Monday, August 29, 2016

Gertude Edna Skilling 1887 - 1946

Red River Cereal was invented by my husband’s Aunt Gert in 1924 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. At the time, her husband Harvey Kavaner was President of the Red River Grain Company and a member of the Grain Exchange.

Gertrude Edna Skilling
c. 1905

Gertrude Edna Skilling was born on April 14, 1887 in Teeswater, Ontario, Canada, the fifth child and fourth girl, of John Skilling and Agnes Ruxton Skilling. Her father was a music teacher, choir director and sold musical instruments and sewing machines. Her mother was a homemaker and bore 10 children, nine of whom survived.

Gert attended primary and secondary school in Teeswater, Ontario and then took Normal School (probably in nearby Mount Forest, Ontario) and became a teacher by about 1906. She taught for about 5 years around Teeswater then took a teaching job in Calgary, Alberta, where she taught for several more years.

In 1915 in Calgary she married Harvey Kavaner, an up-and-coming member of the Grain Exchange. They had three children.

Around 1920 they moved to Winnipeg where Harvey became President of the Red River Grain Company and a member of the Winnipeg Grain Exchange. It was here in 1924 that Gert invented Red River Cereal.

According to her sister Norma, Gert was very bright and ahead of her time on the subject of nutrition. She experimented in her kitchen with various grains and various degrees of grinding to come up with the exact formula for Red River Cereal: 85% wheat, 10 % rye, and 5% flax. In 1926 the cereal was introduced in the Food Building  at the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, with family members giving out free samples with real cream in little paper cups.

Her sister Norma Skilling Jackson describes this and other aspects of Gert in her memoir “Skilling Family Memories” .

Gert’s husband Harvey filed a food patent for Red River Cereal on March 21, 1927, with the Canadian government and it was approved by 1929. Unfortunately, Gert’s name does not appear on the patent and so her fame remained a part of family lore and she was never given public credit. This blog is my attempt to rectify this oversight and give her the acknowledgement she is due.

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