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Kimberley Families

The Keer Family

as told by sons Allan and Warren

Mr. Ben Keer was a well-known man to almost everyone in Kimberley, and until his death at almost ninety-eight, he was a teller of colorful tales, especially in describing his arrival in this area on the hurricane deck of a cayuse. That was before the Canadian Pacific Railway made its way through the Crowsnest Pass.

He had been employed by the C.P.R. in Alberta, as a teamster, in the summer of 1896, and as they closed down their operations in winter, he looked elsewhere for employment. The contractor in charge, Mr. Dan Mann, informed him that teamsters were needed in British Columbia at the North Star Mine. The ore from this mine was brought down the mountain in sacks to a loading platform, then loaded on a sleigh or wagon and hauled to North Star Landing on Kootenay River, twenty miles away, where paddlewheelers plied the river between there and Jennings Montana. From there the ore was shipped by rail to the nearest smelter. The biggest load was by sleigh and weighed nineteen tons. The steepest grade was getting up the hill out of Kimberley. The story is told that Ben once had to unload half the sacks of ore at the bottom of the hill, take half the load up the hill, unload that and come down to pick the other half. Once up the hill again, he reloaded the first half. It was after this episode that the Company kept a bin filled with sacks of ore at the top of the hill so the teamsters could top off their loads before continuing on to the landing, which was mostly down grade from that point on. This was known as the McGinty Trail, named after an Irishman that lived near a spring and a lake and which became an overnight stopping place for the teamsters, as they could not make the return trip in one day.
Mr. and Mrs. Ben Keer.

This mode of transporting the ore was terminated in 1900 when the C.P.R. built a rail line between Cranbrook and Kimberley. They ran a mixed train daily with one passenger coach at the back.

Mrs. Keer was born Miss Laura Campbell, in Bruce County, Ontario. While visiting in San Francisco, she read an advertisement for a governess in Kimberley, B.C. How she got from there to Vancouver is not known, but she travelled from Vancouver to Golden via Canadian Pacific Railway and came down to Ft. Steele by stage coach.

The superintendent of the North Star Mine was a Mr. Kern and it was he who needed a governess for his children. Ben Keer was sent to Ft. Steele to pick up Miss Campbell and bring her to the Top Mine, a distance of over twenty miles. No doubt this gave the young couple a chance to get acquainted. She worked for the Kerns until Ben and she were married in February of 1901.

Their first child, a daughter, Margaret (Madge) was born in December of that same year. She was the first white child to be born at the Top Mine, directly across the valley from the North Star Mine. This was the beginning of the Sullivan Mine which today is the largest lead- zinc mine in the world.

For two years, Ben worked for the Lucky Boy Mine in the Lardeau country in the West Kootenays. Before they left Kimberley, a second daughter, Dorothy, was born.

When Ben returned, they settled in Marysville, just six miles south of the Top Mine. The Company decided to build a smelter on the banks of the St. Marys River, at the confluence of Mark Creek. This is where Ben started back to work in 1906, as an electrician. Unfortunately, the complexity of the lead-zinc ore proved too difficult for the smelter, so after two years of frustration, the smelter closed down, never to start up again. The smelter in Trail could handle the ore from the mine. A few years later a man named Harry Logan was in charge of dismantling the smelter.

Marysville at this time was bigger than either Top Mine or Kimberley, but they were starting to grow and families were moving in. Milk was needed for the children. Mrs. Keer had two cows and from this small beginning, a dairy grew. Ben delivered milk to all, from Marysville up to Kimberley and up the long hill to the Top Mine. Ten cents a quart in summer and twelve and a half in winter. He had a unique way of bookkeeping. A quart was 1 and a pint was a dot. The accounts were totalled and paid once a month. In the early spring, the snow would be all gone from Marysville to the bottom of the long Sullivan hill, but ice and packed snow covered the road to the Top Mine, so Ben would keep a sleigh at this point and transfer the milk from wagon to sleigh, until the ice was gone. He sold his dairy business to the Company when they started up a dairy in 1925.

