Now in its 37th year, the Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta & NWT Business Hall of Fame continues to honour the leaders that enhance our business landscape while being active in the community and mentoring others. This year’s inductees are Dr. Herb Belcourt, Paul Douglas and Dr. Prem Singhmar.
Dr. Herb Belcourt
As the oldest of 10 children, Herb Belcourt grew up in a small log home near Lac Ste Anne. As a child, Herb saw his parents learn to survive – and thrive – despite the depression that had far-reaching effects in Alberta. His father launched a fur trading business and when Herb left home at age 15 to find work, his father cautioned him to save money so he could eventually work for himself. Dr. Belcourt took that advice to heart.
For 30 years, Dr. Belcourt launched small businesses in Alberta, including an upholstery company, an installation and service company for rural telephone lines, and the very successful Belcourt Construction.
Dr. Belcourt was also very passionate about improving his community and would, eventually, leave the private work sector to focus exclusively on his philanthropist ventures, most of which centred around Métis housing and education.
“You can’t do things alone. You jump in with both feet and get it done. If there is a project to get done, get it done!” says Dr. Belcourt of how he’s managed his businesses and philanthropic career. “You have to take things at face value. Learn to trust people and learn to read people. Learn about their integrity. I don’t seem to have any problem with the people I meet. They become friends after a while. You have to be honest with people and people can tell it in the things you do. They know more about you than you do yourself.
“Do a lot of things in your life, but you have to pay attention to your family, too. They are really the important ones. Look after your family.
“I’m quite proud of everything I do. With the construction company, I had a lot of people working for me over the years, and when I sold it, I think I had 165 men in the field plus the office and shop. That was my bread and butter, really. Then I had other things going all at the same time. When I look back, I wonder, how did I do that? The clothing store, the restaurant, the movie theatres and the non-profit housing corporation… We had a general life skills program, a daycare centre, a senior citizen’s lodge in Gunn with 36 suites! All this was happening all through the 70s.
“When I sold the private business in 1980, I went fulltime into the Canative Housing Corporation (a non-profit organization that provides affordable housing to Native peoples) and I never looked back.”
When asked to give his best advice for youth in the Junior Achievement program, Dr. Belcourt said, “I always go by the gut feeling. If it’s worth doing and it feels good, get into it; but if there is any negativity or questions, don’t do it. If you have negativity, you will most likely fail. Be honest with yourself and do research. Don’t jump into things blind. Ask yourself, who are the people asking you to do things? Not everyone can go into business. Be honest with yourself and be positive in everything you do. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If there is a problem, you have to talk about it. You can’t hide a problem. It will surface. Just be plain honest with yourself and other people. People see that when you’re honest.”
Dr. Belcourt noted that, when he learned he was being inducted into the Junior Achievement of Northern Alberta & NWT Business Hall of Fame, he “couldn’t believe it. It was beyond my wildest dreams, to be honest. You hear about the Hall of Fame, but I never thought about it. It’s been an incredible and mind-boggling experience so far. Unbelievable! A person doesn’t look at themselves for being recognized. At the time, you do things because they are worth doing. People ask for your help so you do your best.”
Dr. Belcourt humbly extends his thanks. “Number one is my wife. Thank you for putting up with me and understanding! My family. There are just so many people. I’d like to thank the world for believing in me, the people that nominated me for believing in me! I just can’t say thank you enough to so many people.”
Sadly, Dr. Belcourt has stage 4 cancer, and while his time here with us is coming to an end, his work, his influence and the positive impact he has had on the causes he cares so much about will endure. Dr. Belcourt lived his life to improve the lives of others, creating a ripple of goodwill that continues to expand and will positively affect countless generations; and for that, we owe him the deepest gratitude.
Paul Douglas started his career with PCL Construction as a manager in the 80s. By 2009 he was the company’s CEO, leading the organization through a period of great growth and success. Succeeded by Dave Filipchuk in 2016, