Keeping the Billings community vibrant

Sharon Alkenbrack

KAGAWONG – It was 1993 when Sharon Alkenbrack first moved to the Island and it didn’t take long until the redoubtable Austin Hunt recruited her volunteer efforts.

“Aussie asked me if I would join the economic development committee,” she recalled. “I joined the committee and I’m still there,” she laughed.

Ms. Alkenbrack soon found herself working closely with then public works manager Gary Miller.

“We set out to make Billings a destination place,” she said. Soon a maze sprang from the fertile imagination of Ms. Alkenbrack and into reality. “My husband Doug designed the maze, and Koki and Dick Maloney were an amazing help.”

But it wasn’t all that long before Ms. Alkenbrack discovered there was a slight unforeseen flaw in the maze concept. “It frightened little children,” she said. Undaunted, Ms. Alkenbrack and her posse set about creating new, more kid-friendly, attractions. “The idea of a rock maze for the little people was made possible thanks to Randy Noble, who donated the rock for the project,” she said. The Corbiere Brothers in M’Chigeeng also provided help.

Then there is the giant game board which provides hours of diversion for families of all ages.

Ms. Alkenbrack served three terms on the Manitoulin Tourism Association where she was able to make great contributions to tourism promotion and help build up one of the Island’s key economic drivers.

The economic development mavin casts a wide net in her interests, she is also one of the co-founders of the Manitoulin Art Tour along with The Expositor’s own the late Ruth Mohamed. This summer will see the institution of a Storytelling Festival in conjunction with a larger art-focused event.

Ms. Alkenbrack said wanting to be an active part of the community was a huge motivator when she came to Manitoulin Island. “(Volunteerism) was just something I enjoyed doing and it was a great way to meet people and became part of the community,” she said. It helped to have a community mentor that recognized her skills and encouraged her to put them to work. “Aussie (Austin Hunt) was always asking ‘can we do something here?’,” she laughed. 

“I encourage anyone who wants to become part of a community to volunteer,” said Ms. Alkenbrack. “I loved the community so much and wanted to be part of it. What better way than to do something I loved doing?”

“Manitoulin is such an awesome place to live and much of that is thanks to all of the amazing people who lend their hands, time and effort to make this Island what it is,” she said.