Two sons, Allan and Warren, were born in 1905 and 1908. When they were old enough they helped with the milk delivery. Warren remembers one winter the hill road from McDougall Townsite to Kimberley was very icy. They were fortunate enough to have a couple of friends with them who got out and held on to the back of the sleigh to keep it under control.

After giving up the dairy, Mr. Keer built a home three miles from Marysville, up the St. Marys Lake road, overlooking the St. Marys River, on property bought from Sandy Hodgson.

Mr. Pete Lund operated a sawmill at Matthew Creek, that cut railroad ties. This was a few miles further up the road towards the Lake, and a flume ran right past the Keer property to Marysville. There was a siding just south of the old Keer dairy, where box cars could be loaded, directly from this flume.

Between Marysville and Keers property is a clearing near the river called Camp Stone. It is now the site for the Boy Scouts camp and a favorite picnic ground. Years ago a man named Dan Howe homesteaded this property and cleared the land.

During the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, Mrs. Keer was a practical nurse, going into homes where whole families were in bed, and staying for a week at a time. Warren remembers how they all had to fend for themselves for a few weeks. That was when anyone that had to go out, wore a gauze mask sprinkled with eucalyptus, across their nose and mouth. When she came home, the whole family except Mr. Keer and Allan caught the flu. The two had to carryon the dairy alone. There were forty-four cows to milk and the delivering to be done. In the winter time the cattle had to be fed and the barn cleaned. That meant long days of hard work.

Allan recalls his mother taught in the first small log school house in Kimberley where the Elk's Hall now stands. Then when they moved to Marysville, she also taught in the first little school house that was another log cabin. It was located where the car wash is now.

Daughter Madge trained as a stenographer in Spokane, Washington, in 1918 and returned to work in Cranbrook until her marriage to Harold Bidder in 1932. They resided in Chapman Camp where Harold was employed by the Company until his retirement. He died in January 1973. Madge lives in an apartment upstairs in the Pioneer Block.

Dot passed away in 1960. Both Allan and Warren worked in the Mine as miners, then on heavy equipment at the Top Mine on the back fill operation.

One winter, Allan decided to trap up the st. Marys Valley for an old chap, Bob Huggard, who told him he could spend the winter in an old cabin on the other side of the mountain. After transporting his equipment and supplies in on his back, he found the cabin in a deplorable condition. The door was off and the chinking between the logs had fallen out in many places. The chimney wasn't long enough and he once almost burned the place down when the roof caught fire. Luckily there was enough snow to extinquish the blaze before too much damage was done.

His next job was cooking for three years in one of the Company exploration camps. He was told there would only be five or six men, but he ended up with twenty-two. When he first started, he knew practically nothing about cooking, but bought a cook's cap and some aprons and armed with his mother's cookbook, he did all right.

Allan married Peggy Knickerbocker, whose mother and father owned and operated a milliners shop, they also operated a beauty parlor. For a time, Musie Douglas was the hair dresser. She married Allan's brother Warren. Allan retired in February 1965 and he and Peggy still reside in Marysville. They had one son, Jack, killed in a car accident while quite young.

Mrs. Ben Keer passed away in 1948. Ben lived to be almost ninety-eight, a very well remembered figure around the area.

Warren has always had a love for horses and during the depression of the 1930's, was engaged in handling a pack train as a guide for big game hunters. He also assisted in mine exploration for the Company. He worked for the Forestry during fires, carrying supplies to the fighters in remote areas. For years he also ran a trap line in the St. Marys Valley.

Warren also is retired and residing on the home place. He is well-known for his commercial hobby, as he calls it; the breeding and selling of Morgan horses, an excellent breed. He maintains a stable and corrals on the south end of Marysville, right next to the Purcell Drive-In Theatre.

Ben Keer

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