The Volunteer — Bill Hillman
by Neil McQuarrie
Bill Hillman is a true son of the prairie, the fourth generation
of his family to live on the original homestead in western Manitoba.
Bill’s great-grandfather settled there in 1878, having
travelled across the open plains in a wagon along the Carlton Trail. It
was a long and arduous trip from Winnipeg since there was no railroad to
ease travel to the area.
grew up on the farm, learning that there was work to be done by young and
old alike. While attending school in Strathclair he joined the local Air
Cadet squadron. This experience, combined with the family stories of his
father and uncles serving in World War II (three of his uncles, all members
of Bomber Command, perished) fostered in him a reverence for the sacrifice
After high school Bill went to college and returned to
teach at Strathclair Collegiate. He had attended Brandon University (at
that time Brandon College) where he earned Bachelor's degrees
in Science and Education, and later a Master of Education degree. It is
the measure of the man that, while he was in school and then teaching full
time, and working on his university studies, he found time to meet and
court (over several years) a lovely and lively young woman from the nearby
town of Newdale.
He and Sue-On were married in 1966. She, like Bill, became
a teacher and, again like Bill, a musician, performing as a singer, keyboardist
and drummer. It was their mutual love of music and performing that attracted
Bill and Sue-On to each other and it has nurtured their life for half a
century. Over the years their musical collaboration led to a frenetic life
as their three children arrived, their teaching responsibilities kept them
at school all week long and weekends were often devoted to touring and
performing. Summers were especially busy because then it was possible to
concentrate on their music writing, recording and travelling to gigs. Over
the years their country, rock 'n' roll and original songs have taken them
through Canada, the United States and England.
Bill is an inveterate collector. The Hillman home in Brandon
is the repository for his videotapes, movie DVDs and records. Then there
are the books, comics and magazines. Much of the furniture is of Chinese
origin, gathered during their trips to the Far East. Most of the Hillman
interests are shared on their giant website: www.hillmanweb.com.
He was a professor in the Faculty of Education at Brandon
University, responsible for courses in Computer Integration and Journalism
when, in 2008, health concerns slowed him down and he retired – but only
from teaching! It was his interest in computers, research and writing,
combined with his awareness of his family's wartime service that led him
to offer to design and operate the museum's Internet Web Site.
The Job — Webmaster
“Drop in for a visit, sometime.”
“How can I do that? I live in Caracas, for goodness
“Do you have a computer? Are you connected to the
“Good. Then click away!
Our address is www.airmuseum.ca
Enjoy your tour.”
is as easy as that for folks around the world to take a virtual tour of
the Commonwealth Air Training Plan Museum. The tour has been created by
Bill Hillman, our webmaster, and leads the visitor through the various
exhibits on display at the museum. In recent years, reflecting the advances
in digital photography, he has rephotographed the memorabilia at higher
resolution to enhance the experience of the visitor.
html || www.airmuseum.ca/homebase.html
After visitors have completed the tour they can explore
the extensive collection of pictures and written accounts Bill has put
up on the site. They include copies of World War II station
magazines that were published by the bases during the war, and back
copies of “Short Bursts”, the newsletter of the ex-air gunners organization.
Sadly, with the passage of time and the deaths of so many of its members,
the organization is now defunct, but this record of their contribution
Bill has created in-depth and illustrated memoirs of several
veterans. He adds monthly accounts of events at the museum through pictures
and text, and a web-based magazine which Bill describes as “an eclectic
assortment of items gleaned from the Internet, media and contributing readers”.
All of this material, including back issues, and the current edition, are
Bill is a member of the committee overseeing the museum's
current major fund raising effort, the RCAF War Memorial Project:
a black granite wall 300 feet in length inscribed with the names
of over 19,000 fatalities, with a larger-than-life bronze statue representing
the fallen. Through the website he provides information about this impressive
The website is indeed eclectic, and extensive. Its creation
and on-going operation require, as Bill notes, "some technical knowledge,
as well as much editing, writing, research, searching for information and
photo taking." He also provides links from the museum site to others which
he creates and manages. The result is that he receives letters and inquiries
from all around the world, many seeking information which he endeavours
All in all, Bill is a busy man.
So what does he do in his free time? Nothing. He doesn't