Sheila and Allen Billinghurst

My Story...

Allen Billinghurst was born and educated in Toronto, traveled extensively for the Federal Government in his career but truly marks his life fulfillment from the time that he began setting down roots in Winnipeg. It was here that he felt the importance of family and has used that experience as his guide whenever important decisions have to be made. A chance meeting with a Winnipeg girl, Sheila Bass, while they were both studying at the University of Toronto in 1973 proved to be the life altering event for both of them.

Prior to this meeting Allen had begun a successful career with the Federal Government in a multitude of areas, Manpower and Training, Employment and Immigration and Federal/Provincial Relations and Intergovernmental Affairs. A career in the Federal Civil Service requires the willingness to relocate as new roles and responsibilities emerge in new locations. Rising to the position of Director of Federal/Provincial Relations was where Allen decided to put stability of family above career and chose to say no to further promotions that required his family to relocate. When he reviews some of his most lasting career accomplishments he speaks about the groundbreaking creation of a federal presence in the provincial responsibility of education. The South Winnipeg Technical Centre, the Kirkness Computer-Assisted Learning Centre and the Computer Assisted Learning Technical Centre, saw the Federal Government integrally involved in the delivery of education programming and were established under Allen’s leadership. Allen was an award-winning athlete in track and field and in baseball.

Sheila (Cookie) is the “super” glue that keeps the Billinghurst family together. A life long Winnipeg resident, Cookie has fond memories of her life as a child and teenager growing up in Winnipeg. For the first twelve years she remembers her family living side by side with her maternal grandmother, Molly Brown, her aunt Dolly Brown and her uncle Morry Brown. She attended William Whyte School in an all girls class and if her recollection was correct it was all Jewish as well. Moving at twelve to Smithfield Avenue she continued her education at Machray School and then St. John’s High School. Her life as a teenager was idyllic as a member of the YMHA and Challuzot - BBYO. An honourary member of ZBT fraternity she was crowned ZBT Queen in 1959 as well as Hillel Queen. It was while growing up that she learned the importance of family and “doing the right thing” from her parents Marion and Teddy. As Cookie tells her story it becomes obvious of her parents’ impact.

Graduating from the University of Manitoba with a B.A. and a B.Ed., she began a career first with the Winnipeg School Division, then the Department of Education and then back to the WSD. As she became more involved in the specialized field of Adult Education she went off to the University of Toronto to do a Masters program. It is there that Allen entered her life. After a one-year courtship, where Allen was on a first name basis with the Air Canada personnel as he came to Winnipeg every second week, they married and settled in Winnipeg.

Cookie’s teaching career covered forty-one years so far and every grade from primary to adults and subjects as diversified as Physical Education to English and Psychology. Cookie was the first woman, as well as the youngest person to be given a principal position by the Department of Education. She also developed the English as a Second Language program for both the Department of Education and Winnipeg School Division #1. She was responsible for getting the language lab established at Red River College and made arrangements for WSD#1 to utilize the facilities. The Departments of Employment and Immigration and Indian Affairs sought out her opinion and advice on a regular basis particularly for ESL. She was also a sessional lecturer at university.

From a community perspective Cookie is very active in her synagogue and has served on the Board of Directors of the Rosh Pina for several terms. She was also selected as a member of the disciplinary committee of the Manitoba Association of Registered Nurses.

Cookie and Allen are extremely proud of their two daughters. Marla is a lawyer and married to Steven Rubenstein and Tracee is a teacher married to Dr. Aaron Mellon.

Cookie and Allen are also proud of their community involvement especially with Folklorama, which holds a special place in their hearts since both of their daughters were ambassadors at the Israel pavilion. Cookie was also a member of the steering committee of the Israel Pavilion for many years. Their rationale for becoming signers is twofold; by having a financially secure community it is possible to do more for our younger members when they are starting out as a means of keeping the youth in the community and discouraging their exodus to other centres; and as a means of communicating to their future generations the importance of strong and healthy family ties.