The History Of Kerrobert

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CraigBaird

Indigenous History

Prior to the arrival of Europeans, the land that would one day be Kerrobert was occupied by various Indigenous groups. The most prominent group were the Blackfoot, who would follow the bison through the area until for centuries.

As Europeans moved into the East, they began to push the Cree and Metis into the west, which would bring them into greater contact with the Blackfoot.

When settlement began in the area in the late 19th century, many settlers would find Indigenous artifacts on their land, as well as remnants of the bison, long since hunted to near extinction by Canadians and Americans.

Founding of The Community

While the community is called Kerrobert today, it would go through a few name changes before the current name was settled on.

It began with Hartsberg in 1906, as that was the name of the post office set up in the area. That post office would close in the fall of 1910, and a new post office was opened under the name Kerr-Robert. This new name would foster a growing community that would begin to prosper throughout the 1910s and into the early part of the 1920s.  The name itself comes from Robert Kerr, who was an early CP Rail executive.

William Burton Sample would erect the first store in Kerrobert. That first store was just a large tent that took three days to put up, secure and erect shelving inside. He was helped in the process by some CPR engineers who were in the area and were having some down time.  Harry Gain would become the overseer for the community in 1910.

On July 1, 1910, the community celebrated its annual picnic, with horse racing, ox racing and even some baseball games. By the winter, the number of people in the community was growing and there was talk of a Union Church being organized. The first meeting for the organization of the church would happen on Nov. 3, 1910, held in the Citizen Building with people sitting on planks nailed to nail kegs. Soon after, a Catholic Church would be built in the community.

Kerrobert sat on the Tote Road, which followed the right-of-way marked by surveyors, and was used for hauling supplies for the building of the new railway. When the railway was built into the community, it became become a railway centre for the west-central area of Saskatchewan, something that would continue until terminal elevators were constructed in British Columbia, causing rail traffic to be re-routed.

The railroad would be the lifeblood for the community, and upon the completion of the Wilkie-Kerrobert line, Engine No. 1423 with conductor James Long had the honour of being the first down the line into the community.

In 1913, the community became the seat of the Kerrobert Judicial District, which would lead to the construction of the beautiful courthouse I will talk about later.

Kerrobert and District Museum

Located within the courthouse, more on that later, the museum display includes the judge’s chambers, a former district court room that displays the works of local artists and other exhibits that display early businesses, churches, and schools in the area. In the basement level of the museum there is also a pioneer home display, sports museum and the jail cells that were used for decades.

Surrounding the museum and the historic courthouse is a large park that surrounds the building, perfect for a nice day of exploring the history of the community.

The Great Wall of Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan is not known for its stone walls, and while it is not The Great Wall of China, if you drive 20 minutes southwest of Kerrobert, you will come to the Great Wall of Saskatchewan. This wall was the project of a man by the name of Albert Johnson. It all began in 1962 when Johnson, aged 52, began to arrange stones to form a wall after he had cleared them off the surrounding farmland on his property. Johnson would not stop there though, spending the next 29 years building this wall. Over the decades, he would transport stone to the area, and the stones were placed so that the wall would support itself without the need for cement or mortar. On the outer layer of the wall, the stones were placed so that they tapered inward using specially shaped stones, to prevent the wall from moving. The interior of the wall was filled with small and odd-shaped stones. Spruce trees were also planted along the wall to provide protection from the wind.

A sod house, built in 1986, was also completed and is located next to the stone wall.

By the time of its completion, the stone wall had a six-foot base, stretching for nearly 2,000 feet, with an average height of six to 12 feet in places. Johnson would pass away at the age of 92 in 2001.

The Kerrobert Courthouse

One of the most prominent structures within Kerrobert is the courthouse, a two-storey brick building that was built in 1920 and served as a centerpiece for the entire community. The courthouse was one of only ten courthouses designed by Maurice Sharon in the Department of Public Works between 1916 and 1929 and is one of only five courthouses built within Saskatchewan in a rural community. The entire structure cost $145,000 to build. The courthouse was the second one built using the designs of Sharon, and the first to demonstrate the transition from Beaux-Arts Classicism to Colonial Revival style. Most communities under the supervision of Sharon received a small courthouse, but Kerrobert’s is capable of housing multiple courts at the same time, which demonstrated an optimism in the provincial government at the conclusion of the First World War.

The building was recognized as a Municipal Heritage Site on Sept. 8, 1982. The courthouse was initially closed in 1996, but today, it is home to the municipal offices of the town, as well as the museum.

Some say that the building is haunted, and people have said they heard whispering voices in empty rooms, and footsteps ascending a stairway and walking into a court room in the early hours of the morning. For why the place is haunted, that comes down to an old skull locked in the basement evidence room, which dates to a 1931 murder trial. That trial was defended by John Diefenbaker, the future prime minister of Canada from 1957 to 1963.

