Elizabeth and Thomas Hickmore and their family came to the Ponoka district in 1925

Elizabeth and Thomas Hickmore and their family came to the Ponoka district in 1925

Tom Hickmore served the Ponoka Brick School for 31 years

This week's Reflections looks at the history of Tom Hickmore, a caretaker at the Ponoka Brick School for many years.

Tom Hickmore was born in Fairlight, England and immigrated to Canada with his parents William and Sarah, brother Percy, and sisters Beatrice and Ivy in 1906.

After first settling in Winnipeg the family later moved to Lethbridge, where William was employed with the C.P.R. and would take the first engine out of the new Roundhouse. In 1908 William and son Thomas took out homesteads in Winnifred, which they worked until 1925 when they decided to pack up their family, livestock, machinery, and belongings and ventured to Ponoka to begin farming west of town.

Tom married Elizabeth Moran on Dec. 25, 1912 at the Anglican Church in Bow River, and over the years would welcome nine children, including William, Doris, Ivy, Stanley, Helen, Ernest, Frederick, Margaret, and Elsie. The Hickmore family grew up and completed their education in the Ponoka district, where they later married and raised their families, chose their occupations, remained in the district for many years, with many of the extended family generations still living in this area. After leaving the farm in 1930 Thomas and Elizabeth moved to Ponoka, where he worked for a while at the Ford garage and at the Provincial Mental Hospital, then later accepted a career as the ‘congenial janitor’ at the new and magnificent ‘Red Brick School,’ to which he would complete over 30 years of dedicated and congenial service.

His biggest job was keeping the school warm

The diminutive Tom Hickmore approached his job at the newest Ponoka School with great enthusiasm, relying right away on his youthful experience as a fireman for the A.R. and I to take on all the work that had to be done on the big boiler.

At that time the Brick School, which has now proudly served the education needs of the community for 87 years, had nine rooms, with Grades 1 to 4 as well as the staff room and a playroom downstairs and Grades 5 to 12 upstairs. Due to the huge demand for classroom space another room was added in 1932 and the total pupil count rose to a jam-packed 377. The school was at first considered by the local taxpayers as an expensive ‘White Elephant’ because of the high building costs of $60,000, but has certainly adjusted to the countless changes and faithfully served its vital purpose in hosting and educating thousands of young Town and County students from kindergarten to High School classes.

The school had its own well and pressure and septic disposal systems, but in the early days there was no sick room or hot water for the washrooms. The hot water system included a boiler that was heated by coal and was hand fired, and Tom would vividly recall that during one particularly cold Ponoka winter he was using a car-load of coal a month. During the coldest winters Tom often slept in a chair beside the boiler and would wake up many times to shovel in more coal, a tiring process, which on some occasions had to be carried on all night and day in order to keep the big school warm. As no night watchman had been appointed by the School Board the wily veteran Janitor often had to stay at the school all week during those cold spells, only making it home on Sundays, but he could always be sure of getting lots of willing help and support from his large family then, and during the over three decades that he served the Ponoka school system.

For his first very busy early years as the caretaker Tom Hickimore’s work included a great variety of jobs, from keeping the school clean and warm as well as making the spacious grounds present able, and whatever else was required. He recalls assisting the Grade 8 teacher Bill Sutherland to install the Brick’s first fire alarm system as well as always being around to greet everyone throughout the school semester as he did not get any holidays in the early years. For the first few years at Ponoka Brick School there was always quite a range of ages among the boys and girls from Grades 1 to 12, but Tom fondly recalled at his gala retirement party on January 9, 1962 at the County Office that boys will always be boys, and there was very little difference between the lads of today and those of 30 years ago. One of Tom’s most cherished memories also came at the celebration of his 31 years of continuous service to Ponoka schools was when 600 pupils and teachers from 19 classrooms assembled to show their appreciation and bid him a fond farewell. Over the years Tom and his wife and family always looked forward to attending the annual summer Brick School Reunions and meeting former students, teachers, and staff.

Both Tom and his wife Elizabeth were also very active in their community over the years as faithful and longstanding members of the Odd fellow and Rebekah Lodges and the Anglican Church. The palatial Hickmore home in Ponoka was always open to young and old, and their sincere interest and generosity always endeared them to the hearts of many. No one in need was ever turned away from their door, and over the years countless young people and War veterans from throughout the community would look at their home as a home away from home. These well-known and popular residents would spend the rest of their lives in Ponoka, with Elizabeth Hickmore passing away on March 11, 1972 at the age of 80 years and T.W. (Tom) Hickmore on April 21, 1976 at age of 85 years.