Ponoka’s Glengarry connection
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.