Growing up in my favourite home town

I managed to get through school, got my first real job at the Ponoka Herald

Hammertime

Every week when I come into town to visit the congenial crew at the Ponoka News, I love to stroll along Chipman Avenue, hopefully running into someone that I know, while also wondering what it was like in this very same spot when Ponoka officially became a town over 111 long years ago. It was likely a bumpy dirt road lined with a few wooden buildings, which would have included the Land Titles Office, a blacksmith shop, a couple of boarding houses and the splendid Royal Hotel, both of which were full of visitors as well as the crews who were busy building the new railroad along the Battle River.

Although I don’t go back quite that far, my early memories of growing up in Ponoka are many, right from that bitter cold winter day that we arrived here from England, via Wainwright in 1949. My dad Michael Sr. had acquired a job at the huge and rapidly growing Provincial Mental Hospital as an attendant on the nursing staff for starting wages of $125 a month, and together with my mother and myself, we shivered, but finally got settled in our first Canadian home, which was a tiny three room shack in the Riverside district. My brother Peter came along a little later after we had moved into a bigger bungalow across from the golf course along the hospital road. What I will never forget is all those wonderful people who helped us out and always made us feel welcome in the community.

I guess it took me a long time to grow up, but I loved this little town right from the start, including those first treasured adventures of starting Grade 1 at the classic Red Brick School, my first job as a paper boy, being so shy on the first date to an afternoon matinee at the Capital Theatre, and my first hockey game at the big wooden arena across from the steel bridge. Along the way, I managed to get through school, got my first real job at the Ponoka Herald, got married, and welcomed our first born on yet another cold winter day at the old Ponoka General Hospital.

Along the way, it was a real rush of ups and downs, highs and lows, great times and tough times, but I was so lucky to meet a whole lot of wonderful folks of all ages at work and at play, who were always willing to give a helping hand, a hug, or a pat on the back whenever it was needed. I really couldn’t think of a better community to raise a family and to learn the vital importance of sharing, and caring, and friendship. This week, I would love to share a few of these wonderful early memories of my 55 plus years gallivanting in and around Ponoka, and I know that all of you will never forget so many of the same.

● When I could finally get into Carter’s Pool Hall, I could barely see the top of the table, but I knew how to hit the pocket, play safe, and hook someone.

● The smell of fresh bread every morning from Silver Bakery was to die for, as well as those big 5-cent coconut buns, which were enough for dinner.

● Fishing at the Battle River dam (still there) where we caught or snagged lots of jack-fish and the odd-sucker, sold them to the Chinese Restaurant for two bits a piece, and then went swimming in our underwear or buff on a hot day.

● Going to the Somshor’s Drive-in Theatre in the north end (summers only) with 15 kids in the car or truck was a real thrill for only a $1, and for 10 cents apiece we could share the popcorn and beer all night.

● I will never forget watching our first black and white television set in the living room, CFRN and CBC were the only stations, and we weren’t allowed to say much so that everyone else could hear, especially when mom was watching Stampede Wrestling.

● A real treat on Saturday was shopping with the folks, dashing up and down the long aisles, carrying out the big paper bags full of groceries, and then trying not to nibble when we put them away so that we could get a sweet treat later.

● Riding the school bus from the Alberta Hospital and down the hill to Riverside, hunting gophers with dad, singing out of tune in church on Sundays, and standing in the train station watching those big old trains roaring through, waving at the engineer, and hoping that he would toot his noisy whistle.

● In those ‘cool’ days, the whole town watched the Stampeders play hockey, the Kinsmen outdoor swimming pool was always full and gave us ‘goose bumps’ if we stayed in too long on a cold day, everyone road double on their bikes, you joined the Cubs and chased the Brownies, and the big adventure was hiking over to the CPR black trestle. When we finally got old enough to get into the bar, the beer came in jugs and glasses, there was lots of smoke, spittoons, and a juke box. Some of the most popular people around town were the milkman, the policeman, the guy with the ice-cream cart, the postman and the cute waitresses at A and W drive-in. Ponoka will always be the greatest place I have ever lived, thanks for all the amazing memories, and have a great week, all of you.