Celebrating The Life of Paul Belcheff
Paul was born on May 24, 1940, to Mike and Maria (Tkash) Belcheff in Wadena, SK.
He grew up on a farm northwest of Margo where he attended Margo School and had two older sisters Minnie and Lily. Their father came from Sophia, Bulgaria, and their mother from the Ukraine. They grew up poor so at a very young age Paul helped his dad on the family farm. He loved music and learned to play guitar and sing and even entered some talent competitions and won. From a young age, Paul was a natural born leader and was never the type to cave into peer pressure. He never drank or smoked, so he ended up being the designated driver for many of his friends. He always had a huge respect for people and would never hesitate to help others when they were in need. He didn’t tolerate bullying and was always there to support the underdog. Times were very tough when Paul was a teenager so for awhile he became a trapper traveling many miles in the dead of winter to make extra money selling furs.
After graduation, he enrolled in the College of Dentistry in North Dakota. He was only there for a short time when his father became very ill, so he dropped out and came back home to help out on the farm.
In the summer of 1960, Paul met the love of his life, Elsie Buchinski when he stopped in at Harry’s Café in the neighboring town of Invermay. She was a waitress there and Paul was smitten and knew he had to get to know her. They struck up a relationship and in the winter when he went to work at the mining camps near Thompson, Manitoba, he would write Elsie letters every week. On October 27, 1962, they were married and settled on his family farm. They had two daughters, Jaqueline in 1965 and Brenda in 1968. Paul was a grain farmer and also raised hogs. They both worked incredibly hard on the farm, saving enough money for additional land and machinery, and kept expanding the farm as they went along.
In the early 70’s, Paul started writing songs and thought he would go to Nashville to record and try his hand in the music business. He recorded several songs inspired by his love for Elsie, and eventually went on the road. He spent some time recording in Toronto as well, but even though he loved entertaining he missed his family terribly and didn’t care for life on the road and lonely nights in hotel rooms.
After a couple of years Paul returned to the family farm full time and ended his budding music career.
1974 turned out to be a fantastic year on their farm as they had a fantastic bumper crop of canola and hit the jackpot with grain prices. He and Elsie built a brand new house, bought machinery and more land. The new house was a dramatic improvement with running water and many other luxuries that we currently take for granted. When you grow up poor, you never forget your roots and the feeling of being poor and working hard for every earned dollar.
In the early 80’s Paul and Elsie expanded their farming operation. They started selling fertilizer and Paul sold Behlen Wicks steel grain bins. After a full day’s work, he would get in his grain truck and drive all night to be in Brandon, Manitoba when the gates opened for a load of bins. He did this MANY times and as the orders grew, there were semi-loads of grain bins coming from Brandon to the family farm and a steady stream of farmers from miles around were coming to buy them. The business grew so rapidly that Belcheff Farms was awarded the top grain bin dealer in Canada in 1982 and for a few years after that. He also started selling aeration fans and Elsie began selling farm chemicals. The farm was an absolute hub of activity with customers coming at all hours and always something on the go.
Due to their expanded business ventures, they were able to purchase more land and equipment. At the height of his farming career, Paul was farming about 7,300 acres including land he had rented at Fishing Lake Reserve where he employed members for over twenty years. Elsie would cook meals for everyone and during seeding and harvest there were up to 15 hired men.
Their daughter, Jackie, was taking a keen interest in music and had become a gifted entertainer. Paul was excited that Jackie wanted to pursue a career in country music so he made a promise that when she graduated, they would take her to Nashville. Since he already had some experience in the music industry, he became her manager, booking and financing some influential musicians for her recording sessions. He was so proud of Jackie and would be right by her side in the recording studio. Since he was a social butterfly, Paul liked getting up early and going for coffee on Music Row. He got to know a few popular music recording artists, including George Jones who really took a liking to him. George would clear a spot beside him every time he saw Paul walk in the coffee shop and referred to him as “Mr. Canada”. They became close friends during this time. Paul and Elsie were always excited to follow Jackie and watch her sing and the annual family event was the Craven Country Jamboree. When Jackie decided to move to Nashville to pursue her dreams, he knew that Jackie wouldn’t be interested in farming but still supported her career choice 100%. When Brenda graduated and moved to Saskatoon, he knew that Brenda wasn’t interested in farming for a career either, but they continued to farm a lot of acres for years to come.
Paul was very involved in the farming industry and grew more and more concerned about how restricted the grain market had become. He found that other farmers had the same concerns so a small group of them got together for a discussion and learned that the Canadian Wheat Board was no longer serving the farmer’s best interest.
Paul, and a handful of other farmers knew that they were getting around $2/bushel for wheat if it was hauled to the local elevator but learned that the elevators were hauling THEIR GRAIN to the US and getting $7/bushel. At that time farmer were not allowed to cross the border to market their own grain. This was not ethical so this small group of about 7 farmers formed a group called FARMERS FOR JUSTICE which expanded rapidly as more farmers jumped on board to join the cause and protests at the Canada/US Boarder. There were some farmers who were arrested and fined (Paul included) for trying to haul their own grain across the border and close to 500 farmers who would attend the rallies. There are many stories to share, some of which will be shared at his Celebration of Life. Paul was a very important part of fighting for his, and other Farmer’s rights, and they eventually succeeded and paved the way for farmers who wanted to market their own grain. He was like a dog with a bone and wasn’t going to give up this fight as what the CWB was doing was wrong.
The CWB was abolished August 1st, 2012.
