Ponoka’s Glen­garry con­nec­tion

The Glengarry News - - The Opinion Page - BY SCOTT CARMICHAEL News Staff

On Sept. 1, 1905, Al­berta of­fi­cially joined Con­fed­er­a­tion.

Among the roughly 185,000 in­hab­i­tants of the newly-cre­ated prov­ince was a Glen­garry na­tive who the year be­fore had made a lit­tle his­tory of his own – hav­ing been elected the first mayor of the town of Ponoka, a bustling lit­tle Prairie out­post at the time.

John Dar­roch (J.D.) MacGil­livray was born at Kirk Hill in April 1861, and moved to Madi­son, S.D. in 1880.

He re­turned to his na­tive Glen­garry in 1893 to marry his sweet­heart, Mag­gie Ann, also known as Etta, a fel­low Kirk Hill na­tive.

The cou­ple hon­ey­mooned at the World’s Fair, in Chicago, where they could have sam­pled Wrigley’s chew­ing gum, or a stack of pan­cakes pre­pared by Nancy Green, the real-life Aunt Jemima; viewed a demon­stra­tion of a dish­washer; or rode the Fer­ris Wheel – all of which were pre­sented to the world for the first time at the ex­po­si­tion.

The MacGil­livrays re­turned to South Dakota fol­low­ing their post-nup­tials, wel­com­ing four chil­dren – two sons and two daugh­ters, one girl dy­ing at an early age – over the next eight years.

In 1901, the fam­ily moved to Ponoka where J.D. built and op­er­ated a feed and fur­ni­ture store, and also op­er­ated an un­der­tak­ing busi­ness.

Three years later, he be­came the first mayor of the small town – pop­u­la­tion 473, ac­cord­ing to the 1906 Do­min­ion Cen­sus.

Mr. MacGil­livray’s ven­tures thrived over the next few years.

But in March 1905, a fire gut­ted the ma­jor­ity of the town’s main street build­ings, claim­ing his busi­ness hold­ings.

Un­de­terred by this turn of events, Mr. MacGil­livray took his fam­ily to Stet­tler, Alta., where, for a short while, he op­er­ated a fur­ni­ture busi­ness to serve an ex­pand­ing com­mu­nity of in­com­ing set­tlers.

“Homestead­ers were so anx­ious for fur­ni­ture that Mr. MacGil­livray set up shop right on the train and con­ducted a cash and carry trade,” stated his Feb. 21, 1963 obituary in The News.

The fam­ily re­turned to Ponoka in 1907 where J.D. started up a real es­tate busi­ness.

In 1911, with his fam­ily now num­ber­ing seven chil­dren, Mr. MacGil­livray moved to Ed­mon­ton, where the cou­ple’s eighth child, a son, was born.

Af­ter a very brief stay in that city, they were on the move again, this time to the small com­mu­nity of New Brig­den in the lush south­east­ern Al­berta prairie lands, about 230 km north of Medicine Hat.

The MacGil­livrays lived on a farm there for the next two decades, with two more chil­dren, a son and a daugh­ter, ar­riv­ing dur­ing that time.

How­ever, life on the farm – plagued by the Dust Bowl of the early 1930s which ex­ac­er­bated the al­ready-cat­a­strophic eco­nomic and so­cial con­di­tions brought about by the Great De­pres­sion – was at times, harsh.

Della Free­bury (née MacGil­livray), one of J.D.’s daugh­ters, re­called the fam­ily’s ex­pe­ri­ences and the chal­lenges it faced in a bi­og­ra­phy found in an on­line fam­ily tree.

“Al­though the prospects seemed good (at the time of the move), and the hopes were high, the dry years came more of­ten than those of suf­fi­cient rain,” re­called Mrs. Free­bury.

“Af­ter 22 years of strug­gling against these odds, J.D. and Mag­gie again pulled up stakes and moved to Fawcett, north of Ed­mon­ton.”

The cou­ple farmed there, with more suc­cess this time around, un­til Mr. MacGil­livray re­tired in 1950.

Mag­gie died in 1954, and five years later, J.D. moved back to Ed­mon­ton to live with his daugh­ter (Mrs. Free­bury). He died in 1963 – at the age of 101. Ac­cord­ing to the afore­men­tioned bi­og­ra­phy, when Mr. MacGil­livray be­came a cen­te­nar­ian, he was asked to what he at­trib­uted his longevity.

“I never was much for wor­ry­ing,” he replied.

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