Sion Rural Electrification Association
 
A major development in Alberta history, in which the community of Sion played an important role, was the formation of the Rural Electrification Associations, known for short as the REAs.
The REA movement in Alberta began in the late forties.  The dirty thirties, with all their economic deprivations, were followed by the Second World War which took us to the mid-forties.  When the second world war was over, and economic development was finally an achievable goal in rural Alberta, electrification became the talk of the country as well as the town.  
Electricity was common enough in Edmonton and Calgary by the late forties, and then in rural areas came the REAs.  In May 1956, a few years after the province-wide movement started, a big swath of country known as the Sion region, stretching roughly from Onoway to Busby, officially formed the Sion REA.  Thanks to Henry Nikulski, a former Board Chairman, for this information.  
"The first president was Walter Kennett," Henry says.  "On the Board with Walter Kennett were D.G. Fraser, Wm. Reidford, Chas. Green, W.T. O'Brien, Geo. A. Lorenz, P.T. McKee, Geo. R. Donald, P.O. Busby and Fred Michaluk."
Farmers were converting to electric power in droves, and they wanted their power company to be farmer-owned.
There was the Arndt family, for example, who immigrated from Europe in 1948.  They were among the earliest customers of the REAs.  Richard was only 11 when the family settled down in their first location at Freedom, about seven miles northeast of Barrhead.  In later years they bought three quarter-sections of land just a mile south of Kakina Lake in Township 56, Range 2, west of the Fifth Meridian.  In more recent times Richard's stepbrother, Ken Rendfleisch, became a board member of the Sion REA.
Richard Arndt married an attractive young lady named Dorothy Gibbs, and they moved to Onoway to set up a grocery store in the building which is today the Onoway Flower Shop (Flowers Plus More, 4970 - 50 Street), so they were not classed as rural any more, but the Sion REA was accumulating rural members like you wouldn't believe.
The original founding members kept multiplying and they never stopped.  By the time the Sion REA amalgamated with a much larger organization called the Central Alberta REA, which is today headquartered in Innisfail, the Sion REA membership had grown to 423.  Sion REA is now an integral part of Central, which boasts nearly 8,000 members.  REA membership throughout the province, by the way, is about 44,000, which illustrates the significance of the rural electrification movement.
In the Sion area the history was particularly fascinating.  The first secretary-treasurer was Ruth Kennett, whose husband Frank was a brother of Founding President Walter Kennett.  As founding President Walter chaired the Board of Directors for its first 12 years, and Ruth was secretary-treasurer for those years.
Then came a "transfer of power" so to speak, when another prominent farmer in this area took over the presidency from Walter.  That was Marvin Schole, who had by now served as a director for ten years and was considered well qualified to inherit the chairmanship from Walter Kennett.
"Ruth carried on as our Secretary-Treasurer all during my tenure as President," Marvin recalls, "and that must have been all of another ten years.  I know she carried on after that for an additional five years or maybe more."
In recent years the Central Alberta REA presented quarter-century certificates of appreciation for excellence of service.  Among the leading recipients of this recognition were Walter Kennett, Marvin Schole and Secretary-Treasurer Ruth Kennett.  "As we looked back over a quarter-century of service it was quite an honour to be so closely associated with the way electric power had transformed our lives as farmers," Marvin reminisces.
The Schole family, incidentally, received the prestigious provincial Master Farm Family Award for their attractive and prosperous agricultural establishment on the north side of Highway 651, just east of George Lake.  That farm, naturally, is still in the Schole family (Marvin Schole's son and his family).
Back to Ruth and Frank Kennett.  Their son Neil is today a prominent and very successful farmer just north of Manola in Barrhead County.  Our thanks to Neil for some colorful early history of the Sion REA.  
"We lived adjacent to the fifth meridian in the early years," Neil recalls.  "We were about a mile north of the Baseline Road which proceeds west from Alcomdale.  Uncle Walter had a farm just two miles west of the meridian."  
Walter lived on the south side of the Baseline Road, which on county maps is identified as Secondary Road 570.  His farm was just east of the old Tomten farm, which meant the Tomten family was in Barrhead County and Walter was across the road in Sturgeon County (at that time still known as Municipal District of Sturgeon.)
REA Secretary-Treasurers who followed Ruth Kennett in later years included Pam Heinz, Alberta Fesik and Fran Palmer.  
Henry Nikulski (already identified above as the source of much of our information) presently lives in the southeast corner of Barrhead County.  He was a prominent Board Chairman for years.  "Henry must have been Chairman for at least seven or eight years," reminisces Helmut Jantz of Busby, who was on the larger Central Alberta 2005-2006 Board of Directors.  
The Sion REA cooperated closely with neighboring REA's, Helmut recalls.  "There was the Yellowhead REA, for instance, which bordered us on the west.  Our friend Brian Turnbull was on the board of that one, and we got along very well with them."
Yellowhead, like the Sion REA, has also now amalgamated with Central Alberta, providing greater economies of scale to give Alberta farmers the best possible service at the lowest possible rates in the electric power business.
The Sion REA amalgamation with Central Alberta REA Ltd. officially took place on May 31, 2005.  Since that time Helmut Jantz of Busby has now retired from the Board.  Doug Drozd of the Sion area, who has been serving on the Board along with Helmut, continues on the Board.  As a long-time resident of the Sion area, Doug has shown a particularly keen interest in Central REA's Onoway operation.  He had a prominent role, for example, in the Ground Breaking Ceremony for the new REA Building in Onoway, located at 4804 - 41 Street (Range Road 21), south of the tracks.  The sod-turning was held April 12, 2006
Doug Drozd is seen in the above Central Area Board of Directors shot (courtesy Central REA) in the back row, to the left of General Manager Pat Bourne.  To Doug's left is Sion REA's Helmut Jantz, and in front of Doug and Helmut (seated) is Board Chairman Jim Towle.
"Our continued growth with the amalgamation of Sion REA this past year has now put membership at over 7,700," Jim told delegates at the Onoway meeting on April 12.  "This continues to help us all as members by spreading our basic costs out over a larger membership base."