Heritage: My Parents’ Early Years

by Annie Coleman (Kerr) Sexton, published in Stanton Stats March 10, 1994

Father was born 8:00 a.m. August 4, in 1850. He started school but only went four days. The teacher was going to strap his sister and Father said: “Strap me instead” whereon a fight took place with the teacher and that was the end of father’s formal education.

In his early twenties he started working in a cheese factory. As accounts had to be kept, he taught himself to read and write. During his life he became a great reader. . . He also became a pretty good writer; some words he spelled as they sounded but on the whole most were correct.

He spent much time hunting and fishing. He also hunted deer every winter. [He] always had a deer and fox hound. During my childhood I heard him relate these hunting trips innumerable times, especially when relatives or friends from Ontario visited us.

Father also had an eye for the ladies. One time he had dates with two girls for the same evening. To get out of the tangle he took a boat and went hunting. Somehow the gun discharged and he got a nasty wound on the side of his hand. No anaesthetic [was used] then so while the doctor sewed up the wound, Father chewed buck shot.

Father must have done some farm work . . . In winters he worked in lumber camps and had many stories of his riding logs. The other men were mostly French Canadians and Father learned to talk and understand French. . . . He loved to tell of fights, a great pastime then, and he always had himself the victor.

My mother, Sarah Noonan, was born September 25, 1859, in Newboro. She must have done her share of work at home because she was well grounded in the housekeeping art. She saw Father for the first time at a dance and asked “Who was the man with the big head?” She was a very pretty girl and [he] seemed to be attracted at once.

The courtship followed. Why it was allowed I don’t know, as when Father proposed marriage the family answer was “No.” But that didn’t daunt Father. He got a horse and buggy, had Mother meet him, and they eloped, going to Frankville, Ontario where the Rev. Oliver married them April 14, 1880. Father was thirty and Mother twenty-three.. They lived with grandfather Kerr, then a widower.

This marriage meant Mother was estranged from her family for several years. In letters they always tried to win her back to her Catholic faith. At least outwardly she remained Protestant, attended church, taught us prayers, [and] learned hymns without accompaniment Sunday evenings. Mother said her own prayers differently but when I asked her she never answered. I think at heart she was always a Catholic.

In 1881 my sister Millie [Matilda] was born. In [the] latter part of January, 1883, [Father] and Mother and Millie came West to Brandon, Manitoba. They stayed in a boarding house there and on February 1, 1883, my sister Sadie was born.

The landlady washed and dressed the baby the first morning and took Father’s last five dollars for doing it. The next morning when she came to look after the baby, Father said “Oh no, I can do it.” He then looked after mother and baby. I can’t picture Father in that role; I never saw him do any domestic work.

They managed to live on in Brandon until early summer. Then they came to Whitewater Lake where they lived in a tent.

In the Fall, mother and little girls went back to Elgin, Ontario and lived there in a rented house. I think that during the winter, [Father] helped look after these cattle that Mr. Morton had brought from Ontario with the idea of starting a diary and a cheese factory.

The following summer he walked miles helping in a land survey. He also told of walking to Old Deloraine on [the] edge of Turtle Mountain to get letters from mother.

[Father] must have gone back to Ontario and in the Spring worked on the railroad being built along Lake Superior. I think he lived in a cabin there and Mother must have been with him. He often told us of the rough crew of many nationalities. He learned swear words in all the [languages].

Somehow he got back to Manitoba and acquired a quarter section of a homestead. The homestead was a mile and a half north of Whitewater Lake and was known as Section 4-4-22. . . .[Later] Father acquired the adjacent quarter section [by] pre-emption.