Edmonton

Family, friends remember the legacy of decorated Métis elder in Sherwood Park

Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday to celebrate the life of the late Métis elder Herb Belcourt, a businessman whose philanthropic efforts improved the lives of Métis people across the province.

Celebration of life for businessman and philanthropist Herb Belcourt draws hundreds of people

A photograph of the late Herb Belcourt sits in front of the stage where friends and family paid tribute to him during a celebration of life at Festival Place in Sherwood Park on Saturday. (Roberta Bell/CBC)

Hundreds of people gathered on Saturday to celebrate the life of the late Métis elder Herb Belcourt, a businessman whose philanthropic efforts improved the lives of Métis people across the province.

After a seven-month battle with cancer, Belcourt passed away on July 5, one day before his 86th birthday.

Aaron Barner, senior executive officer of the Métis Nation of Alberta, made a touching tribute at Festival Place in Sherwood Park to the man he called his mentor.

Thanks to a scholarship for Métis students funded by Belcourt and his business partners, Barner said he was able to pursue his education.

Over the years, Barner said he got to know Belcourt more personally as they worked together on projects to preserve and promote the interests of Métis people.

"I feel truly blessed, and I know I'm better positioned to keep working hard to make sure that his legacy lives on," Barner said.

Aaron Barner, senior executive officer of the Métis Nation of Alberta, makes a touching tribute to the man he called his mentor. (Roberta Bell/CBC )

'He was all in'

Herb Belcourt worked best with a team and surrounded himself with the people necessary to get a job done right, said his cousin, Tony Belcourt, who operates in much the same way. 

In the 1970s, Tony Belcourt was involved with the Métis Nation in Edmonton and struggling to rally support for a housing project. He approached his cousin, who, with a successful construction company, had valuable skills and connections.

"Once he came and got involved, he was all in. He has so much strength and tenacity. There's no way he'd take no for an answer," Belcourt said Saturday. 

"Herb just had the strength to be able to move forward. Herb could charm a lot of people because he had natural charm… There was nothing phony about him and I think that's one of his best assets."

'There will be a void in my life'

Their other cousin, Orval Belcourt, with a background in social work, did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work.

Orval Belcourt grew up with Herb Belcourt near Lac Ste. Anne.

Orval Belcourt said his late cousin Herb Belcourt was like a brother. (Roberta Bell/CBC)

"Herb and I were very, very close. In fact, so many people considered Herb and I to be brothers," Orval Belcourt said.

"I believe in so many ways we complemented one another. There will be a void in my life for sure. When you lose somebody that you are so close to, it's pretty hard."

The Belcourt cousins, with Georges Brousseau, formed the Canative Housing Corporation, which they later liquidated to form the scholarship fund.

Legacy lives on

Herb Belcourt is survived by children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and his wife, Lesley, with whom he worked closely on many of his endeavours.

Hundreds of people gathered at Festival Place in Sherwood Park for Herb Belcourt's celebration of life. (Roberta Bell/CBC)

For his contributions to the Métis people and the community at large, Herb Belcourt has been decorated with the Order of Canada, the Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal and an Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award

The recipient of an honourary doctorate from the University of Alberta, he has also been inducted into the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business Hall of Fame and the Salute to Excellence Hall of Fame at the City of Edmonton.

There is a park named in his honour in Sherwood Park.

roberta.bell@cbc.ca

@roberta__bell 

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