Description of Historic Place
Built in 1929, the Community Rest Room is a simple, two-storey rectangular building. Constructed of cast concrete blocks, the building features three doorways and display windows on the ground level, four rectangular windows on the second storey, and a belt course and parapet along the main roofline. The Community Rest Room occupies one lot and is situated on the north side of 51st Avenue in Ponoka's main commercial district.
The heritage value of the Community Rest Room lies in its association with the historic role of women in Alberta's small communities and its connection to the growth of women's organizations in the province during the first half of the twentieth century. It is also significant for its cast concrete block construction.
In rural Alberta, towns served as retail and service centres and as places for people to congregate for recreation and socializing opportunities. Street life in these towns tended to have a distinctly masculine tenor with businesses catering to men, such as hotels, bars and pool houses, proliferating. Facilities catering to the needs of women and families were essentially non-existent. Following examples in other provinces, many communities began to establish rest rooms, many of which were founded and operated by the Women's Institutes of Alberta (WIA). These utilitarian buildings typically contained washrooms, a kitchen, a sitting room, a play area for children, and a small library. They provided women with a much needed place to rest and refresh themselves, to take care of small children and to socialize with other women. A matron or caretaker, who typically lived on the premises, was often hired. In the short term, the rest rooms perpetuated the marginalization of women in town life by maintaining a clear demarcation between the male and female spheres of activity. However, in the long run, the rest rooms gave women a forum for meeting, socializing and organizing, which allowed them to play an increasingly active role in the social and political development of the province. Although the Community Rest Room in Ponoka was a local initiative, it was similar to buildings erected by the WIA. It was built in 1929 replacing an earlier, wood frame rest room at the same location. The two-storey, 50'x 20'concrete block building cost $5107.55, which was paid for through fundraising and a $1,450 mortgage, which was repaid within four years. At completion, its amenities included a waiting room and a washroom on the main floor, and a kitchen, three toilet stalls and sinks in the basement. A small library was also present. As evidenced by the presence of four residential-sized windows, the second floor was used for apartments, which were normally used by the matron and unmarried women working in town.
As towns progressed beyond their initial development periods, better construction materials and practices were employed. The use of brick and concrete increased due to the sense of permanence and status they leant to businesses and to their fire-resistant properties. Many communities enacted by-laws and zoning regulations requiring the use of fire-resistant materials, particularly in commercial areas where buildings often abutted their neighbours. Concrete, which could be either poured in place or cast in blocks, was highly valued for its durability and fireproofing qualities. However, aside from basements, foundations and decorative work, it was rarely used in large quantities due to the relative difficulty of transporting this heavy material. By 1929, Ponoka, like many towns, had suffered a number of fires that had destroyed many structures in the commercial district, notably in 1902 and 1914. As a result, new buildings in the town's commercial area had to be constructed with more fire-resistant materials. The Community Rest Room is an example of this new kind of construction. The concrete blocks, which were formed to resemble stone, are used for all exterior walls, giving it a relatively uniform appearance. The only variation is provided through the exposure of the concrete aggregate on the simple parapet, the lintels and the wide belt course, which separates the two storeys. The heavy use of concrete serves to give the building a substantial appearance, which somewhat belies the structure's plain design.
Source: Alberta Culture and Community Services, Historic Resources Management Branch (File:Des.2006)
Key elements that define the heritage value of the Community Rest Room include such elements as its:
- overall simplicity in design;
- exterior walls constructed of pre-cast, concrete blocks, which are molded to simulate stone;
- use of exposed concrete aggregate to highlight decorative elements on the front facade, including the simple parapet, wide belt course separating the upper and lower storeys and the window lintels;
- concrete window sills;
- fenestration pattern of four narrow, residential scale window openings on the second level;
- fenestration and doorway pattern of the main floor, which consists of three entryways with transoms and three large window openings arranged in an alternating pattern;
- flat roof, which slopes slightly to the rear;
- presence of three toilet stalls and sinks with original plumbing fixtures, tongue and groove stall walls and hardware in the basement.