Celebration to be held to recognize Austin Hunt’s 60 years of public service

A celebration of Billings Township Mayor Austin Hunt’s over 60 years of public service will take place in Kagawong on October 7.

KAGAWONG—A celebration of Billings Township Mayor Austin Hunt’s 60 plus years of public service will take place Sunday, October 7 in his hometown of Kagawong.

Deputy Mayor and Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack, who is a member of a committee organizing the event said, “this is our opportunity to say thank you to our Mayor Aussie for his life commitment to Billings/Kagawong/Manitoulin. As our leader he has brought visions to reality, he showed dedication beyond all and he carried us with love and caring for his community and his island to where we stand today.”

“Our community is Aus’s life purpose, please come and share a moment in time to say, ‘Thank you, sir, an awesome job’,” said Councillor Alkenbrack.

A public meet and greet will take place between 2 to 4 pm at the Park Centre upstairs in Kagawong on October 7. Formal speeches (lasting approximately 30 minutes) will begin at 2:15 pm. Seating for the speeches will be limited. Refreshments will be served after the speeches have concluded.

Mr. Hunt, 92, is Canada’s longest serving Mayor and has devoted his life to his community of Kagawong and to Billings Township.

He also worked for former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson as his official agent for Algoma East when Mr. Pearson was the riding’s Member of Parliament.

Austin Hilliard Hunt was born in one of the Kagawong village’s landmark buildings, the Havelock Hotel. Until his brother, the late John Dalton or “Jack” Hunt was born almost a decade later, Austin was the only child of Austin Alexander Hunt and his wife Stella (nee Stella Hilliard).

Austin worked in the family business, helping with the Havelock Hotel, the General Store and the Kagawong Lake cottages. He also took on other duties, as wharf manager and as lighthouse keeper. For five years, following high school, he had his own jazz band, playing the trumpet in various Island locales.

Austin married Anita “Nite” Williamson and had two sons, Wayne and Michael. Haweaters all, the family shares Austin’s enthusiasm–and love–for Manitoulin and all that it has to offer to the world.

When Lester B. Pearson chose to run in the riding of Algoma East, Mr. Pearson stayed for long periods at the Havelock Hotel. Austin or “Aussie” as he was known, became Mr. Pearson’s driver, and in time, his friend. Austin identified with the politics that Lester Pearson embodied: an open attitude to the world and an embrace of diversity at home. It was a politics that was dedicated to the proposition that government works best when it helps people to help themselves. The Liberal leader found that the young Kagawong resident intuitively understood this creed and knew how to make it work in practice. Austin has an understanding of what is now known as “people skills” and he knew how to get things done in a quiet but competent manner-an essential (but often neglected) skill in politics. In the elections of 1962, 1963 and 1965, Austin served both as the Liberal leader’s campaign manager in Algoma East and as his Official Agent. At the same time, he served as president of the riding Liberal Association. He also acted as the liaison person with the Prime Minister’s Office, supporting a number of community-based projects across Northern Ontario. When Lester Pearson died, the Pearson family recognized the closeness of the relationship by making Austin an Honorary Pall Bearer.

Austin ran, without success, as the Liberal candidate in the 1970 Ontario provincial election but continued to show that all politics is local by staying on town council-a position that he was first elected to in 1953. He has served continuously on council from that time until the present, making him the longest serving public official in the country.

In 1968 he was elected reeve and continued to hold that position until it was re-titled mayor in 2010. Austin took a leadership role in many organizations. He was president of the Northern Ontario Development Council, the Rainbow Travel Association, the Manitoulin Municipal Association, the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and numerous other organizations. He’s served on the Board of the Northern Ontario School of Medicine and of the Board of Governors of Laurentian University but his dedication to volunteerism and community service was always grounded in the principle of putting people first and encouraging everyone to make a contribution to the life of their community. In this spirit, he took on the tasks ranging from Warden of the St. John’s Anglican Church to local library committees and local history organizations. At the end of the day, the philosophy was simple: you better know where you are coming from because you will not know where life’s journey will take you-but most of all you need to have fun along the way.

At the upcoming celebration TVO’s Steve Paikin will be the master of ceremonies.

For more information contact Rick Nelson at 705-282-1442 or oldmillheritage@billingstwp.ca.