Community page is a volunteer labour of love for Bill Concannon

Bill Concannon

BILLINGS – Bill Concannon and his wife hated it when they spotted photos in The Expositor of past events that they had missed the past week—so the long-time DJ and sometime helmsman of the North Channel Cruise Line vessel Le Heron decided it was time to do something about it. Thus, the highly successful Facebook page ‘What’s Doin’ On Manitoulin’ was born. 

With the arrival of the pandemic crisis and the heightened level of fear in the community some unforeseen challenges became apparent.

“My passion for the Island has been around ever since I was a wee child,” he said. “When we finally moved up here, we would see things in The Manitoulin Expositor we would have liked to have gone to—we just kept missing stuff.”

“There was also the question of letting people from off-Island know that there is plenty to do here,” he said. “There are things doin’ on Manitoulin that might draw those folks here to check the Island out. I know right now we don’t want people moving around unnecessarily, but when I set it up I thought about how important tourism is to the Island economy and it will be important again when this current crisis finally ends.”

When he first set up the Facebook page he would be excited each time his phone would ping that someone had posted something new. Then came the day that the number of members surpassed 100.

“I thought ‘oh my God, this is so amazing’,” he said. “Now the page numbers have more than 6,800 members. I have had to turn the ping sound off on my phone.” The posts are now coming in a flurry.

“It didn’t get there on its own,” he noted. To assist with the organic growth, he started posting links to the page on various buy and sell forums and other Island-related websites and social media outlets.

One of the key elements that has helped overcome some of the skepticism that first greeted the site is the effort that Mr. Concannon puts into moderating the comments and posts on ‘What’s Doin’ On Manitoulin.’

But he has had to put down some firm rules and sometimes had to be direct with people about what they are posting—especially the trolls, people who post items simply to cause trouble or get a rise out of people.

“I used to give people more of a benefit of the doubt,” he said. “I still try to, but when someone is being an obvious troll they get banned now pretty quickly. I don’t want to be the cyber police, but it could get out of hand pretty quick if it isn’t laid out firmly. Now it’s more likely to be delete and block, especially of it is someone new to the site.”

Mr. Concannon has also banned anything being posted that isn’t specifically related to Manitoulin. “Some folks are upset that I don’t include Birch Island,” he said, “but where does it end once I start expanding the area?”

The moderator has also banned most posts about COVID-19, unless they are related to changing business hours or services, such as the changing of dump hours do to the pandemic response. “There are a lot of sites out there that are doing that,” he said. “Let’s just keep things about What’s Doin’ On Manitoulin. If you don’t like a group or its policies, why don’t you just start a group of your own? There’s nothing the matter with that.”

Each day, Mr. Concannon sits down with his morning coffee and starts sifting through the posts, ensuring that things are being kept on a polite and even keel. He said that it takes him something like an hour and a half a day to stay on top of the posts.

At first he found it difficult to deal with the negativity. “I would get a sick feeling in my stomach,” he admitted. But he has since learned to take most things in stride—except the physical threats. “Yeah, I got one of those. I have blocked that individual from my personal and my group pages.”

But he gets a lot of positive response.

Mr. Concannon shared one letter he received from a person whose family was established here in 1890s. “It just about brought me to tears,” he said. The writer, who like many Haweaters has been forced economically to become an expat, spoke about how they made a point of shopping on Manitoulin when they came to their Island home in the summer. Now, the writer said, they have been the subject of very nasty vitriol from those who live on Manitoulin year-round. “She said that they were considering making sure they had the supplies they need so they wouldn’t have to go out to shop on the Island due to the nasty things people are saying,” said Mr. Concannon. “I think local business owners especially may want to dial it back a bit when they are posting things online, it may come back to bite them in the butt when things get back to something more normal. We need the summer people to make it possible for businesses and services we depend on to be here year after year. Maybe just staying quiet would be the best policy when you see something posted online that makes you upset.”

Mr. Concannon is an international member of the Lions Club and has done volunteer DJing for numerous charities including Community Living London and veterans groups. Now that he lives on Manitoulin, Mr. Concannon also focuses of pet rescues. “When people insist on giving me money for things I do, I donate that money to Bleu Fisher in Little Current,” he said.

As for motivation, Mr. Concannon said it is simple. “I love it,” he said. “The old saying is that it is better to give than to receive and it is true.”