Letter: A farewell to Manitoulin Island from Larry Killens

‘Thanks for all you have given me’

To the Expositor:

I had no idea that the day would come that I share with you a piece of news I thought would never come. My wife Shelley and I have chosen to move to southern Ontario to be closer to our children in our retirement years.

I leave with very strong feelings of hesitation and it wasn’t an easy decision to come to.  In short, it is not going to be a move that will be easy to settle ourselves with.

I look to our history. “Our” being the community that I served as a police officer, a director of the Children’s Aid Society, past chair of the Manitoulin Mental Health Clinic, a charter member of the South East Manitoulin Lions Club, a charter board member of the Island victims’ services committee, a members of various municipal committees on the Island—Kagawong, Assiginack, Gore Bay, Tehkummah—and thanks to Island citizens who, by election process, placed me for many years (four terms) as the Rainbow District School Board trustee.

I look to some success, supported by my wife Shelley. We were the persons who introduced an alternate brand of dairy products to be sold on Manitoulin Island, allowing competition and leading to immediate reduction in the retail price of milk and milk products.

With the Manitoulin Mental Health Committee, I was pleased to be part of the group that initiated the Manitoulin Island “Volunteer of the Year” awarded annually and named in honour of Vivian Levensohn, a valued consultant to our committee before she and her husband relocated to the United States. 

Somewhat of a partial disappointment was my failure to bring the Sudbury-oriented Rainbow District School Board to continually keep the lifestyle and culture of the Manitoulin Island in their delivery to educational stakeholders on the Manitoulin. There were successes and changes to the Rainbow Board made where seniors were allowed to use school facilities for various health promoting uses, including the introduction, in Gore Bay, of the first seniors’ centre in a school setting. 

A first in Canada of a student-driven memorial placed at the Manitoulin District Veterans Memorial Gardens Cenotaph to honour our veterans and to promise to yearly honour them. This is the ‘Island Students in Solidarity with Veterans’ monument. Rigid rules were introduced to always consider employing and in the least, inviting bids from Island-driven service providers before turning to Sudbury providers first for services at our local schools. Sad to say, since I left office this has been lax and is returning to the way it was.

I am especially proud of what I have learned and practices I have promoted to better understand and bring First Nations culture to our communities, i.e. the support of the M’Chigeeng fall fair, a First Nations and non-Native student centred justice system that, if not promoted by Principal Gary Chandler and Roy Eaton, would not  have happened. This student-driven justice system process was dropped by the Rainbow District School Board.

I worked with the court system to create the ‘Drive While Impaired’ program where repeat offenders of this health disability would attend a four-week learning session in lieu of a two-week term incarceration. This would keep the offender employed (and out of jail) and families together. This program was dropped as an appeal court terminated it when an accused in another part of the province claimed breach of their rights as they could not attend the course on Manitoulin for the same offence (repeat impaired offence). These four-week sessions were entirely run by Island volunteers i.e. Alcoholics Anonymous, insurance agencies, Manitoulin mental health agencies, various victims who lost loved ones to impaired drivers and those accused who caused the loss of life due to impaired.

I served as a community member and chair of the group that worked to preserve the Michael’s Bay history and heritage.

I am unable to put into words the strong and special feelings I have for the Manitoulin and all its people. Due to the nature of my calling as an OPP officer, I have been privileged to be a part of each and every community, their celebrations, their sad times and their failures and their successes. I have cried with families, mourned with families, celebrated with families and walked beside them in times of need—all times that make up my life with the support of my family.

I thank people of the Manitoulin for who I am today through your support and, yes, love. I refer to the words of Lianne Hovingh under extremely unthinkable stress and circumstance who, at her husband’s funeral, described what she and Marc thought of the Manitoulin. I agree, word for word, with her assessment of the Manitoulin and its people. I feel I owe so much to the Manitoulin community for accepting myself and my family for many years.

I borrow from the words of a close friend: If a person looks at a map of Ontario, you will readily see that Manitoulin Island is pretty much the centre of Ontario. If you look at a map of the universe, Manitoulin Island is pretty much not only the centre of the globe but definitely the centre of our universe. Enough said. 

Farewell, chi-miigwetch, and from the depths of our being, thanks for all you have given me.

Larry and Shelley Killens

South Baymouth