An early stroll down Railway Street in Ponoka

Railways street in Ponoka a hub of the community - Reflections.

An early 1920s photo of Railway Street Ponoka shows from left to right: The Skinner and Wilkinson Ford Garage

An early 1920s photo of Railway Street Ponoka shows from left to right: The Skinner and Wilkinson Ford Garage

When the Canadian Pacific Edmonton/Calgary railway line reached Siding 14 in Ponoka in the early 1890s, the first station was built to accommodate Station Master Mr. T.J. West, as well as the section crew and the caretaker every day looked after windmill that was used to pump water from the Battle River to the tower. As the noisy steam passenger and freight trains began to rumble into the tiny village night and day, that big brown station and long wooden platform had become ‘the hub’ of a community that would soon begin to grow by leaps and bounds.

Along the dirt street running north and south adjacent to the busy tracks many new businesses and structures began to emerge to serve the arrival of countless pioneer families looking forward to making a new home in the village or out in the fertile rolling country districts surrounding it. When the J.S. Slaters and their two sons Dick and John arrived here at the turn of the century, there were just five log buildings and an immigration tent on the street across from the train station. These humble beginnings of our community included: F.E. Algar’s Dry Goods Store at the corner of 50 street and 51 Avenue, which was established in 1896, burnt down several times, but always rebuilt and operated by the family for 49 years; Cook Myer’s Boarding House at the corner of 50 Street and 50 Avenue, which catered to the first CPR crews as well as  pioneer families waiting for their farm homes to be completed; a log church, a log school, and the first log home, which was the residence of the first school teacher Mr. Yoeman. The Slater family were superb horsemen, and would later operate the dray, which picked up supplies and mail from the trains and delivered them around the town.

The first major milestone for the bustling village came when Ponoka officially became a town of the NWT in 1904, the population quickly exploded to over 700, and a torrid ‘building boom’ was underway in all areas. Each and every day, the CPR trains would bring new families from Canada, the United States and throughout the world to the threshold of their new found home, and while workers helped to unload the freight cars full of the settler’s precious belongings, excited visitors would tour the new town or venture out into the country in horse-drawn wagons and buggies to view the lush rolling land as well as the countless opportunities that would soon be available for them around every corner.

Other ‘firsts’ along Railway Street were: The blacksmith shop owned by Peter Horn, who rode his horse four miles into town to work every morning and returned home late in the evening, and that is when the movie theatre (the Empress) was opened to the public upstairs to show slides and host social functions.  When the desperate need for lumber arose in the Ponoka area, a man named Folger from Pigeon Lake encouraged the building of a sawmill, which was completed by Truman and Block just across the river from the train station, then was carried on by hardy souls such as Mr. Leowen and Charlie Malcher, who rode his bicycle from Wetakiwin every day to work. W.J. Milne was believed to be Ponoka’s first official photographer, who set up shop in a small building on Railway Street and took hundreds of photos of local citizens and events, many of which can still be seen in our history books or at the Fort Ostell Museum.

Hogs were first raised in the Ponoka area in 1898, and when the rural families had more porkers than they could handle, they would organize butchering bees and bring them into town to barter, trade, or sell for 4 cents a pound. By 1905, there were enough hogs in the country to make shipping practical, with the first stock yards set up on the south end of Railway Street next to the tracks, which thrived over the years. Alexander and Tugman set up our first elevator in the same area, which was taken over by Pioneer Elevator in 1906, burnt down in 1909, but folks would eventually see eight tall elevators set up along the tracks over the next six decades. W.R. Courtwright would likely become Ponoka’s very first ‘business entrepreneur’, establishing an implement dealership, a lumber yard, a hardware store and insurance agency as well as serving on the first town council.  On February 17, 1903 the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce extended its western expansion by opening Ponoka’s first major financial institution in a frame building across the street from the Royal Hotel, and have continued to operate and improve that facility for Ponoka and district customers for the past 112 years.

One would be reminisce if they did not mention Ponoka’s first three palatial and very posh hotels, the Royal, the Leland and the Alberta Temperance, who served thousands of early citizens and visitors to our community for many exciting and colorful decades and generations, with both the Royal and the Leland still offering the same fine hospitality to this day. If you take a stroll down Railway Street (50 Street) today, you will see that it has changed a lot over the years, with many new businesses, buildings, and amenities added, but gone forever are the wooden sidewalks and the infamous ‘elevator row.’ A few of those original buildings and landmarks still remain, while many others have been restored to honour our proud heritage as well as those hardy generations of families, individuals and groups built the legacy and success that we all enjoy today.

Of course. throughout those exciting decades, our town has expanded in every direction, currently serving a population of 6773, while the County of Ponoka districts have enjoyed a steady growth which has now reached 8856, and both the town and the county have strived to work and co-operate together in a perfect balance of rural and urban living.