By Richard W. Hiebert, PhD
North Battleford Centennial Historical Committee
Ghislain Rene Joseph Bellavance was born late on Christmas Eve, 1935, to Joseph and Marie-Therese at North Battleford. He was raised on a farm near Paynton. The Bellavance family moved to Delmas during the Second World War. Gil's dad was in the service so the family was without a primary breadwinner. Fortunately, Gil's mother was a strong and resolute woman, who ably provided for her family. After the war, Gil's father returned home from his tour of duty and the family moved again, to the Battlefords. Gil took five years of formal schooling at Delmas, then in Battleford, and then completed high school at St. Thomas College (in the old Government House, and later at 891 - 99th St.).
Gil's extraordinary life has been a rich tapestry, woven of service, responsibility, adventure and courage. Gil joined the army as a private soldier in 1954, serving first in the Battlefords, and then with the Infantry School at Camp Bordon, Ont. In 1957, upon graduation from Royal Roads, Victoria, B.C., he was commissioned into the Royal 22e Regiment (the elite Van Doos). He served two years with his regiment in Germany, and later in Canada. In 1960, he was trained as a paratrooper in Rivers, Man. He later trained in the United States with the U. S. Special Forces (the legendary Green Berets). The Green Berets' intense training regimen tested the skill and spirit of the most resolute soldier. Gil met this challenge, after which he served on staff at Quebec and Ottawa. He steadily rose through the ranks taking on increasingly more responsibility and challenges. In 1966, after completing his work at Kingston, he was posted to the Far East (Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam) for a year with the International Commission. Gil then returned to his regiment and, as second in command of his battalion, served in Cyprus and Canada. In addition, he has served in Malaysia with the British army. In 1971, because of his extensive experience in both arctic and jungle operations, and as a paratrooper, Gil was appointed deputy commander of the Canadian Airborne Regiment. In 1973, he assumed command of the Canadian Airborne Training Centre in Edmonton and remained in this capacity until 1977. Life was good. The future held great promise. After his work with the Airborne Regiment was finished, he was posted to the Middle East as the senior operations officer with the United Nations Emergency Force in the Sinai. His duties required him to travel extensively in Egypt, Israel, Jordan and Syria. In 1978, Gil's last Regular Force posting was in Regina where he assumed command of the Air Command Detachment, a position he held until 1983. His duties included representing the Forces with the Saskatchewan Government, overseeing the Provincial Warning Centre and supervision of all cadet units in the province.
Gil retired from the Regular Forces in 1983. But "retirement" wasn't part of his makeup and character. Consequently, he served as the commander of the Saskatchewan Militia District for three years, after which he finally retired from military service with the rank of colonel. Gil was later appointed honorary colonel of the North Saskatchewan Regiment. He served in this capacity for 13 years. Remarkably, Gil's military service, full and part time, totalled 45 years. He was also a member of the Army Cadet League for more than 25 years, and was Saskatchewan branch president of this organization for 20 years. He is currently past president.
Recently, Gil was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Jubilee Medal - high honour in recognition of his many years dedicated to youth in the Army Cadets.
Colonel Bellavance's involvement in the military was not limited to the foregoing. Since 1989 he has been involved with the Veterans Assistant Programs, particularly the Last Post Fund. In this regard, he was responsible for reopening the LPF Branch in Saskatchewan, serving as branch president until 1993. He later served as vice-president for Western Canada, and later as national president from 1999 to 2001. Gil continues to serve on the board of the Saskatchewan Branch. In addition, he is a long-time member of Branch No. 9 of the Royal Canadian Legion. He was also a member of the North Saskatchewan Board of Governors of the Corps of Commissionaires for several years.
There are few citizens who could match Col. Bellavance's dedication to his country and fellow man. It was a high honour and fitting that he should be awarded the Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation for outstanding service to his country, his community and his felow veterans.
It is difficult to determine an end point with respect to Gil's legion of accomplishments and community service. He has been a member of the Knights of Columbus Hamelin Council No. 5878 for a remarkable 59 years. He continues to be involved in its programs and charitable works, serving in many capacities. He was president of the K of C and Associates Charity Bingo Group for several years. He has also been a fourth degree knight since 1967, currently serving for a second time as the Faithful Navigator for the Dr. Uhrich 4th degree Assembly of North Battleford.
Gil's contributions to his community are impressive as well. In 1984-85, he served on the provincial committee which planned and organized the ceremonies and events marking the centennial of the Northwest Rebellion. In addition, he has been a long-time member of the Battlefords North West Historical Society. He served as its secretary-treasurer for many years, and is now president, a position he has held since 2008. In addition, he has represented the Battlefords as a provincial director of the Saskatchewan Architectural Heritage Association for four years, two as treasurer. He is also on the board of directors of the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum and is currently its secretary. Finally, Gil is the chair of the City of North Battleford Centennial Historical Committee and has played a key role in documenting and showcasing 100 years of our city's history.
Gil has received many honours for a lifetime of selfless service and for this he was lauded and given many awards. But in recognition of his countless hours of community work, The Battlefords and district bestowed its greatest honour on Gil by naming him the Citizen of the Year for 2007.
Gil is a man of faith. He is a member and supporter of St. Andre Catholic Church and has served many years on the parish committee as chairman, and now as treasurer. In addition, he serves on the board of the St. Andre Society as well as the board of Manoir Marchildon Senior Citizens' Home. He also volunteers regularly in support of Villa Pascal. As if this is not enough, he volunteers for the St. Mary School Reading Assistance Program. Finally, Gil served on the board of Catholic Family Services of the Battlefords for four years.
Despite Gil's incredibly full life, he was above all a family man. He and Margaret Jean Waters were married in 1957 and enjoyed a long and happy marriage. They were blessed with three children, two of whom were born in Germany during Gil's service overseas, 10 grandchildren and five-great grandchildren. Sadly, Jeanie, Gil's wife and life-partner, passed away in 2012.
It is difficult to put into perspective Gil's extraordinary life. We stand in admiration of one who has accomplished so much. We ask, who could do as much - not for himself, but for others? Moreover, he has not ceased from doing good works. He continues to serve. Colonel Bellavance deserves our profound and heartfelt thanks. On the occasion of our city's centennial, we salute a truly great citizen - Col. (Gil) Bellavance.