2013 Winners

Little Curent | Entrepreneur of the Year

Kelly Timmermans

Kelly Timmermans

Ask Kelly Timmermans if, seven years ago, she thought she'd be helming Northern Ontario's biggest country music festival, and her answer goes something like this: "Not in a million years."

Yet, Timmermans, and her husband, Craig, have been pulling off that feat since 2007, when they first invited country music artists to Manitoulin Country Fest in Little Current on Manitoulin Island, where they spent an August weekend entertaining thousands of people from across Canada and the U.S.

It's since grown to a four-day festival headlined by some of Canada's biggest country music stars: Blue Rodeo, Terri Clark, Aaron Pritchett, Emerson Drive. Carroll Baker's appeared twice. This year, the festival is looking beyond Canada's borders, bringing in Kellie Pickler, an American Idol finalist and contestant on U.S. reality TV show Dancing with the Stars.

For a community whose biggest economic driver is tourism, the impact is significant.

"Local businesses, because they're tourist-based, are surviving off six to eight weeks a year, so it's the other 46 weeks out of the year where they're having to, really, claw their way through and survive," Timmermans said. "If there are other means with which we can do that, to ensure they have another weekend out of it that really will help support those other 46 weeks, we're happy to do that, and I think we have, in fact, done that."

Timmermans is old hat at this now, but her role as festival director and radio host couldn't be a further departure from her 22-year career as a legal assistant. She fell into her current role when she fell in love.

Meeting husband Craig in 2006 was the catalyst for moving from Edmonton to Manitoulin, where she quickly became engaged in the workings of his radio station, CFRM 100.7 The Island, operated out of Little Current. A classic rock station, broadcasting at 50 watts, the station was doing marginally well, but hadn't really hit its stride.

It was Kelly's idea to transform CFRM to a country music station, which, she said, was "the best decision we ever made." With her help, the station has grown to 1,850 watts, broadcasting all the way to Parry Sound, and is powered by its own wind turbine. As on-air host "KT," Timmermans is one of the station's most popular personalities, and in 2010 the station won the Radio Station of the Year (Secondary Market) Award at the Canadian Country Music Awards.

Her idea for the music festival came a year after going on air, but success wasn't immediate. In its first year, the festival was plagued by rumours: it was a joke, the performances were being broadcast in from elsewhere, the artists were actually impersonators. Interest was lukewarm, and ticket sales were down, but Timmermans wasn't deterred.

Now, thousands flood onto the Island annually for the event, and those agents she doggedly pursued that first year are calling to book their artists on her stage.

"I've had to really learn to say no because I don't do it well, and that's probably one of my downfalls, because I'll try my best to accommodate everybody and obviously I can't—it's only four days," she said.

The festival hasn't made the couple millionaires—despite persistent rumours suggesting otherwise—and they're constantly competing with other festivals for tourism dollars, which requires continual investment and improvement.

But, Timmermans said, they do it to help market Manitoulin—the community they love—to the world.

"We're small town; let's just embrace and be who we are," she said. "There's nothing wrong and there's nothing belittling about being a small town. A small town has got charm and it's got appeal, and for many people travelling from the big city, that's what they're looking for."

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