180530, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 22
Looking Back - John Kinnear
The Kerr Legacy of Jack, Gordon and Bill
Part III
Looking Back
Courtesy: Kerr Family
Jack, Bill and Gordon at the cabins
Part I: The Kerr Family Legacy - The Early Years

Part II: Unfolding the Kerr Story

So I left off last week with a promise to share the stories of James Runciman Kerr’s three sons and to chase down the other generations of Johns. Let’s start with Jim and Florence’s first son John Albert Kerr (Jack) who was born in Bellevue and schooled in Coleman. After graduating in 1952 Jack went into the cattle business at Sentinel and three years later married Jean Bagley whose grandparents Ray and Danny (Elizabeth) Bagley raised horses and cattle at the old Hoggan homestead at the base of Mount Tecumseh. They moved there in 1940 and renamed Crowsnest Ranch. According to Jean they also delivered milk during the war by horse and buggy in the summer and sleigh in the winter to the Sentinel section house and as far west as the Summit Limeworks-(Graymont).

I found a corporate history document that listed Jack as a fireman in 1956 at the East Kootenay Power Plant at Crowsnest Lake. During the thirteen years they was living at the Sentinel community Jack and Jean had four children- Jim, Douglas, Karan and Carol. In 1969 the plant, which had operated since 1927, was closed and the family moved to Fernie where Jack worked for BC Hydro’s at Elko and eventually Hydro’s main control center in Cranbrook. While in Fernie all four kids took to skiing big time. Jim made it to the BC Regional Team but broke his ankle two years in a row ending his racing career. Doug made it all the way to the Canadian National Team and raced with the Crazy Canucks - Ken Reid and Steve Podborski. Jim Kerr sort of followed in Jack’s footsteps and worked for many years at the steam plant at the Skookumchuk Mill which has been operating since 1968. Both of Jack’s girls raced in the Nancy Green League. Jack passed suddenly in 1994 and Jean, now 82, lives up Tecumseh Road near her daughter Carol. Carol tells me her dad worked the very last shift at the Sentinel Plant and that Jack’s grandfather, Alb May, worked the very first shift there.

Gordon Kerr, the youngest of the three boys, enrolled in the Faculty of Wildlife Technology at Montana State University and got his Bachelor of Science degree in 1961. Gordon went on to join the Alberta Department of Fish and Wildlife and was a regional wildlife biologist in the Lethbridge area for a time. Gordon wrote his master’s thesis on the Rocky Mountain Goat of Alberta in 1965. He became Chief Wildlife Biologist in 1967 and went on to be Assistant Deputy Minister of Recreation, Parks and Wildlife for Alberta in 1976. He married Marilyn Collins while at Missoula and has two sons, David and Jason.
continued below ...
Gordon eventually left his Alberta government job in 1981 and spent fifteen years as a director of the Prairie and Arctic Region of the Canadian Wildlife Service. In a recent conversation Gordon told me that that he is particularly proud of the family decision to turn their Chinook Motel area holdings over to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

The third son of Jim and Florence was James William (Bill) Kerr and his life history, revealed to those of us in attendance at the Frank Slide celebration recently, is a remarkable legacy. Sarah Kerr has made her delightful speech on Bill available on line.

Right from the get-go Bill immersed himself in geology. Sarah said his interest was sparked by a Dr. Friebold who was a German geologist and head of palaeontology at the Geological Survey of Canada. Friebold stayed several summers at the Chinook cabins and employed the Kerr boys as assistants, collecting fossils from the field. On Friebold’s recommendation James enrolled in the U of A’s Geology department which he graduated from in 1956 with first class honours and a gold medal from the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. The year prior to this he was a student with a thirty man party including eleven geologists and Eskimo guides with dog teams that explored the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the High Arctic. Those islands, which are the northern most cluster of the Canadian Arctic, contain four glaciers that represent 14% of all glaciers and ice caps in the world. They are way the hell up there.
continued below ...
He joined the Geological Survey of Canada in 1961 and went on to get his Doctor of Philosophy Degree in Geology and authored more than forty scientific papers on the geology of the Arctic. In 1978 he went to Cambridge in England to research and ultimately publish a paper on Oceanography and Continental Drift.

