of the remnants of these over 100 year old roads still remain to this day, while others were surely used as the best base for the new district roads over the years.

The little Magic School was built eight miles east of Ponoka on the S.E. 2-43-24-W4th in ‘the heart of Wood River’ in 1903, with Mrs. Ed Owens as the first teacher and the wooden desks were always filled to capacity over the years as new families continued to arrive in the thriving district. In the very early days Sunday worship was also held at the school, and among the Magic teachers were Anton Bures, Marie Fleming (Davies), Elva Stretch (Lewis), Olive Vold (Whitsell), Betty Wolcott (George) and so many others who shared their skills and their hearts with hundreds of district children until the school closed in 1949 and became the Principal’s teacherage at Mecca Glen. Following are some of the delightful and milestone highlights of the Magic district, from which several generations have carried on the long-standing and proud traditions of the highly respected and Wood River district.

One of the first families to arrive in the district was that of Lewis John Nelson, who came in the fall of 1898 from South Dakota. They settled on the land north of a ‘beautiful parkland lake’, which was later named Nelson Lake after the family, who played a prominent role not only in the development of the Magic district, but also in the Town of Ponoka, where sons Neil and Debs and grandson Norman would serve as Mayors.

A Negro family, the Thompsons secured a homestead in Magic in 1904, but after Mr. Thompson froze to death in 1907 his widow moved into Ponoka, where she and her daughter Late-change worked very hard. After her daughter passed away at a young age Mrs. Thompson moved to Edmonton and lived to the grand age of 108 years.

Paul Morris was an aggressive farmer who raised pigs…lots of pigs, and in the spring he always had 100 fat and ready for market. The roads were always wet and rough, but in those days neighbours always helped each other, and a hardy group of lads would get together and help Paul drive them to the buying station in Rimbey, which was over 40 tough miles.

The folks at Magic were always a closely knit bunch, working through the horrific depression years, but always loving their music, and sharing it at Gymfana Ganu and singing festivals at home and throughout the towns and Province. In sports the Eureka and Magic soccer teams would join forces and under the name of Wood River became one of the most powerful teams in Alberta, winning all the Provincial Shields and Cups in 1932.

By the Centennial Year 1967 many of the small farmers in the area had shut down their operations, sold out, and went to town to seek other work. With the boom in automation many larger farming and ranching operations have come into existence, but the ‘Magic tradition’ will always carry on among those spirited and dedicated generations of country families.