When the federal government passed legislation (Bill C-18, the Marketing Freedom for Grain Farmers Act) to end the Canadian Wheat Board’s single desk authority. This was tabled by the Harper Government and passed December 2011. Prime Minister Stephan Harper made the formal announcement on August 2012 pardoning the group of farmers who were arrested for trying to sell their wheat under the old law governing the CWBs monopoly as they marked their first day on which the prairie producers could sell their grain outside the board. His words were “Never, never again will farmers alone be punished for trying to sell the wheat they grew on their land. These people were not criminals. They were our fellow citizens. Citizens who protested injustice by submitting themselves peacefully to the consequences of challenging injustice.”
Prime Minister Harper had a long history of supporting the farmers who fought the wheat board. In 2001, he wrote a review of a book on that battle, calling the wheat board an “oppressive monopoly” that used “legal bullying” against farmers. In the words of Gerry Ritz, Agriculture Minister at the time “Finally, for the first time in 68 years, western farmers have full control over the crop they pay to plant, take months to grow and work tirelessly to harvest.”
This meant Paul was reimbursed the fines of over $30,000 plus interest and all charges against the farmers (including Paul) were dropped and the Harper Government issued a formal apology to the farmers.
Paul’s family were very proud of him, his friends and all of the other farmers for their courage to fight for what’s right until they succeeded. Paul had said “Always stand up for what you believe in, even if you are the only one left standing”.
Elsie started a new business around early 2000s so Paul helped her with her business which resulted in them being on the road, attending trade shows in Canada and US and he decided to scale down his farm operation since their daughters were not interested in taking over the farm. Jackie had moved home from Nashville to help with the business, then got married and Paul was thrilled when his grandson, Judah, was born. Years later, he was excited to welcome another son-in-law when Brenda got married in 2014.
He rarely slept and was known as the “energy bunny” who would always be in a hurry and on the go. He would do anything for his Elsie and his daughters who he loved dearly . He could relate to many farmers, young and old and many of his younger farmer friends would say that “Paul didn’t act his age” as he was sharp, would keep up-to-date on global events, commodity prices, politics and had no interest in retiring.
In 2010, the year he was turning 70, he was driving on Hwy 16 to Saskatoon when he was hit, head on by a driver that fell asleep at the wheel. He nearly didn’t survive this tragic accident and the doctors said he would probably never walk again. They inserted some metal in his leg and hip and sent him home to recover. But the doctors didn’t know Paul. Not only did he walk again, but he continued to thrive in his farming operation. His determination, positive attitude, work ethic and family support is all he needed to keep him going.
After Elsie passed away in 2018, he was deeply saddened to lose the love of his life and wanted to learn to garden as that’s something he knew she loved. So, he asked his daughter Brenda to help him grow an annual garden and he became a very successful gardener. Paul always had a generous heart so every year, his garden was expanding as he found joy in gifting people vegetables, he would say that the cost of food is getting higher and not everyone can afford it. The quality of his vegetables were amazing, so people welcomed his generosity. He was a true farmer!
Paul experienced another tragedy this year when his eldest daughter Jackie passed away in July. He was devastated to lose “his Jackie” and said that “children should never predecease their parents”. Farming, and the local farm community helped him cope with his heartbreak.
Paul was a social butterfly and loved visiting. He would always get up very early (around 4 am) to start his workday, then later enjoyed having coffee, discussing farming, politics, and other topics with his many friends in the area. He also enjoyed visiting with his other girls; employees, Brenda and Linda and would always bring them a morning treat.
There are so many stories about Paul’s generosity, buying coffee and meals for whomever was in the restaurant, fixing other people’s vehicles free of charge, donations, buying food for others, giving away vegetables, and so many acts of kindness and never wanting any accolades for his generosity.
There also have been many thanks coming in from members of Fishing Lake First Nation expressing their admiration for Paul and how much they will miss him; thanking Paul for his contributions and for the generosity he showed toward them including employing many over the years. He also donated to their community participating in fundraisers and many events over the years. One of the biggest compliments was that many of them looked to him like a “father figure” in how well he treated them and tried to help whenever he could.
He was a big believer in supporting local towns and businesses and would try to attend most fund raisers and fall suppers. Many have also said they have never met anyone like Paul. He would chat with anyone, had an unbelievable work ethic, and had a determination to continue on with life and make the absolute best of it. He even ordered his first brand new factory ordered truck just one day before the tragic car accident that took his life.
Left to cherish his memory are his daughter Brenda Belcheff (Dave Moffatt), grandson Judah Heistad, son-in-law Jason Heistad, sister Lillian Ziola and many nieces, nephews, extended family, many friends as well as Brenda Semko and Linda Woloshyn who worked along him for many years.
Paul was predeceased by his loving wife Elsie, his daughter Jackie, his parents Mike and Marie Belcheff, his sister Minnie (Milan) Pelican, brother-in-law Orval Ziola
Celebration of Life
Friday October 13, 2023
Wadena Community Legion Hall
Those wishing to send cards of
sympathy may send them to:
The Belcheff Family
P.O. Box 179
Donations in memory of
Paul may be made to:
Margo Cemetery Fund
c/o RM of Sasman
P.O. Box 130
Below is the link to view the live stream. You have to register before gaining access to the waiting room. Registering can be done at any time but we recommend doing it in advance in case of any problems. If you do not have an email or mobile phone number when registering you will need to call 1-877-895-2739. The support staff at Forget Me Not Ceremonies will provide you with a code to gain access to it.