George W. Kerr

Staff: 51,52,53,54,55,56,58,57,58,60,64

By F. Bruce Ryans (53-55, 56)

Back in August of 1952, the 135th Toronto Scout Troop was camped, once again, at Big Bear Point.  A new Scout Executive (Field Commissioner) who had been assigned to Kennabi H.Q. Staff, in late July of 1951, to be Administrator/Program Director, pulled up to the dock. He had some business with Scoutmaster Tom Corner. It probably had something to do with the weekly regatta to be held at Big Bear that Thursday afternoon. The seventeen years old Troop Leader held and steadied, while he admired, the new 16-foot cedar strip Peterborough Fisherman with the 10 horse power Johnson outboard motor.  When asked if he would like a ride over to Kennaway (a campsite downhill from Rotary Hub), he looked to his ‘Skipper’. Tom Corner gave a nod. The fastest boat on the lake, at that time planed and reached its top speed in a matter of seconds. What a ride!  Back at our dock I thanked the Field Commissioner before he sped away to finish his rounds. His name was George Kerr. I called him ‘Sir’.

George Kerr had known the 135th Troop for some years.  I’m not sure, but he may have visited us at the First Canadian jamboree (CJ49) on the Connaught Rifle Ranges just north of Ottawa.  I do recall him at the Toronto Metropolitan Camporee in 1951.  George would also remember the Kinnaird (mispronounced by us as ‘Kenard’) Trophy Hike Competitions held in the old North West Area in the 1940’s and the 1950’s.  Besides guidance and encouragement from Skipper Tom Corner we had extra help from the District Commissioner, Major John Firminger (Indian Army Retired) and from the Field Commissioner, George W. Kerr.  Did George have any idea back then, how the scouts of the 135th perceived him?  Did he know that we referred to him as…”Our Field Commissioner”?  Probably not!

George had most of the accommodation problems solved: Ma had Cooky, Helen had a room in the Hospital (Bayview), Jim had his office/cabin near the Rotary Hub, Bill had his home out at the highway and the deputies with their families had cabins on the north shore.  George had his own, quite new illustrious cabin called Bunky. Now this left eight of us to occupy that not so illustrious cabin, Mill Valley Manor.  The truth was that only 7 fitted into that old cabin. An 8th man probably would have had to use a folding cot in front of the door.  I was relieved to hear that the veteran and senior Water Safety Man (a.k.a. Swimming Instructor) Larry Whitehorn (51?-53), was to bunk in Bunky.  I know that otherwise a rookie would have had that place in front of the Mill Valley door, and I suspect that the rookie could well have been yours truly, the junior Water Safety Man (a.k.a. Canoe Instructor). I thank George, albeit late (about 48 years), for his solution. For the summer of 1953 George replaced J.C. Moore (47-70) as Camp Warden (a.k.a. Director in Chief).  He had two Deputy Wardens.  The late, and great, Don McLean (53, 59-61) was new to the Kennabi Staff but Ed Gawley (?, 53), who was on loan from the Hamilton Association, had had previous experience on H.Q. staff.  As Food Supervisor (cook) George had the veteran Ma Hardman (52?-54) from Georgetown and as Hospital Nurse, Helen Cruden (later Anderson) (53-56?) who although new on staff had just completed a tour of duty up at Dryden.  Possibly the official, but not full time Camp Physician, was Jim Anderson (53?-57?).  The Kennabi Caretaker was Bill Wilson (50-56?), a veteran woodsman. George also had 5 veteran youths, but he had needed to hire 3 new members.  Two of those rookies were from the 135th Troop. Rene Marmoreo (53-54) and I were very lucky and we knew it.

We worked long days at times, and 7 days per week. We were allowed one night out each week and George might have arranged the schedule that teamed Al Moore (47-54), Rene and myself.  We three traveled to town in the 3 ton Hertz truck with Al at the wheel.  Our team lasted until Rene and Al retired from Staff in September of 1954.

George had more than his share of problems in 1953. It was the summer of the Second Canadian Jamboree (CJ53) at Ottawa and George must have done some fancy juggling of staff in order to get us there. He managed. Al Moore as a truck driver who needed two feet to drive (standard shift on all the trucks) arrived in June on crutches. George must have had some concern but Al managed the job somehow. This was the summer that one of the relatively new 10 hp Johnson outboards destroyed a gearbox. This was an expensive repair that George’s budget could have done without. It added extra strain to George’s books when a second disaster occurred to an outboard. One of the old ok Johnson Seahorse 8.1 hp veterans threw a piston rod through the cylinder wall and destroyed the block. Amid minor disasters and near chaos at times George managed to entertain a special visitor … a young lady named Gwen.

