The Fort Ostell Museum is located in the corner of the pristine Ponoka Lions Centennial Park and was opened and dedicated in 1967 in recognition of one of most vital challenges and rugged milestone events from the earliest history and beginnings of our great community. It was during the Riel Rebellion of 1885 that the 462 members of the Alberta Field Force under the direction of Captain John Benjamin Ostell and 20 members of the 65th Mount Royal Rifles Company would arrive in this area to build a fortification near the Battle River and protect against possible invasion.
For 50 days and 50 cents an hour wages Captain Ostell’s hardy troops would carry out the gruelling and non-stop tasks of erecting a powerful and sturdy fortress on the banks of the Battle River (near where the Hwy. 2 bridge is now located) and would become known as Fort Ostell in honour of their dedicated leader. The ominous structure would include a main log cabin, a preacher’s house, and several huge log buildings to house the heavily armed soldiers and personnel, and was completely surrounded by six foot turf walls and barricades to which were attached an abbitis of sharpened branches. A five foot trench around the outside of the fort would be filled with water and formed moats that were crossable only by removable bridges that were lowered only for the movement of troops and supplies. Prior to that short but perilous period in 1885 when Fort Ostell was quickly constructed, the day-to-day activity in this area would welcome many daily visitors to the Hudson’s Bay Store, and included a regular stream of stage coaches, wagon trains, fur traders, First Nations tribes and travellers who were slowly making their way along the rough and rugged C and E trail from Edmonton to Calgary.
After the Fort Ostell Post was well fortified, Captain Ostell would establish friendly relations with the surrounding neighbours and with the Stonies of Chief Sharphead’s First Nations Band. Thankfully it was on June 27, 1885 that the rebellion was suddenly over, and with the nation finally at peace the 50 hectic days of life at the military base of Fort Ostell was cut short without a single confrontation or shot being fired, and the troops would return to their main base at Fort Edmonton.
The founding of the Fort Ostell Museum
In a sustained community effort to collect and preserve the long and colourful history of the Town and County of Ponoka the ambitious Fort Ostell Museum Society was formed on June 25, 1967. The community as a whole was very excited and supportive of the efforts of the society. Through an Alberta Centennial Project the construction of a unique log building was completed in the Centennial Park and would soon become the first home of our very popular Fort Ostell Museum. The next exciting step began in 1979 during our town’s 76th birthday celebration, where another energetic fundraising campaign began to raise the $250,000 that would be required to establish a new, larger museum building. The promotion would gather overwhelming community support in both town and county and would become a reality in 1981 with the opening of the present facility in the Lion’s Centennial Park.
Along the way over 10,000 authentic artifacts, photos, books, photos, and unique and authentic displays were vigorously collected and put into place. These and many others that have been added will always vividly represent and honour the countless challenges, successes and amazing stories of over 12 decades of our proud and ongoing history and longstanding traditions. Also featured are those countless generations of families, individuals, and milestone events that have become our legacy and proud heritage. This outstanding treasure chest of information has been gathered and preserved for thousands of local citizens and visitors of all ages to share and enjoy for many decades to come. Some of the outstanding highlights of the Fort Ostell Museum collection includes the Alberta Hospital Museum collection, the authentic display room, as well as the delightful travelling exhibits courtesy of the Alberta Museum Association and Alberta Archives, the original flag and other vivid mementos of the infamous Fort Ostell, and so much more.
Our Fort Ostell Museum is busy all year round with various hours and exciting activities and programs to serve the public. From September to June the whole building comes alive with the arrival of the rambunctious Grade 1 school classes from Ponoka Elementary School, catholic and Christian schools., who are always shocked but amazed to learn and see the lifestyles of how everyone lived and made do with what they had way back then. They are all treated to the unique experience of churning butter, making up a batch of yummy old-fashioned ice cream or bannock, as well as ringing the massive and very old town hall bell at the front entrance. Many other local groups and organizations of all ages also love to visit the museum for all sorts of special occasions, while the big room is also available for meetings, cookie sales, workshops, and countless other events.
Yours truly has always looked forward to visiting the Fort Ostell Museum, and for the past 15 years and counting the congenial staff of Sandy Allsop, Sharon Chapman, Barb Greshner, and the always-keen summer students have so kindly assisted me to find material for the Reflections and Remember When weekly features in the Ponoka News, as well as spoiling me with coffee and cookies. Your Fort Ostell Museum is open from the Victoria Day Long Weekend until the Labour Day weekend on Mondays thru Fridays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the winter hours of operation are from 1 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Thursdays. Everyone is welcome to enjoy the Fort Ostell museum experience where there will always be something different, something new, and lots of really old things for everyone to see.