Austin Hunt, Reeve of Billings Township

This is Austin Hunt. Austin sells Hawberry jam on Manitoulin Island. That’s what the sign says on the wall of his store, and so we stopped in Kagawong to buy some. Up the three steps and into his shop I’m immediately transported to another time; it was his father’s, it was his grandfather’s, it was former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson‘s elbows leaning up against the counter, because that’s how old the store is and because Pearson no doubt met with Austin there, back in the 1940s, when Austin was his riding campaign manager, the “eyes and ears” on the ground on Manitoulin Island.

Kagawong means “where mists rise from the falling waters” in the local Ojibwe language. Tucked away from the world between the cliffs surrounding Mudge Bay, things haven’t changed much at the Kagawong general store. Take a look at the shelving, the wooden drawers behind him where his dad kept tack and his grand-dad outfitted horses hooves maybe. My guess, but it probably isn’t too far off.

He’s got his Raid, his motor oil, Old Spice for the fellas, all lined up in twos and threes and covered in dust. Then there’s the “Pay Direct” sign, ever hopeful. We paid direct.

Austin’s store has been in the family for generations and now he and his son live there. His son was upstairs tapping, just as I am now, while Austin tended the cash and shyly told me about his “years off Island,” when he lived in Ottawa and worked for the prime minister.

Here’s a Wikipedian thumb-nail on Pearson:

“During Pearson’s time as Prime Minister, his minority government introduced universal health carestudent loans, the Canada Pension Plan, the Order of Canada, and the current Canadian flag. During his tenure, Prime Minister Pearson also convened the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism.

With these accomplishments, together with his ground-breaking work at the United Nations and in international diplomacy, Pearson is generally considered among the most influential Canadians of the 20th century.”

Hawberry jam drew me into the store and while there I noticed that he had The Globe and Mail. Austin said it’s trucked in from Toronto hot off the presses around midnight and driven the six or seven hours north to Sudbury. Then they’re carted to the island early the next morning in time for the two or maybe three residents to pick up.

I grabbed the last copy and discovered that my obituary of librarian Basil Stuart-Stubbs, from far away in the mountains of British Columbia, was in that morning.

“I was in the paper once,” said Austin, quietly recalling his notoriety. “I was the youngest pall bearer at Lester B. Pearson’s funeral.”

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About Nor

I'm a creative non-fiction writer, with a special interest in memoirs and obituaries--life stories, local histories with flesh & blood anecdotal details. I'm also beginning to create podcasts of people's stories and expanding their audiences. I'm a diarist, an editor, and a political activist. I live in Toronto, Ontario, Canada and spend days tapping keys or staining my fingers in ink.
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One Response to Austin Hunt, Reeve of Billings Township

  1. Stephanie says:

    This is so great, Noreen! You’ve captured the atmosphere of the store perfectly as well as the essence of the man. I was with you but didn’t realize that you’d taken a photo of him. I’m going to download it so I have it for myself. It was a short encounter but very special — an introduction to Manitoulin Island and the genuineness of the people. And even though it was short, it kept cropping up as we encountered the man’s generosity and influence on the island.

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