Saskatoon poet, professor and historian Don Kerr remembered as larger than life

Former provincial poet laureate, historian, playwright and English professor Don Kerr died this week.

Longtime U of S professor and former poet laureate died this week

Don Kerr received the Order of Merit in 2007. (Facebook/Saskatchewan Writer's Guild)

Former Saskatchewan poet laureate, historian, playwright and English professor Don Kerr died this week. He was 84.

"He had a huge personality," said his son David Kerr.

"[He] was introduced to a bunch of painters and artists. And they were all talking at the top of their voices — practically yelling — and all smiling and having conversations. He walked into the room and thought to himself, 'I've met my people.'"

David said Don talked loud, loved life and was open to all arguments and points of views.

Kerr spent 44 years as an English professor at the University of Saskatchewan.

He wrote numerous books of poetry along with short stories, plays and even a musical.

Born in 1936, Kerr spent most of his life in the Broadway area of Saskatoon.

He received the provincial Order of Merit in 2007 and became the province's poet laureate in 2011.

His musical Tune Town, with music written by Angie Tysseland, was staged at Persephone Theatre in 2006.

David shared the news of Don's death in a Facebook post.

"I remember as a child asking him if he would cry if my Mother or any of us kids would die. He of course said yes. I'm grateful that he never had to do that and that it us who are shedding tears for him," David said in a Facebook post.

One of David's favourite memories of his father are the road trips they would take.

"When I moved out to the [West] coast and would come back I'd just do family road trips with mom and dad, just three of us," David said.

"I just remember being in the car with them and driving. Of course, he never had a driver's licence in his entire life, so everybody else had to be the driver and he became known as the navigator."

Don Kerr, poet, historian, professor and playwright, died this week. (Don Kerr)

Don was also one of the founding members of the Saskatoon Heritage Society back in 1976.

"You actually can't talk about heritage preservation or anything to do with the heritage community without talking about Don Kerr," said Peggy Sargeant, president of the Saskatoon Heritage Society.

"Without Don, there would not have been a Heritage society as early as the seventies. He was behind it all."

Sergeant said Don had a huge personality.

"He was not afraid to say anything, which was quite wonderful for us," she said.

Sergeant said one of her favourite poems by Don is Capitol Punishment, about the demolition of the iconic Capitol Theatre.

"It was very sad and he was very upset about it," Sergeant said "I think he never quite got over it."

Fellow writer and U of S colleague David Carpenter said Don was a real influence in many ways.

"He always stressed that in spite of the fact we were teaching the classics, we ought to show just as much attention to local culture, local history, local writing," Carpenter said. "He lived those words in many ways."

Don Kerr's poetry book The dust of just beginning. (Au Press)

Carpenter said Don was a prolific writer. 

"Some of my favourites were his wartime plays. One is called Lanc, short for Lancaster, and The Great War."

Carpenter said another favourite is Don's latest poetry collection, called The dust of just beginning

Bob Calder was a friend and fellow teacher at the U of S and has known Don since the 1960s.

"He was a highly respected teacher," Calder said. "He was one of those professors that students said, 'Well, you've got to take his class.'"

Calder said Kerr was the first English professor in Saskatchewan to teach a film class.

"Don taught it for many years and he was extremely knowledgeable about film."

Calder said he always thought of Don as "Mr. Saskatoon".

"He loved the city. He wrote one of his greatest poems in a volume with the same name called In the City of Our Fathers. And it's a paean, a poem of great love for Saskatoon."

Don Kerr and his wife Mildred. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

As much as he respected Don for his teaching and art, Calder said he appreciated him even more as a friend.

"He was a wonderful guy to be with. He threw parties that were fun and, you know, enjoyable. He was very great and kind and supportive."

Carpenter said Don always had Saskatoon in his heart.

"If Don isn't around to remember what happened to our city and to remind us and to write about it, it is like we will lose our memory," Carpenter said. "I hope people will take up the slack."

David Kerr, who is a production manager for festivals in Vancouver, said he is amazed at the amount his father accomplished.

"My mother [Mildred] is the same way in terms of her volunteer work. It's like, how did they find the time to do all of this and yet still have time for family and friends?" David said. "He seemed to always be around and he just found a way to do it."

Kerr died earlier this week from complications related to kidney disease.

He is survived by his wife Mildred and their three boys Bill, Bob and David.


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