May 23rd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 21
Looking Back - John Kinnear
Unfolding the Kerr Story – Part II
Looking Back
courtesy Crowsnest Museum Archives
William Kerr - pioneer and champion curler
Part I - The Kerr Family Legacy - The Early Years

So let’s back up this Kerr family history overview a bit before we return to unfolding the next generation of this remarkable family. We’ll start with the other pioneer Kerr of the brothers that immigrated to Canada, namely Bill. When I checked a Lethbridge Herald write-up on Bill’s passing in 1952 I discovered that these two Scottish pioneers (John and Bill) had in fact four sisters (Margaret, Mary, Daisy and Jeanne) at one time back in Scotland and two brothers. Brother James Kerr is listed as being in Hamilton, Ontario. Unmentioned in the obituary is their brother Robert Turnbull Kerr who came to join them in 1909. Robert partnered in the store but was a victim of the 1918 flu epidemic. He, like his brother Bill, was a talented violinist.

Warning: One can get thoroughly lost in all the John’s, Bill’s and Jim’s that unfold in this complex family tree and of course there are many more of the same name to come.

Bill Kerr arrived with John at Police Flats in 1906 after they had travelled west by covered wagon from Estevan and wintered in the Taber area. On commencement of a mine there he became engaged as a mail carrier for the Leitch Collieries and his daily routine called for a trip on horseback to Frank where the mails for the area were consigned and picked up. Bill wasn’t so enamoured with coal mining so chose instead to open up the Passburg General Store in 1908 where he sold everything from violins to horse collars, from stove pipes to patent medicines. As mentioned last week he partnered with John to take over a Bellevue store which he ran until 1947 when he retired. The Passburg store was closed shortly after his brothers passing suddenly in 1939 at the age of 56.

Bill was wholly engaged in his community. He was an outstanding curler who had skipped a rink that scored a perfect eight ender and was heavily involved in the Caledonian Society and the local Fish and Game organization. He also worked hard for the annual Labour Day Bellevue Flower show which was a gargantuan event with hundreds of entries in more categories than I could possibly list. He loved playing the violin and was part of the Bellevue orchestra and the still running Crowsnest Pass Music Festival. Bill passed five years after his retirement in 1952 at age 64.
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Returning now to young James Runciman Kerr and Florence Elaine (May) Kerr, we find that Jim left working at the Bellevue general store in 1935 and rented the Motordrome Garage in Coleman which he ran. During those days Jim was very involved with the Coleman Fish and Game Club and was foreman of the committee that dammed Allison Creek to create Chinook Lake. He was a true sportsman and conservationist. Like his uncle Bill, Jim was also an accomplished curler, winning many trophies and was part of the group that tore down the old curling club and rebuilt it at its present site in 1977. Kerr served a term on Coleman town council during the time that they negotiated the take-over of the town’s light and water from the coal company. This was a very smart and successful financial move. Always good to have a Scot on your council!

Jim sold the garage in 1947 as it kept him away from home too much and in 1950 they purchased that perfect piece of property at Sentinel. There in 1951 they opened the ten unit Chinook Motel alongside their new home. It was billed as a place where you could: “enjoy the scenic charm of the valley, the clean air, the mountain spring drinking water and the quietness at the home away from home log cabins.” I recall my father taking me there to show me the trout pond that they maintained for many years. There were some whoppers in that private pond!

Not to be outdone, Florence was a mover and a shaker herself. She played piano for the Bellevue United Church and in 1925 went to Normal School (teacher’s school) in Calgary. She taught school in Bellevue for four years. While in Coleman she was deeply involved with St. Paul’s United Church and the Victoria Rebekah Lodge #7 affiliated with the church. Of course she was the manageress of the Chinook Motel for the 21 years of its operation. Most of us refer to the motel as Kerr’s Cabins. Florence was always an informative host which usually resulted in longer stays and repeat customers to this iconic motel. It was her documentary note on the back of the CPR photographer Nicholas Morant’s photo of Crowsnest Mountain that drew me into the family story. See Capturing the Crow.
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Since I have no idea how to properly unfold this complex story in sequence I’m going to have to double back once again to the first John Kerr. As I mentioned last week John and Annie had three children- James (Jim), John and Mary. John was born in 1907 and his marker in Hillcrest says John Kerr II (second) as yes there was a third. And now a fourth and a fifth but I’ll get to that probably next week. I guess there is another family parallel here. I am John, my father was John, his father was John, his father was John and his father was John (my great great grandfather). When my grandfather was still alive I was technically John Kinnear III. Has a nice ring doesn’t it? I don’t expect a “Sir” to be added in front any time soon!

John Kerr Jr. (II) and brother Jim’s childhood and youth: “were spent in this area when it was unspoiled, unfenced and teeming with fish and wildlife.” His father and uncle taught him the finer points of fishing and hunting and of course they learned a lot about the retail business. And don’t forget- nothing was prepackaged back then and home deliveries were made with horse and buggy. John was home schooled for a time by Annie who was a school teacher in Glasgow but eventually went to school in Passburg and Bellevue. At the 1926 annual Labour Day Sports Day and Flower Show a nineteen year old John was persuaded to enter the five-mile road race which he won handily. It was the beginning of a pretty impressive athletic career. John attended Mount Royal College graduating with a business degree and then toughed it out through the depression. Crowsnest and Its People’s profile on John says he sold life insurance, gold stocks, roofing, was a cashier and paymaster for the milk company in Calgary and managed a lumberyard and post office in Whiskey Gap.

He had always been interested in the RCMP and in 1935 joined the force, training in Regina. He served five years during which time he used his photography training (from his father) and fingerprinting expertise to establish an investigative laboratory in Prince Albert. He married Kathleen Hanson in 1939 and returned to the Pass where, in 1941, he formed a partnership with his sister Mary, brother Jim and William Cole. Together they built the one and only Turtle Mountain Playgrounds on the old sanatorium site in Frank.
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It started out as a swimming pool, dance hall and lunch counter and evolved through the years with guiding and outfitting, a riding school and a motel. Eventually it became a full blown Motor Hotel complete with a dining room, cabaret, gift shop and an exclusive dress shop. Had some fun there at the cabarets I can tell you. The dance floor was supported by car tires.

I recall my older brother Alex coming home from that cabaret four sheets to the wind. Apparently he had been drinking “volcanoes” a mixture of vodka, almond liquer, cream of coconut, vanilla ice cream and a cherry on top.” They poured him in the front door of our house just like lava flows.

So John Jr. eventually bought out his partner, raised a family (John, Ann and George) and being the ambitious entrepreneur he was, started four Kentucky Fried Chicken stores in southwest Alberta. He eventually sold the hotel in 1970 and the KFC’s to his younger son John III.

Jim and Florence also raised a family of three sons- Jack, Bill and Gordon. Jack was born in Bellevue and the other two in Coleman. I am really looking forward to sharing the stories of all three of these men but especially that of James William Kerr, Sarah’s amazing father. And of course the rest of the John’s!

Author’s Note: I can’t say enough about the important work that Florence Kerr did from 1973 on for the museum, collecting family histories. The first volume of Crowsnest and Its People is my bible and everyone should own a copy. Not many communities have gone to this length to document their community’s story in such important detail. In Volume 3 there is a write-up about Florence and Jim’s ranch lands being donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada in July of 1999. They were adamant that their little piece of heaven never be developed. In March of 2011 I photographed 130 elk on the east side of their property near the cabins. Kind of says it all doesn’t it?

Part I: The Kerr Family Legacy – The Early Years

Part III: The Kerr Legacy of Jack, Gordon and Bill

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May 23rd, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 21
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