The Bonnyville Pontiacs organization was founded in 1952 as the host organization for the Bonnyville Senior Hockey Club. The club had previously been known as the Bonnyville Bruins, but in return for a new set of jerseys purchased by the local Pontiac car dealership, the team was renamed the Pontiacs. The team played its’ first game on December 16, 1952.
In 1959 the Senior Pontiacs won their first of four consecutive Craig Cups, emblematic of the North Eastern Alberta Hockey League Championship. Back then Senior Hockey was the“big time” for most hockey players, and the N.E.A.H.L. was considered one of the top leagues in the province. Bonnyville imported and paid players as did most Senior teams. The Pontiacs consistently drew 1500-2500 people per game in the old Bonnyville Arena which had a capacity of 1200! The Senior Pontiacs went on to become one of the most successful senior hockey teams in Alberta, racking up many Provincial championships at the Senior ‘B’ and later, Senior ‘A’ level as well as dominating the several leagues they played in over the years. The crowning glory came in the 1980-81 season when the Pontiacs met Winnipeg in the Hardy Cup Western final, after having defeated Victoria in the Alberta/B.C. playoffs. The Pontiacs lost the series in Winnipeg, but could always be proud of the fact that this small town team from rural Alberta had reached such heights. The Senior Pontiacs put Bonnyville “on the map” in hockey circles and were largely responsible for this community’s long love affair with the game of hockey!
In 1973 the Bonnyville Junior ‘B’ Voyageurs were launched, becoming Bonnyville’s first Junior level hockey team. The program was unsuccessful and folded after two seasons, due in part to Junior-age players wanting to play for the higher-caliber Senior club instead. In 1980 Junior ‘B’ hockey was reintroduced when the Bonnyville Bees took to the ice. In 1987 the team was renamed the Bonnyville Sabres. The Sabres enjoyed several hugely successful seasons culminating with a League championship and Provincial Jr. ‘B’ silver medals in 1990-91. The Sabres organization was a model for financial success and was as well-financed as many Junior ‘A’ clubs.
With the success of the Junior ‘B’ program, talk turned to the possibility of bringing a Junior ‘A’ franchise to Bonnyville. A committee of local business and hockey people was formed to explore the option and after a few months of discussion, it was decided that the Alberta Junior Hockey League should be approached. At the invitation of the League in early 1990, a delegation consisting of committee members Rick Cabana (Vice-president, Jr. ‘B’ Sabres), Dennis Germain (President, Senior Pontiacs), and Town of Bonnyville Recreation Director Martin Taylor attended an AJHL Board of Governors meeting in Edmonton to gauge support for a franchise in Bonnyville. Cabana and Germain assured the League that there would be community support for a Junior ‘A’ team and Taylor answered questions about the suitability of Bonnyville’s new arena and the availability of guaranteed ice times. Since the presentation was informal and fact-finding, no decision was made by the League at that time, but the delegation was encouraged to pursue with their application. However, for any proposal to succeed, it was absolutely critical to have the full support of the Junior ‘B’ organization since their program would have to cease operations in order for the Junior ‘A’ program to operate. It was decided to delay Bonnyville’s bid for a Junior ‘A’ franchise for one year due to the fact that the Sabres had been chosen as the host team for the 1990-91 Provincial Junior ‘B’ Championship tournament and the team was a strong contender to win. After the Provincial tournament was completed, the Bonnyville & District Recreation Sports Association worked closely with the Jr. ‘A’ organizing committee to assure that there was widespread support to the franchise application.
In early 1991 a group from Bonnyville consisting of Germain, Cabana, and Ray Prevost (President, BDRSA), attended a meeting of the AJHL Board of Governors to prepare for the formal franchise bid to be presented later at the AJHL’s Annual General Meeting in June, 1991. After giving an informal presentation and answering questions from the Governors, the group received tentative approval to proceed with their plans and to return in June with their $50,000 expansion fee. In just over two weeks, the committee raised more than the required expansion fee through a “Founding Fathers”program. Businesses and individuals were invited to contribute $1,000.00 toward the purchase of the franchise in exchange for season tickets and recognition.
A third delegation consisting of Germain, Cabana, Prevost and Ned Brand, attended the League AGM in Red Deer to make their formal presentation. Much of the presentation had been prepared to exacting standards by longtime BDRSA executive members John and Rose Smith. On June 1, 1991 the League Governors approved Bonnyville as the 9th member of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, joining Calgary Royals, Calgary Canucks, Fort McMurray, Fort Saskatchewan, Lloydminster, Olds, St. Albert, and Sherwood Park. (Hobbema still had a franchise, but it was on a leave of absence and never did return to the league.) The famous Red Deer Rustlers had ceased operations just a few years before. Along with a franchise, the Bonnyville group bid for and received the hosting rights for the 1991-92 All-star game.
The group returned to Bonnyville excited with the reality that their community would be home to a Junior ‘A’ team, but also aware of the magnitude of the task before them. In just over two months they would have to ice a team. Immediate concerns included electing an Executive and Board of Directors, hiring a Coach, GM, deciding on a name for the new team, team colors, etc. And of course, there was a matter of two to three hundred thousand dollars that needed to be raised before anything could happen. But with the determination that is typical of Bonnyville, and the enthusiastic support of the business community, all goals were easily reached-- and in some cases exceeded. The political structure for the new organization was the easy part. The Bonnyville & District Recreation Sports Association, which operated the Junior ‘B’ Sabres, now become the host organization for the Junior ‘A’ group. Ray Prevost, who had been president of the BDRSA was elected president of the new group along with a full slate of 18 directors, some of whom had been with the Junior ‘B’ organization, some from the Senior Pontiacs, and some who had no previous affiliation with either group. Dennis Germain was appointed League Governor. The Board held interviews and chose Ned Brand as the first Coach. Brand had been Coach of the Junior ‘B’ Sabres the previous two seasons. Larry Paul was chosen as Assistant Coach and Kris Barnes was appointed as General Manager. The name for the team would be the “Pontiacs” in honor of Bonnyville’s senior hockey team. The Senior Pontiacs logo-- a stylized Indian head from the hood ornament of a 1952 Pontiac car-- was adopted, and team colors were the Los Angeles Kings colours of black, grey and white. Eventually the group met all of the challenges before them and readied itself for the inaugural season of the Bonnyville Pontiacs Jr. ‘A’ Hockey Club.
The first regular season home game was played September 14, 1991 against the defending league champion Calgary Royals before a huge crowd in the R.J. Lalonde Arena and resulted in a loss for the home team to the tune of 8-3. That first season would prove to be very difficult with wins few and far between. In hindsight, it might have been better for the team to have prepared for a year after receiving the franchise, as is common now, however, the Pontiacs improved in their second season and again in their third and worked through the many difficulties associated with being in a small market. With the tremendous support of the community, the organization has become a great financial success, and with dedication, perseverance, and “Pontiac Pride,” on-ice success will be achieved as well.
The Pontiac name has been associated with Bonnyville hockey since 1952, and just as the Senior Pontiacs were honored to pass on their name to the Junior ‘A’ hockey team, so were the Jr. ‘A’ Pontiacs similarly honored in 2001 when Bonnyville’s Minor Hockey Association decided to rename all its’ teams “Pontiacs”, ensuring that the Pontiac legacy will live on for generations to come.