Wednesday, April 7, 2021
Trains and Drug Stores
Like last week’s blog post, I am honouring the family history of a friend of mine. He gave me this post card about which I am blogging today, the post card from last week’s blog, and a few more post cards yet to come. This post card shows a locomotive at the station in Ponoka, Alberta. The picture was taken around 1910, but the post card was mailed on June 4, 1912. http://forthjunction.ca/news-ponokanews-0214-roadandrail.htm One of Ponoka's first buildings, the Canadian Pacific Railway Station was built in 1891 and served our community and districts for 77 years. Siding 14 began in 1890 as a solitary railway depot, which was inhabited by the section crew and a caretaker for the nearby octagonal wooden water tower, which was fed from a small reservoir in the Battle River by a windmill driven pump. As a vital supply point for the huge steam locomotives, these structures would be our modest beginnings, and soon welcomed hundreds of railway workers, settlers, labourers, professionals, and businessmen looking to establish their homes, their farms, and their livelihoods here. Due to the demand on the facility and the event of the steel rails reaching the Ponoka siding from both directions, the community's first official building, the big brown station was built in 1891. The classic 'B' type train depot included a long loading platform and a waiting room, which in the winter was heated by a stove all night long to accommodate incoming railway travellers or locals looking to get warm. A landmark at the end of Chapman Avenue, the water tower also supplied a nearby hydrant to assist our local fire department with the dousing of many fires that occurred in the countless wooden buildings now being built in the community. It became obsolete with the Canadian Pacific Railway's conversion to the powerful diesel locomotive in the 1950s, then was dismantled and rebuilt as a granary on a farm north of town, and still stands to this day. The men working on the tracks with wagon teams and heavy equipment in those days had no easy life, facing backbreaking tasks, long hours, sickness (influenza and other maladies), unpredictable conditions, and low wages of just $1.50 per day. Those with teams were paid $2.50 a day and board, while teamsters received $25.00 a month and board in the village. Most camped beside the river as they moved along with the crew, while some stayed in the station with the agent and family, and only a few could afford the $4.00 a week room and board in Ponoka. Early historians claim that during the construction of the railway, a massive stock pile of wooden ties near Morningside stretching half a mile were piled over 50 feet high, with some remnants still remaining to this very day. It wasn't long before three daily trains were arriving in the Ponoka station, quickly setting the daily rhythm of this now bustling town (1904), with a steady influx of freight, mail, and passengers, who may either make this community their new home or move on down the line. While Dick Slater and his dray were delivering supplies throughout the community, freight and grain cars would rest on the siding while they were loaded from elevator row or with livestock from the stock yard. Mail was sorted on board the train, so service was prompt, and passengers could now reach Lacombe in comfort in just 20 minutes. That busy train station was the 'heart of Ponoka' for many decades, the centre of heavy traffic and supplies, a friendly place to pop in and purchase a ticket, and on many occasions the spot where hundreds gathered to greet the arrival of their hockey team, a celebrity, or family and special friends. Rail passenger and local freight traffic would steadily decline as highways improved and car and truck ownership grew. The historical train station was demolished in 1968 to make way for a new Shopping Centre development, while the speedy Calgary/Edmonton day liner service was discontinued several years later. The main C.P.R. line is now very busy day and night with long freight trains hauling every type of cargo, but the fond memories will always remain of those shrill whistles blowing both day and night or of the long plumes of smoke that billowed from those big black steam engines as they lumbered into and through town 24-7 with their precious cargo, always followed very closely by that now long extinct old caboose. http://forthjunction.ca/cpr-stations.htm Wood Combination Station and Freight House (1891) The Calgary & Edmonton Railway was constructed from Calgary to Red Deer in the fall of 1890 and continued on to Edmonton the following spring. Stations were primarily boxcars until, in 1891, the railway built a cookie-cutter combination station and freight house approximately every twenty miles along the route. Each was constructed in about three weeks. They started out virtually identical but over the next several years, modifications were made to each station to make them more functional according to the needs of the community and station master resulting in some distinction but the primary characteristics remained. Besides Red Deer, this design was built south at Innisfail, Olds, Carstairs and Airdrie. North of Red Deer, they were built at Lacombe, Ponoka, Wetaskiwin, Leduc and Strathcona. By 1914, the stations at Red Deer, Lacombe, Wetaskiwin and Strathcona were replaced by larger stations and the original stations were relocated and converted to freight sheds that were in use until the 1950s. The stations at Ponoka, Innisfail and Olds remained as the principal station also until the 1950s. The Innisfail and Olds stations were replaced by unimaginative and utilitarian cinder block buildings. South of Calgary, similar stations were built at High River, Claresholm, Okotoks, Nanton, and De Winton. The Calgary & Edmonton Railway (owned partially by railway builders McKenzie and Mann as well as James Ross, a contractor with the CPR) leased the line to the CPR until the CPR purchased it outright. The back of the post card tells us that the Campbell Drug Company of Ponoka was the seller of the card. Check out this website for more history: https://www.ponokanews.com/community/reflections-when-ponoka-got-water-power-and-phone-lines/ The first telephone pole to be installed in Ponoka along the Bell Telephone Company Calgary to Edmonton phone-line was set up across the street from the present Royal Hotel in 1903. A hot item of interest in the Sept. 9, 1906 edition of the Ponoka Herald would report that Bell and the local town council were now involved in a ‘heated scrap’, as the telephone company had gone to work erecting poles on almost every street and back alley of the new town without getting permission from the city fathers. Thankfully this little spat was settled quite amicably and the first telephone office was opened that same year at the back of Dr. Campbell’s Drug Store in the Baadsgaard Building along Chipman Avenue. Sidney Bird pharmacist and property owner in Ponoka, first opened a drug store in Ponoka in 1910, and then took over the Campbell Drug Store in 1916.