The reports of the hauntings in the courthouse date back as far as the 1930s.

If you go online, you will see several videos of orbs and other spooky happenings at this beautiful building on YouTube.

The Kerrobert Library

Most libraries are in simple buildings that have little in the way of history. For Kerrobert, their library has the distinction of being in one of the most historic buildings in the community. The Kerrobert Library building got its start as a prefabricated building assembly by the Bank of Commerce in small communities. Built in 1910, it was designed to be manufactured, transported, and assembled in a quick manner, costing less, and bringing banking to small communities. The lot that the building sits on were the first two lots to be auctioned off in Kerrobert, with the bank paying $2,040 for the property. Another interesting tidbit of information is that the man who served as auctioneer was Tobias Norris. He would go on to become the premier of Manitoba, serving from 1915 to 1922.

Starting as a bank, specifically the Canadian Bank of Commerce, the building served that purpose until the 1930s. During this time, the bank provided a vital service to the area, including ensuring that farmers and businessmen had credit to operate their businesses. In addition, the Kerrobert branch of the Bank of Commerce was one of the first businesses to operate in the community.

On Sept. 8, 1982, the Kerrobert Library building was made a Municipal Historic Site.

The Water Tower

Arguably the defining feature of the community of Kerrobert is the large water tower that looks over the town. Known as a standpipe water tower, it resembles a lighthouse more than a water tower. These types of water towers were rare, and only ten were ever built in Saskatchewan. Of those ten, four survive and Kerrobert is lucky enough to have one of those four.

The water tower was built in 1914 to provide water for the community during its earliest years. Easily the tallest building in Kerrobert, it became a landmark for the community but also helped save lives and buildings when fires would break out. A storage tank placed several meters above ground to the distribution network by means of a vertical pipe allowed for water to be transported in the event of fire, or to homes connected to the water system. In all, it held 150,000 gallons of water within its riveted steel structure that featured 11 seven-foot-high rings.

Today, the water tower is the only one of its type in Saskatchewan that is still in use.

The water tower became a municipal heritage site on Oct. 14, 1981.

The Railway Station

While trains are mostly a thing of the past as a means for passenger transportation, they were once a vital link to the rest of the world for small towns. The first place many new residents to an area saw was the train station. It was the structure that welcomed them as they stepped off the train and into a new life. For others, it was the last sight of home before they left to serve in the First and Second World Wars.

Many of these train stations are now gone, but in Kerrobert, the original train station remains.

Built in 1911, it featured a wonderful garden complete with a fountain, a welcome site for the people who arrived from overseas, looking for a new life.

Today it is the home of the Kerrobert Fish and Game Association, housing meeting rooms and a shooting range.

Robert Hanbidge

On March 16, 1891, Robert Hanbidge was born in Southampton, Ontario but would move out to Regina in 1909 where he began to take a Saskatchewan Law Society course. He would eventually article in the firm of Sir Frederick Haultain, who had been the premier of the North-West Territories prior to the creation of Alberta and Saskatchewan.

From 1911 to 1913, Hanbidge would play for the Regina Rugby Club, which today is the Saskatchewan Roughriders. In 1915, he married Jane Mitchell.

In 1920, he was in Kerrobert and was elected as the mayor of the community. Nine years later, he was the MLA for the area, serving from 1929 to 1934 as a member of the Conservative Party. While in the House of Commons, he held the position of Chief Whip under Premier James Anderson.

In 1945, he would run to represent the area in the House of Commons but lost. Over a decade later in 1948, he was elected to serve in Parliament, and would be re-elected in 1962.

In 1963, he was appointed as the Lt. Governor of Saskatchewan, serving until 1970 in that post. In 1968, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from the University of Saskatchewan.

He would pass away on July 25, 1974 at the age of 83.

The Saskatchewan Centre of the Arts convention hall was named for him initially, and Hanbidge Crescent in Regina is also named for him.

Esmond Allcock

I will close out this episode by looking at the story of a man who became the oldest man in Canada, which is no small task. His name was Esmond Allcock, and he was born on Jan. 26, 1910 in Moose Jaw, only five years after Saskatchewan became a province. As we saw earlier in this episode, Kerrobert was not even called that when he was born.

While he was born in Moose Jaw, he would spend 100 years of his life living in Kerrobert and farmed until he retired in 1975.

When asked what the trick was to live so long, he would say that it was selecting the proper spouse. He would be married to his wife Helen for 72 years, before she passed away seven years prior to his birthday in 2018. Over the course of his life, he had six children, two who died before him, 17 grandchildren, 36 great-grandchildren and 12 great-great-grandchildren.

After reaching over 70 descendants, he would finally have a descendant named for him, who he would meet in his 108th year, as reported by CNN.

Allcock would celebrate his 108th birthday on Jan. 26, 2018 in Kerrobert. He would pass away on March 22, 2018 at the age of 108, 55 days.

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