OTTAWA—A person’s stature is not measured by height or breadth, but when measured by their spirit and character they stand as towering giants—and so it is with Kagawong’s Austin Hillard Hunt. Mr. Hunt is to be elevated to our nation’s most august ranks as a Member of the Order of Canada in 2019.
“Well, this is good news,” deadpanned Mr. Hunt when contacted by The Expositor. “Times are really good for me these days, it seems.” Mr. Hunt had, as have other recipients of the Order of Canada, been sworn to secrecy until the embargo was lifted at 6 am this morning (December 27).
As a long time politician who has been influential at some of the highest of provincial and national levels, Mr. Hunt is famous for his low key and understated approach. But for all of his unprepossessing manner, Mr. Hunt has been remarkably effective in each of his many roles down through his more than 60 years of municipal service, and he has never wavered from his oft-stated belief in working together to further the cause of the common good.
“He has a deep belief in a type of public service that is directed to those most in need; it was dedicated to the proposition that government works best when it helps people to help themselves,” reads the letter submitted by his nominators, which included Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc, a longtime personal friend and fellow traveller of Mr. Hunt.
“He also showed how settlers were able to work together with First Nations on community projects.”
Pressed for further comment, Mr. Hunt admitted “well this was very good to hear. I am very happy about it. They told me it was very important not to tell anyone about it until sometime in the new year.”
The Billings Museum Committee issued a statement saying it “was honoured to sponsor the Order of Canada nomination for Mayor Austin Hunt and delighted hear of the Governor General’s announcement. We would like to acknowledge the awarding of the Order of Canada to Mayor Hunt was made possible after a lot of people lobbied Rideau Hall on our behalf. We would also like to thank the folks at the municipal office in Billings for their continued support throughout the nomination process. Congratulations to Mayor Hunt for this much deserved honour.”
“I am so extremely pleased that Austin is receiving the Order of Canada,” said Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP Carol Hughes. “He has made a real impact on his community and the region with such a long record of service and it is easy to understand how this is well-deserved.”
Mr. Hunt served with the late and former Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson when he stayed at the Hunt family hotel in Kagawong. Mr. Pearson was in need of a driver knowledgeable in the area and Mr. Hunt filled that role. “Pearson found that Austin knew how to deal with people and how to get things done in a quiet but competent manner—a useful skill in politics,” reads the nomination. “Austin worked his way up from various positions in the Liberal Party of Canada executive for the riding of Algoma-East and in the 1962, 1963 and 1965 elections, Mr. Hunt served both as Mr. Pearson’s campaign manager and as his Official Agent, all while also filling the role of president of the riding’s federal Liberal Association.
Mr. Hunt also served as the liaison to the Prime Minister’s Office for a number of projects designed to build community infrastructure across Northern Ontario. When Mr. Pearson died in late 1972, the Pearson family, in recognition of the close relationship Mr. Hunt shared with the Canadian icon, appointed him as honorary pallbearer.
Mr. Hunt has long espoused that civic engagement is more important than partisan politics, and to that end he worked tirelessly to show that what counts in this country is not where you live but what you can contribute to making community life better. Mr. Hunt “took this principle forward and in his own self-effacing way, remade many civic and economic associations.”
He served as president of the Northern Ontario Development Council, as president of the Rainbow Country Travel Association, president of the Manitoulin Municipal Association, president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities and on the executive of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario. He sat on the inaugural board of the Northern Ontario School of Medical School and as part of Laurentian University’s Board of Governors. He served for many years on the Manitoulin Tourism Association, where he was a founding director, helping to promote businesses across the Island. Mr. Hunt has also served as a warden for St. John’s Anglican Church in Kagawong, as well as on local library committees and history organizations.
In elected office, Mr. Hunt served continually since first being elected to the Township of Billings municipal council in 1953. He was elected to the position of reeve of Billings in 1968, and has been re-elected every year until his retirement on December 1 of this year. The position of reeve was formally retitled in 2010 to mayor. Mr. Hunt is undisputed as the longest serving (and oldest) elected official in municipal politics in Canada.
“Austin Hunt reflects the very qualities for which the Order of Canada was established,” said former Laurentian University Political Science Professor Dr. Rand Dyck who taught both of Mr. Hunt’s sons, Wayne and Michael (now adjunct professor of political science at Carleton University. “He has earned the respect of his peers and through his accomplishments has become a role model in his field; his service has had a significant impact on social and economic developments in Northern Ontario and beyond; and he has demonstrated over 50 years of leadership, initiative, creativity and dedication. Aus truly ‘desires a better country’ and has made it one: whenever he sees something, he rolls up his sleeves and gets things done.”
As for the motivation behind his long years of service in municipal politics, Mr. Hunt laughed, “well, it certainly wasn’t for the pay, it has never been for the pay. But it has been a great experience. I have always loved my community and I wanted to get involved. I have thought that this was a great way to be involved in things. You can’t always please everybody so it has its moments that are not so pleasant, but you have to at least explain to people why it is you couldn’t do what they wanted you to. It doesn’t always make you or them happy, but you owe that to the people you are trying to represent. In the end, it has been an experience where I have very few regrets.”