Billings councillor hosts first of a series of community focus group discussions

Barb Erskine, facilitator of the family focus group discussion, compiles info on the challenges faced by residents and possible options for future activities and services. photo by Sharon Jackson

by Sharon Jackson

KAGAWONG—Enthusiastic parents and couples met at the Park Centre to “determine how family friendly we are (as a community), to build on our strengths, and address the gaps in support,” stated Billings councillor and facilitator Barbara Erskine.

During the All Candidates’ Night held in October 2014, Ms. Erskine expressed an interest in learning what families want and possible ways to make the community better. The goal of the focus group was to follow up with families to get some suggestions to move forward.

Ms. Erskine began the discussion by introducing herself and inviting the others to do the same.

“I love it here,” shared Ms. Erskine, who has made Kagawong her home for the past 13 years. In addition to holding a seat on council, she is also chair of the Recreation Committee, a group of volunteers who hosts events throughout the year, many of which are kid friendly or family focused. Some of these include Winter Fest, Easter egg hunt, Summer Fest, community pot luck, Bark in the Park, and a pumpkin carving party.

Jessie and Jordan have lived in Billings township for three years. Their family includes a dog and chickens. “Maybe one day we’ll have a family,” shared Jessie. Some of the things they use in the community include the hiking trails, farmers’ market, library and dog park. Jessie commented that activities proposed should remain centrally located so parents could park their car, enjoy a coffee, do a bit of shopping while their kids played at the giant chess board, maze or basketball court.

Jenna and Steph, parents of three children (aged 10, five and 18 months), have made Kagawong their home for the past four years. “We use the library and trails a lot,” shared Jenna. They also enjoy sailing as a family along with other sports, art events and the farmers’ market. “There is so much to do on foot,” shared Jenna. These include the library, cedar and rock mazes and the trails. “I wish there was a bike trail.”

Jenna shared that what is missing is something for kids over 10 years to do. One of her suggestions was a skateboard park similar to the one at Low Island Park in Little Current. Having somewhere to spend time together might reduce vandalism and promote physical activity.

Steph wondered if there were not as many families living in Kagawong as there have been in the past and that he feels they “hit an era where there are more dogs than kids” in the community. While many people take their four legged children to the dog park, the beach area has limited use due to the lack of equipment.

Having the kids upstairs enjoying Zumba with Casey Boisvert while their parents were downstairs, was brilliant, shared Steph. Providing an opportunity for parents to get together separate from their children is challenging at best.

Steph shared an interest on behalf of another couple in the community: the outdoor skating rink. Two years ago a number of dedicated volunteers cleared off a section of snow in the marina, flooded and maintained it. Because of the cold temperatures, it was not used as much as hoped. This past winter was an unseasonably mild one and plans to create one were not possible.

Beverly grew up in Gore Bay and her husband in Manitowaning. They chose Kagawong to purchase a home as it was centrally located between the two communities and more affordable than other areas. Their children are two and seven. Beverly would “love to have more for them to do here. We do nothing in Kagawong.” Her children use the playground in Gore Bay as the equipment in Kagawong is not accessible for her young daughter.

Wade and his wife Annie currently rent in Gore Bay along with their children, ages 3 and 4. Wade agreed that while Kagawong is pretty and the homes affordable, there is no school or park for his young children to attend.

“What is the focal point of the community?” Wade asked. The response was the very building they were having the gathering in.

Years ago each community on the Island had a church, one or two room school house and a community hall. Those days are long gone as now there are only a hand full of elementary schools, one secondary school and many community halls are now closed. Wade also felt that a skateboard park may be possible through infrastructure funding through the municipality.

Beverly shared that she had approached the Township two years ago asking for them to consider expanding the playground equipment to include more pieces. The Central Manitoulin Lions Club was responsible for installing a spectacular play structure at the beach in Providence Bay for both kids and their parents to enjoy. It has become a model for many Island communities.

Ms. Erskine shared with the parents that in regards to having a play structure in their community, “it is not off the table. We recognize the need; you can do it.” She asked that they do a bit of research, put some figures together and then, as a group, approach council. “It’s about working together.”

Another suggestion was for the parents to host an activity, as a group, at July’s Summer Fest as a fundraiser. “It could work within our event; everyone wins, shared Ms. Erskine.

After some further discussion it was agreed they would create a Facebook page for families to share ideas and come up with ways to come together socially. Regular games night was one suggestion made.

Councillor Sharon Alkenbrack (who also holds the position of Deputy Mayor in Billings) will host the second focus group discussion at the Park Centre on Sunday, May 29 beginning at 2 pm. This session is for seniors.