Through his long career he considered his self publishing of the book “The Frank Slide” one of his favourite accomplishments. It has been in continuous publication since 1990 and at the Slide event Sarah was there to kick off a republication of an updated, redesigned version of this definitive book on the Slide story. Bill also wrote the first twelve pages of the first edition of Crowsnest and Its People and it is an important and comprehensive overview of the geology of the Crowsnest Pass. If you really want to wrap your mind around our area’s geologic history, this introduction to Crowsnest and Its People will certainly do it for you.

So Bill Kerr was a bit of a character and according to Sarah was: “warm and gregarious, interested and interesting. He always had an intriguing conversation topic to spice things up.” Bill used to carry an thumb-sized oval shaped magnet in his pocket and when conversations lulled would pull it out and ask people to guess what it was. It was in fact a “cow magnet”, something I had never heard of. These magnets are routinely given to calves after branding to prevent “hardware disease”, another term that’s new to me. Cows ingest all kinds of junk like nails and wire because they don’t use their lips to discriminate what’s going in and don’t completely chew their food before swallowing. This can cause some serious health issues if the junk gets pushed into the peritoneal cavity for instance.

Sarah shared the following story about her father’s magnet shenanigans: “Bill was undaunted in his cow magnet campaign, and when he attended his old college friend Jim Lowell’s 70th birthday in Colorado, he happened to find himself at the bar beside Jim’s son-in-law, Richard Gere. Instead of asking what it was like to be a famous movie star, Bill pulled out the cow magnet and asked Richard to guess what it was.”

Bill married Sheila Smith in 1965 and they have two daughters, Julie and of course Sarah. Bill had a debilitating stroke in 2010 but despite his physical impairment stayed engaged mentally. Of these times Sarah said: “Even in this confined life, he was a man with dreams and plans, and I think these impossible dreams were part of what kept his soul alive in that difficult place. He needed to imagine a future that was different and better than his present. He could speak perfectly coherently about the moment, and also talk about his plans for about a fantastical future. We treated it all as equally real and valid.”
continued below ...
Bill passed in April of 2017 and, like so many of the Kerr’s that passed before him, left behind a legacy of accomplishment and talented, educated family members. So having taken you this far I must take leave of this Kerr journey for a while so that I may do more in-depth research on the final chapter of their story. There are more John’s to come and it will allow me to eventually share their stories and shine a respectful light on the legendary Kay Kerr.

One thing that has stood out for me as I delved into this iconic family story is that they all displayed a strong connection to the land and a determination to preserve its integrity. Whether it was Jim creating Chinook Lake and transplanting fingerlings or Gordon working for decades on provincial and national wildlife issues or Bill tirelessly promoting interest in our remarkable geology, they all carried that powerful bond to their natural environment. And they passed it on to the following generations. Carol Ostrom, Jack Kerr’s daughter, tells me she still loves to go to Chinook Lake, where she finds there a quietness and serenity there that keeps drawing her back.

Author’s Note: In Jean (Bagley) Kerr’s write up on her grandfather Raephael Venearz (Ray) Bagley I found the following poem. It was posted at the main gate of the old Crowsnest Ranch and repainted faithfully every year. It read:
“Hell hath no fury so they say,
Like a woman scorned, but anyway,
Close this gate, for I’m telling you,
I get pretty damned fussy too.”
Ray Bagley

Part I: The Kerr Family Legacy - The Early Years

Part II: Unfolding the Kerr Story

Digital issues of the Pass Herald are now available:

Subscribe and read the FULL Pass Herald online.

or read just this issue of the Pass Herald online.
180530, 2018 ~ Vol. 89 No. 22
All information on this website is Copyright (c) 2018 Pass Herald Ltd. All rights reserved.
12925 20th Ave, Box 960, Blairmore, Alberta, Canada T0K 0E0 | news@passherald.ca | 403.562.2248 | 403.562.8379 (FAX)