KAGAWONG—It was standing room only on Thanksgiving Sunday as members of the community and politicians gathered to give thanks to Canada’s longest serving municipal politician, Mayor Aus Hunt, for his 60 plus years of public service.
Rick Nelson welcomed everyone by saying “we’re glad to have all of you here on this special day.” He introduced the master of ceremonies for the afternoon, TVO’s Steve Paikin, host of The Agenda, as being a “friend and neighbour” to the community.
Mr. Paikin began by joking saying each speaker would be rewarded with a cupcake if they kept their speech under three minutes. “I am truly honoured to have been asked to be part of today’s festivities to pay tribute to Mayor Hunt. How could I say no?”
Mr. Paikin read messages from various politicians including former Prime Minister Jean Chretien who congratulated Mr. Hunt for “a life dedicated to your constituents through your commitment and dedication.”
First speaker of the afternoon was Lynn Watson (District of Algoma) representing FONOM (Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities). Mr. Watson noted he has dedicated 30 years to public service and “Aus has twice as much.” He joked about the meetings they attended together, rendezvousing at Tim Hortons in Espanola to carpool. “It’s wonderful to see such a crowd here today. Sixty years’ service is a prospect none of us could have imagined.”
Reeve Ken Noland of Burpee Mills quipped that he should be treated to two cupcakes as his speech was only a minute long. “Anyone who’s been in politics for 65 years must have taken the sensitivity training my council wants me to take.”
Reeve Noland shared a story about a meeting he and Mayor Hunt attended where a policy was being proposed. Mayor Hunt said, ‘I think you tried that back in the ‘60s. It didn’t work then and it’s not going to work now.’
Former director for LAMBAC (LaCloche Manitoulin Business Assistance Corporation) Marg Hague thanked Mr. Hunt for his “dedication and commitment, along with his knowledge of the area.” He was the first chair of the board for LAMBAC. “You are a wonderful example of commitment to community.”
Theresa Carlisle, secretary-treasurer of the Manitoulin Planning Board since 2017, congratulated Mayor Hunt on behalf of the Board. “Mr. Hunt has been on the board for 40 years and only missed a very few meetings during that time.” Ms. Carlisle thanked him for his knowledge and input.
Kagawong’s adopted New Yorker, Bonnie Kogos, who has attended car rallies, summer festivals and supported all things Kagawong, shared an original poem. Even in retirement, she plans to visit the mayor and sit on his storefront porch for a chat.
“It’s always a pleasure coming here,” stated Algoma-Manitoulin MPP Michael Mantha. “Mayor Hunt is a wealth of historical information of the community.”
Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes, who claimed she would pass on the cupcake, stated “Aus is truly deserving of the accolades. I don’t know of anyone who is such a gentleman. He is kind to everyone. Thank you for being who you are.”
“It is my great pleasure,” continued Ms. Hughes, “to wish you well in your retirement after all your years of service. You are an inspiring mentor. Your dedication has not gone unnoticed. Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement.”
Long serving councillor and Deputy Mayor Sharon Alkenbrack, who was the last to speak, shared a memory from a meeting held 10 years ago. Councillor John Bright brought an idea forward to have a decommissioned destroyer sunk in the bay as a dive site. Mayor Hunt’s reply was ‘that’s a great idea, I’ll look into it.’ At the time Ms. Alkenbrack thought ‘really? What do you look into? Who do you call?’ (The price tag to have the destroyer towed to site was $100,000.)
Two weeks later the mayor had his answer.
‘From who?’ questioned Ms. Alkenbrack.
‘I had to leave a message for his secretary, but he called back 10 minutes later apologizing for the delay, the mayor replied.
‘Who called you?’ she asked again. His response was ‘Jean.’
‘Jean?’ she asked.
‘Yes,’ Mayor Hunt reportedly answered. ‘Jean, Jean Chretien. He said if I want a destroyer, I can have a destroyer.’ It appeared the mayor’s “connections and impact” were far reaching.
“He puts his community before anything else,” Councillor Alkenbrack said. “On behalf of the community, we thank you for your support of our endeavours. Thank you for a job well done.”
Councillor Alkenbrack presented Mayor Hunt with a Richard Edwards original serigraph painting on behalf of council and staff.
The Mayor Hunt was asked to have the last word before serving refreshments (including cupcakes).
“I am glad for those who came out to say thank you. I didn’t know there would be so many,” Canada’s longest serving mayor told the crowd.
A long line of well-wishers made their way to the front of the Park Centre to congratulate Mayor Hunt on his dedication and commitment to the community.