A magnificent picture taken from the Battle River Valley, and never to be seen again, features the ominous row of traditional grain elevators along 50 St. Ponoka that served the vital needs of our district farmers and ranchers from 1906 until their demise in the 1990s. Photo courtesy of the Fort Ostell Museum

REFLECTIONS: Ponoka was booming after the war years

By Mike Rainone for the News

At the end of the long and rugged WWII in 1945 our brave soldiers were returning home, and while the nation was mourning those men and women who had given the supreme sacrifice to the cause, everyone from coast to coast was looking forward to a bright and peaceful future for all Canadians. For the friendly and bustling town and county of Ponoka these years would mark the exciting beginnings of a sudden boom of progress and growth in all areas, with all generations of local families and individuals boldly looking forward to countless new opportunities, services, social, and recreational benefits to complement their daily lifestyles of work and play. Whatever the case, throughout that constant hustle and bustle in and around our town and districts, at the CPR station, and on every street corner, the welcome mat was always out for those hundreds of newcomers arriving daily and looking forward to beginning a new life and livelihood on the bountiful prairies of central Alberta.

It is very interesting to note that between the periods of 1946 to 1953 the population of Ponoka zoomed from 1,468 to 3,244. This of course would result in an overwhelming task for our town council and leaders to promote and secure the adequate and ongoing services and supporting infrastructure to take care of this booming influx of excited new citizens who had joined our dedicated locals. While homes, schools, businesses, churches, farms, and ranches were appearing in all areas of our urban and rural landscape at a rapid pace, the need for skilled professionals and a strong workforce was an extreme priority. I had a lot of fun browsing through the local newspapers, history books, and memories from that colourful and hectic era. This week I would like to share some of the countless milestones and amazing efforts from generations of our dedicated leaders and citizens that occurred during that time and over the decades to make it all happen to assure that our Ponoka town and county would indeed be a great place to live and raise a family long into the future.

In 1946 Ponoka was blessed with its first and vitally needed general hospital. Many additions were made to the busy facility through the l950s and 60s, at which time it had become a modern 50-bed facility with a staff of 60, including 30 nurses, as well as eight doctors, who served the medical and care needs of both the town and county. With the steady progress and increase of our urban and rural students seeking an education, a new school was opened in 1960 for the Riverside district and the new Ponoka Composite High School was completed in 1966.

Our first Arena was opened in 1946 at the south end of 50 St. and served recreation and social activities for all ages, including hockey, figure skating, curling, and broomball. When the ice plant was turned off in the spring the jam-packed building would play host to bingos, boxing and wrestling matches, political rallies, auctions, vaudeville shows, town meetings, and countless other year-round events. At that time the skyline of 50 St. going north along the CPR line was now becoming filled with seven to 10 massive and dusty grain elevators and cattle pens that would serve the growing needs of our district farmers and ranchers.

On Jan. 1, 1952 the District of Ponoka No. 66 officially became the County of Ponoka No. 3. The first County Council was elected, who along with the staff would oversee the education and all other needs of the rapidly growing and flourishing rural districts surrounding the Town of Ponoka.

The Town of Ponoka would proudly celebrate their 50th Golden Jubilee (1904-1954) celebration during the week of Aug. 1, 1954, which would include a mass church service at the arena, tours of the community, a gigantic parade honouring the first 50 years and our pioneer families, as well as fireworks and entertainment. In the same year the very first Ponoka Taxpayers Protective Association was formed, and the Royal Canadian Air Force came to town to give some basic training to our young men and women and to help them choose their future careers.

It was also during this time that the Provincial Mental Hospital south of Ponoka went into an aggressive construction stage in order to assist the 450 staff to provide first class treatment and care to the patient population of 1,400. This would include the new East view building, open wards for working patients, a cannery, the completion of Jubilee Hall to accommodate the Male staff, a new laundry in 1949, a new Volunteer Fire Department, increased nursing and training programs, and many exciting plans heading into the future.

Other great news for the community and districts came in March 1954 with the announcement by the Hon. Gordon Taylor, Alberta Minister of Highways and local M.L.A. Glen Johnston to begin the construction and gravelling of a highway from Ponoka to Bashaw. The avid curling fraternity in Ponoka was also thrilled to proceed with the planning and construction of a new six-sheet curling rink with artificial ice at a cost of about $85,000, which will be raised by various events in and around the community.

The Ponoka Auction Market along Hwy. 2A was purchased in 1957 by the foursome of Ralph and Harry Vold and Bill and Shorty Jones. Over the decades and to this day the VJV Auction helped to make Ponoka Canada’s Cattle Capital. In 1955-56 the Ponoka Stampeders would win the Western Intermediate ‘A’ Hockey Championship, and the Ponoka Stampede was already making plans to be even bigger 21st annual showdown in the summer of ‘57.

Yes,those were very good years for the citizens of Ponoka town and county, but there will always be many other milestones and great tales to tell in Reflections about the long and colorful history and successes of our community starting at the turn of the 19th century and roaring through eleven decades.

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