At some point George must have become concerned with the lack of rain. The grandfather of George’s problems was to come from that direction.  The staff was busy keeping an eye on campsite ground fires that seemed to be more numerous than usual.  The Ontario Sea Scout Camporee was set up and expecting the Department of Lands and Forest (now Ministry of Natural Resources) Fire ranger to arrive on Saturday, August 15, 1953. He was to give a demonstration. It never happened. Bill Sarginson never got past Kennabi Lodge. He arrived with the news that Pike’s Peak was burning. That disastrous fire would not be out officially, until Tuesday, September 1st. The final water was applied two days before on Sunday, August 30th.  If only those Sea Scouts could have been seated on the rock above the gorge, they would have had much more than just a demonstration.  When George recorded the Pike Peak Fire he recorded that serious draught as “…34 days without rain”. He must have been somewhat alarmed for the first few days of the fire, while he tried to juggle staff. If Bill Sarginson and his mostly amateur crew, had not been able to bring that fire under control within a couple of days, George would have had to face the fact that the fire could have jumped the creek. The fuel source would have improved and the fire could soon have reached the road. Camp Kennabi could well have had its only access road cut off. I’m sure that George and Bill had discussion on that point. It was a stressful episode with which to finish and eventful summer. We survived. As did our Chief.

Whether in full or camp uniform, George was always in parade order. His items of dress were clean, pressed or polished.  If only more leaders could have set such and example.  Now the 1953 staff must have given their boss quite a turn. We generally wore our standard length khaki shorts in an irregular fashion. We had the bad habit of folding them up 3 or 4 turns. Yes come to think of it, we overdid it slightly. No – we overdid it greatly, I’m quite sure. Don McLean carefully followed George’s lead except that there was a slight problem. Ed had very baggy shorts. That was about half of the Deputies problem. Ed’s shorts came well below his knees. It would actually be far better to say that those shorts came a little above his ankles. They could have passed for very long shorts or rather short trousers. Everyone noticed them. Perhaps Ed was making a statement!  George even mentioned them in his 1953 year-end report.

I also have a letter dated May 11, 1953 that is signed by George W. Kerr, Field Commissioner. This letter from the Boy Scouts Association Toronto Metropolitan Region affirmed my employment. George states, “The actual period of employment is from Monday, June 22, 1953 until Monday, September 7, 1953 at a salary of $150.00 with accommodation and food supplied by us. This meant that we worked: 9 days in June, 31 days in July, 31 days in August, 7 days in September, making a total of 78 days. This also meant that we worked for about $1.92 per day, plus room and board. If we worked on the average, 8 hours per day, we earned about 24 cents per hour. According to at least one alumnus, those were the Fabulous Fifties!  Maybe Warner was just trying to be funny. Back in those Good Olde Days George worked at 1162 Bay Street (west side, just south of Bloor St. W.), Toronto Headquarters. When one dialed (rotary) Princess 4486 the telephone rang, and a live body answered. Wow! Fabulous!  “George …maybe Warner has a point.”

The performance was at a campfire one very dark night and George Kerr was half of the duet. It was a campsite along the north shore I believe, and quite possibly Don McLean was the other singer. The fire was large and bright but I can’t say what troop were the hosts, and I can’t say I even know how I managed to be there.  It may have been 1953. As staff we may have been guests. I do know for sure that it was the first time that I heard the song. The duet had brought along a pail, in less than mint condition. It was a valuable prop.  They sang, “There’s a hole in my bucket, dear Georgie, dear Georgie – there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Georgie …a hole!”  I think that I just may have that right. That long song ended with laugher and applause.  They had put on a great performance and they had kept straight faces throughout it all. It was great and I had discovered that out Field Commissioner could really sing. Does George recall that night?

In the Thunderbird Issue No. 31 – Fall 2000, George Kerr rightly came to the defense of his Illustrious Cabin. I do recall Bunky in 1953 as a very new cabin. It was similar in size to old Cooky but with perhaps a slightly steeper slope to its roof. As George said, Bunky was “…not the ice house” and was “…built on a portion of the swamp across the road from the Kennabi Lodge, in almost the exact spot where the Snack Shack now stands”.  To tell the truth, I have no idea where the Snack Shack stands, but I can still see Bunky. It was definitely facing towards the office door of Kennabi Lodge and it was quite close to the edge of the road.

Now Mill Valley Manor (original staff cabin) was in a different portion of the same swamp.  It was opposite the Hospital (Bayview) and much further back from the road.  Mill Valley’s front door faced the porch and front door of the Hospital.  Bunky and Mill Valley were not really close to each other.  There may have been 30’ or more between them.  In the Thunderbird Issue No. 30 – Summer 2000, “Ye Olde Editor” (to quote George) Warner Clarke, states that “Mill Valley in the 1953 picture is located about where the Snack Shack is now”.  If both George and Warner are correct, that Snack Shack must be long enough to house a bowling alley.  Now if only one of those Olde Boys is right, then I have no idea … where that Snack Shack …really is located.  Help!!

I was pleased to hear that Bunky was still in use as a staff cabin*, but not so pleased to hear that it had been moved so far from its place of birth.  Is it an honour that it has been moved to higher ground?  Is it a demotion to have been moved from such a prominent location?  How does Our Olde Field Commissioner feel about the fate of his Illustrious Cabin?

*After a long and faithful service, Bunky Cabin was finally demolished in 2007.

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