Profile on Ponoka
At the one hundred and six kilometer mark south along the old Edmonton Railway Company train tracks, sat an uninhabited trackside clearing dubbed “Siding 14”. Back in the late 1800’s the tracks ended here some fifty-six kilometers north of Red Deer. In August of 1891 a railway employee re-named the siding “Ponoka”, the Blackfoot word for Elk being ponokáwa. The only access road into the area was the winding and rugged Calgary and Edmonton Trail (C&E Trail), previously known as the old Morley or McDougalls’ trail.
Building a depot in 1892-93 gave the caretaker and section crew living quarters. A large water tower, fed from the nearby Battle River by a windmill-powered pump, became a supply point for the steam locomotives twelve-hour run between Edmonton and Calgary and served firefighting needs of the rapidly growing community. The “Ponoka” settlement officially became a town on October 15, 1904.
The Fort Ostell Museum sits at the north end of Centennial Park in Ponoka. The name comes from the original Fort Ostell – built near Ponoka in 1885. The Museum Society was founded on June 25, 1967. To secure the area, members of the “Alberta Field Force”, numbering 462 men, arrived from Calgary under the leadership of Captain John Benjamin Ostell and set about building a fortification near the Battle River. This fort bore its name in honour of Captain Ostell. For fifty days, from May 9 to June 27, 1885, Fort Ostell served as a military post. While nothing remains of the fort today a model resides in the Fort Ostell Museum along with a history of Captain Ostell and the original flag that flew over the fort.
The Museum Collection consists of agricultural and household objects of the early pioneers and natives from the late 1800’s. In 2004, as part of Ponoka’s Centennial, the museum brought back the “Alberta Mental Hospital Museum” collection from storage. This collection is unique as few collections of mental hospitals exist in Canada. These historical artefacts and archival materials from 1911 to the present are on display as “The Treatment of the Mentally Ill in Alberta” collection.
The museum collects artifacts which tells the story of the area’s past. It also serves as a research tool for many residents seeking specific details about the area or historical events. To find out more about the Fort Ostell Museum, its collection of historical facts and operations schedule, visit fortostellmuseum.com.
Today, Ponoka is a busy centre of commerce with a population close to seven thousand. Six hundred and eighty businesses serve the population, protected by the local volunteer fire department, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment and local bylaw enforcement. Health care facilities include the Ponoka General Hospital and Care Centre, the Centennial Centre for Mental Health and Brain Injury, the Northcott Care Centre, and the Rimoka Housing Facility.
Every farm and ranch community relies on a system to sell their livestock and Ponoka has one of the top sales markets in the country in Vold Jones Vold (VJV) Auctions, established in 1957. VJV employs 9 full time regular staff and about 60 temporary staff on regular sale days. A record of about 6400 cattle have been sold in one day in the past, with over 2600 head being sold on Oct. 28, and 5000 on Nov 4, 2015.
Drop by during regular cattle sale days each Wednesday and get ready for the lowing of cattle and the call of the auctioneer as you sip delicious coffee and a chat with cowhands and ranchers from real cattle country. Visit vjvauction.com for more information on all of VJV Auctions locations.
A choice of kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools, numerous business opportunities, several shopping options and many eating establishments, make Ponoka a great community to live in or visit. Fifteen churches and eighteen service clubs call Ponoka home. Tourism, arts, recreation, sports, entertainment and golf, Ponoka has it all. For more information on this thriving community, visit ponoka.ca.
Story by Ray Johnson
Photos courtesy of boxjbarranch.com