John William Kerr
Narrated by his grand-daughter Bea (Kerr) Henderson
Spirit Walk at Crown Cemetery
September 17, 2012.
In Scotland, in the 1800's, the Kerrs were noted Clydesdale breeders. They exported many horses to
Canada and Australia and often won first prizes at shows. At his death, John Kerr, grandfather to the
John William Kerr we will discuss tonight, had at one time 28 stallions at stud which were ‘farmed
out' throughout the border counties of Scotland.
Kerrs lived in Dumfrieshire Scotland, about half-way between Gretna Green and Lockerbie near the
border with England. We know Gretna Green as the town where young couples get married when
they run away and elope, and today we know Lockerbie as the spot where the Pan Am plane
bombing occurred in 1988.
John Kerr's son, William, was born in November1827 and came to Canada in 1854. According to
old family letters, times were bad in Britain then - potato crop failures and layoffs in the local
knitting factory were mentioned in the letters. William worked for Andrew McRobbie for some
time, then bought Lot 20, Front Concession 9, and in 1863, married Andrew McRobbie's daughter
Their son, John William Kerr, is the subject of this biography.
John William, born on October 2 1872, was the 4th of 7 children (5 sisters and a brother).
In 1876, when John William was about 4 years old, his father sold Lot 20, Conc. 9 and bought Lot
21, Concession 10 from the Crown.! John William grew up there. The Kerrs were neighbours to the
four McRobbie farms.
Picnic in Puslinch
One of the most successful picnics ever held in Puslinch took place on the 1st of July in the
bush belonging to William Kerr, on the 10th concession, under the auspices of the
Presbyterian and Corwhin Methodist Church Sabbath Schools. The day being fine, upwards
of three hundred people were present. After refreshments were served, the audience was
treated to a number of selections of music by the choir and interesting and instructive
addresses by Rev. Richard Coe Hender of Hespeler Circuit, Dr. Alexander MacKay of Duff's
Church and Messrs D. Barbaree, Mckenzie and P. McLaren, which were greatly appreciated
and listened to with much interest. A number of games such as baseball, swinging, table
and lawn croquet, etc. were indulged in, much to the pleasure of the younger class. One of
the chief attractions was a match between the Darbyville Baseball Club and the Corwhins
resulting in the defeat of the former by a score of 7 to 20. Altogether, the occasion was one
of great interest to all.
Thursday July 2, 1885
John William went to school at SS#10 Corwhin and during the winter of 1886-7 he took a business
course in Guelph. In 1896, at the age of 24, he was able to buy Lots 27 & 28, Rear Concession 9
and started farming for himself. This farm was called ‘Bonnie Brae'.
John William's mother, Margaret McRobbie, was remembered as a loving mother and kindly
neighbour, who was often called on in times of illness, but she had a tough pioneering spirit as well.
Once, when her husband was away from home, she spent a night guarding the pigpen with a butcher
knife after a bear had got in and killed one of their pigs. She raised her infant grandson Hugh when
his mother Mary died at a young age.
John William had five sisters and one brother. Tragically, three of his sisters died young, Margaret at
20 from measles, Mary at 23, leaving Hugh, the baby grandmother Margaret adopted, and
Catherine, who also died of inflammation of the lungs at age 18. His brother Andrew had a
childhood accident which left him deaf. Andrew never married and later on farmed with John
William. Andrew outlived all his siblings, dying in 1965.
John William married Alison Irvine Henderson from the 4th Line, Beverly Township in 1910. They
had five children, Margaret Grey , born 1912, William James, born 1914, Ernest Andrew, born 1917,
John Irvine, born 1921, and Elizabeth Jean, born 1923.
John William was a very successful farmer. He kept up with innovations in farming methods. His
Durham cows were on R.O.P .that is, Record of Performance, a provincial testing program so
purebred animals can be rated. He kept between twenty-five and forty purebred Oxford Down ewes.
He regularly entered field crop competitions, tried out new varieties of grain, and was the local
supplier of seed grain, binder twine and wire fencing to other farmers. He drained his land, replaced
rail fencing with new wire fencing, entered ploughing matches and had one of the first silos in
Badenoch, built in 1902. In 1915 he bought a gas engine to pump water, make chop and clean grain.
One of his first acts after buying his farm was to plant an orchard and currant and gooseberry
bushes . His account books tell us that in 1907, he sold 34 bushels of apples. In 1908, he got 2nd
prize at a seed growers competition, and that year he also bought himself a Montana buffalo robe for
$6.75. By 1909, he had forty head of cattle including a bull, six horses, a ram, sixteen ewes and
thirteen yearling ewes, fourteen lambs, five pigs, a rooster and twenty five hens. He got his first car
in 1919. He was doing very well.
Roads were hopelessly bad in the early 20th century. John William graveled his own lane in 1912.
By then, telephones were coming into use, so he installed telephone poles the same year. He must
have been one of the first in the township to get telephone service installed.
John William's obituary contains a lengthy list of the offices he held in various organizations, but
his long service to Duff's Church is possibly the most significant. John William Kerr was virtually
the backbone of Duff's Church for over 50 years. In the early 1890's he was on the Board of
Managers. When the church was remodeled in 1903, he chaired the building committee. The
renovation was a major undertaking. The walls were raised, a basement was put in, the gallery
was! taken out and the front tower was added.! He was an elder for 54 years and Sunday School
Superintendent for 55 years. In 1972 his family placed a carillon in the church "dedicated to the
glory of God and the service of man in loving memory of John W. and Alison I. Kerr." The church
history book records that he "carried on as Superintendent after fifty nine years of service".
In addition to his church affiliation, he was also trustee of Crown cemetery for 31 years, during
which time he made a map of the burial grounds and oversaw leveling of the front.
He was secretary-treasurer of the Puslinch Upper Canada Bible Society for 25 years. He was a
public school trustee, and active in the local horticultural society, the local branch of the
Independent Order of Foresters, and the Ontario Temperance Federation.
In 1918 or 1919 he contracted diphtheria which left him with a weak heart. He was forced to give
up his farm. The Presbyterian manse was up for sale, and he bought it along with its surrounding
acreage and he and his wife Alison moved there in 1921. He put in hydro and a bathroom in 1925,
then planted another orchard by grafting wild apples. He planted gooseberry bushes again and began
market gardening. Years later, his son (Bill) remembered helping him weed a quarter acre of onions.
There was 1-1/2 acres of potatoes, an acre of strawberries, and about the same of raspberries. He
kept a team of horses and two cows and grew their feed.
John William lived to the age of 87, dying on March 30th 1960, just shortly before his Golden
wedding anniversary. Alison died the following year on July 19th, 1961.
(Information from Bill Kerr interview, Betty Ferguson, "A Celebration of Lives" by Anna Jackson
and Marjorie Clark, Puslinch Historical Society archives and information from Pat Ganning, Duff's
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