Like most of you, I have been following with great interest the construction of the new 50 Avenue North Bridge and road realignment, which is all slated to open for traffic in August with a gala celebration on the new deck high above our grand old Battle River. For those of us who have had the great pleasure of living in and around Ponoka for a quite few decades, we will have lots of youthful memories as rambunctious kids ‘hanging around’ that usually tranquil wandering river and its mighty bridges, and then year later would cross them so many times safely on most days of our busy lives.
*The first bridge constructed near the early Village of Ponoka was the ‘black trestle’ just south of town, and that was completed in 1890 to accommodate the Canadian Pacific Railway line between Edmonton and Calgary, with the first noisy work train rolling into Siding 14 Ponoka on July 27, 1891. As kids we used to put a penny on the track and then hide on the big cement pilings and watch the trains go by.
*The construction of the rough and rugged Calgary and Edmonton trail through the prairie wilderness began in 1875 mostly to serve wagon trains, horses, and soldiers. A much improved road a few years later would include the construction of a bridge over the Battle River just south of Ponoka in 1885, which would later become a part of our first paved Highway 2A. It is just east of this same bridge that the historical Fort Ostell was built quickly on May 9, 1885 to guard against attack during the days of the Riel Rebellion.
*At the turn of the century our rural districts also began to grow rapidly, and after getting tired of waiting for the fledgling Alberta Government to send out their bridge crew our hardy pioneers put the pressure on by constructing those first humble Battle River crossings themselves so that they go back and forth to town for supplies, trading, and social activities. Thank goodness, as the years progressed that our town and county councils have taken the initiative to maintain our roads and bridges, as well to prepare ongoing plans for growth and additions to our vital infrastructure as required.
*In August of 1900, the initial all steel and wood-planked bridge (now a walking bridge) was built over the Battle River just south of the Village of Ponoka, which would become a thriving town in 1904. The bridge would later serve the heavy traffic going back and forth to the new Provincial Mental Hospital, which was completed in 1911, and also provided easy access for rapid development on both sides of the river and into the rural districts. A similar bridge structure over the Battle was also approved by our first Ponoka Town Council in 1909 in the north end of the community. The next big major construction came in the 1960s when the government built the present bridge and over-pass above the CPR tracks and the pristine Battle River Valley as an extension to the east/west Bashaw Highway.
*There is no doubt that for most of us local youngsters, over the years, we walked, rode our bikes or travelled with our parents across those town bridges a hundred times, took refuge underneath if it rained, and may have even got lucky enough to catch a big Jackfish as well as snagging lots of suckers. We may have even snuck a smoke or two under those bridges or swam for hours just around the corner from the north bridge at the patch of sand which we affectionately called ‘Bare Bum Beach’, or had late night wieners roasts, with just a few beers at a favourite end spot at the south end called ‘Three Islands.’
*Many of us stood on those bridges and watched in awe and fear as the Battle suddenly flooded it banks because of ice-jams or heavy spring rains and melts. Whatever the case, we are so lucky to have lived in a fabulous friendly town that ‘has a mostly peaceful river flowing through it.’ Please watch for announcements of the date for the new bridge opening ceremonies; join the ‘Name the new North Bridge’ contest, and have another great and balmy mid-summer week all of you.