Alison Sutherland-Mann is one of those people that likes taking on a challenge — her latest working at TRU Williams Lake in continuing education. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Alison Sutherland-Mann is one of those people that likes taking on a challenge — her latest working at TRU Williams Lake in continuing education. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)

Our Hometown: Embracing new challenges

From organizing children’s festivals to becoming a red seal chef, Alison Sutherland-Mann has done it

Growing up Alison Sutherland-Mann’s parents bought her a new pair cowboy boots every year in time for the Williams Lake Stampede.

“My siblings and I would wear our new boots to watch the parade and rodeo — it was a fun tradition,” she said.

In 1963 her parents Don and Valerie Sutherland moved the family to the lakecity from Vancouver.

They’d planned to stay two years, but after working for another insurance company, Don decided to start his own and the family stayed.

Sutherland Insurance was located where Crosina Realty is today on Oliver Street.

“I call Williams Lake my hometown,” Sutherland-Mann said, adding she attended Williams Lake Elementary School — where Marie Sharpe is today, Anne Stevenson Secondary School and graduated from Columneetza.

With a family home on Gibbon Street near Cariboo Memorial Hospital, the Sutherland children spent many hours riding bicycles, specifically to Scout Island.

The family also spent time at Chimney Lake where they had a tent platform and an outdoor kitchen/.

“A huge part of my childhood was having the freedom to roam around and get home just in time for dinner.”

Remembering her dad as being a huge community booster, she said as children they were used to volunteering. Her father was instrumental in the Sam Ketcham Pool project and a Kiwanis Club member.

The red clock on the corner of Oliver Street and First Avenue North is her father’s clock and a ‘lovely tribute to him,” she said.

Don passed away in 1991 and Valerie still lives in Williams Lake.

Two years after high school, Sutherland-Mann married her late husband Blain Mann who was born in Williams Lake.

Soon after the two were married they took over the old Den Cabaret and renovated it into a disco.

“It was the late 70s and we sometimes brought in bands — the place was hopping on the weekends. We sold it later to a group in Vancouver.”

The couple had three daughters — Kristy, Stephanie and Lindsey.

“We were really happy here and that’s why we stayed in Williams Lake,” Sutherland-Mann said. “The friends I have here today are from the core group of people I’ve known most of my life.”

When the girls were young she co-ordinated the Williams Lake Children’s Festival for 12 years, inspired to start it after taking her oldest daughter to the one in Vancouver.

“I remember thinking Williams Lake kids needed a similar thing in our town,” she said.

“My youngest daughter was a baby in a snugly the first year. All three girls helped as they grew up. It was a wonderful community event with a team of dedicated volunteers and always lots of our kids involved.”

In 2004, after their youngest daughter graduated from high school, Sutherland-Mann decided to study culinary arts. Blain was working at a construction project in Fort St. John so she enrolled at Northern Lights College in Dawson Creek.

A practicum at the Chateau Laurier in Lake Louise gave her some good experience, compounded by working for a Toronto company that helped restaurants start out, including a 250-seat one in Fort Nelson where she was trained to do everything.

When the company asked Mann to move to Toronto, she declined and knew she wanted to settle back in Williams Lake.

After becoming a red seal chef in 2008, she and a friend and business partner Lynne Connor, also a red seal chef, opened Beeotcheese Bistro in the same location where the Manns had the night club 30 years before.

“Blain did an extensive makeover and we ran a catering company and small bakery within the restaurant.”

In 2016, Blain died after battling cancer.

Read more: Blain Mann

During the 2017 wildfires evacuation Sutherland-Mann went to the Lower Mainland. She decided to try living ‘in the big city’ and landed a job with a catering company in downtown Vancouver.

“It was an amazing experience. I rode the bus to work and home.”

About a year later she slipped stepping off the bus and tore her meniscus, which stopped her ability to work in a commercial kitchen.

While recuperating she joined one of her daughters on Vancouver Island and helped with her vintage clothing store.

When she saw a job posting for Thompson Rivers University Williams Lake Campus as the continuing education community co-ordinator, she decided to apply and has worked there since 2018.

As for cooking, she enjoys volunteering, especially cooking for seniors dinners because she teams up with an amazing group of fun people.

Read more: Seniors drive-thru Christmas dinner a go for Saturday

“Cooking is how I relax,” she added.

Spending time with her grandchildren is also something she loves to do, which has been restricted due to COVID-19.

She aptly calls one of them “panda baby” because he was born five months ago in Vancouver during the pandemic.

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