Philip Pon: Popular Prairie Entrepeneur

I recently received an Edmonton Journal article published on May 12, 1934 that showcased Hughenden and Hardisty businesses, and suggested to readers that these were great communities in which to live and to conduct business.

From the article, I selected the bit about Philip Pon and his restaurant to focus on. As I pawed through the local history books, I found no biography dedicated to Mr. Pon solely, but I did discover others’ fond recollections about the early business owner.

Here’s a piece by Mary Burpee that I read in The Lantern Years: Buffalo Park to Neutral Hills (1967)) about Philip Pon and his family:

Gee Sam was our jovial Chinese restaurant operator in 1916 or perhaps even earlier. Another later Chinese operator of note was Philip Pon. He and his efficient little wife were popular Hughenden citizens. Philip, a keen hunter and a good shot, dressed in his hunting clothes, was a familiar sight on the village streets in the company of other good hunters. In the golfing season he golfed and here again he dressed for the occasion – as did many other town golfers – in plus fours. He liked to drive fast in big, powerful cars, and it was a common sight to see Philip zooming past, a cigar (Churchill style), his constant companion. A connoisseur of fine liquor, he liked to treat his friends on all special occasions . The chop suey suppers at which he and Mrs. Pon entertained on very special occasions were a delight. The writer had the pleasure of being a guest at one such supper., which was occasioned by the departure of Mr. and Mrs. Don Esplen, one of his friends from the Bank of Montreal. The writer will also never forget the cups of steaming coffee enjoyed in Mrs. Pon’s spotless kitchen on wintry mornings, while out on bank business.

While Pons were in Hughenden they adopted two children, Valeen and Norman. Norman was still quite small when they left. Valeen, a clever young miss, took most of her schooling at Hughenden. Stimulated by J.L. McKinley’s teaching talent in Grade 9. she was a runner-up for the Governor General’s award, and with her good sportsmanship, was the first to warmly and sincerely congratulate her successful competitor and friend, Eileen Kennedy. Valeen later graduated from the University of Washington in journalism and then enrolled at the London School of Economics, University of London. Always a brilliant scholar she soon received her Master’s degree in social welfare and then embarked on a hitchhike tour across Europe.

I don’t know about you, but this introduction to the Pon family made me want to find out more – especially about Valeen. What a girl!

British golfer wearing Plus Fours, c. 1930s. Photo from Getty images.

Now here’s what Shirley Manning submitted about Philip Pon to the history book Memories and Milestones:

From what I can remember hearing, it wasn’t too long after that my dad got a job working for Philip Pon, the hotel owner in Hughenden. Dad worked in the bar. He would take Philip Pon’s car and go to Wainwright for beer. Quite a trip back then. My mother looked after the rooms and cooked for the dining room. There was a laundry in Hughenden at that time run by a Chinese man named Pon Jack. The hotel bedding was taken there. My mother told me I was very close to Pon Jack and Mr. and Mrs. Philip Pon. Philip Pon was an early entrepreneur; he owned the hotel and restaurant. He was a real sportsman too. He gave my dad his first golf clubs and enjoyed so much teaching my dad the game. If he only knew what he started for my family!

Also in Memories and Milestones, Dan Key shared what he remembered about Philip Pon:

Philip Pon did a lot for the local young folks. He drove a large automobile and generously allowed [hockey] teams to use it – but only if Gordon Swelin would be driving it. He also allowed us to use his restaurant booths to play rummy (for nickels) on weekends.

This is the full Edmonton Journal article about Hardisty and Hughenden businesses in 1934.

Back in the day, the new community of Hughenden offered small business owners and operators opportunity. The villages in the railway era depended upon these businesses and the folks who ran them. Philip Pon and his family made contributions to this community through both their generosity and their hospitality. Decades later, people still remember.

Thank you Alan Zakrison for sending this Edmonton Journal article to me. ~ Lori

By A-H History

Our mission is to create and contribute to projects that preserve the history of the Amisk/Hughenden, Alberta area.

2 replies on “Philip Pon: Popular Prairie Entrepeneur”

Good story Lori.

I’ve always been intrigued by Philip Pon stories.

Philip Pon owned the restaurant when the fire destroyed that section of main street in May of 1932. In the same paper that reported the fire it also reported that Mr. Pon had rented a small building from my Grandpa Martineau and that the lumber for the new restaurant was already “on the ground” and the basement was excavated. On June 23rd The Hughenden Record states the building should be up and running soon. In September he was getting the stucco on the exterior. They sure didn’t waste any time back then did they?

He was also listed as a hotel keeper in 1928-29 Henderson’s Directory. Maybe it was the same building and business?

It would be interesting to learn more about Valeen Pon. Seems to me that I’ve heard her referred to by another name. Maybe that was her birth parents name, not sure. I must have seen that in some of the old Hughenden Records. Shirley Manning might know more about Valeen. I have a picture of her somewhere, probably at the Circle.

Thanks for the story!

Take care,


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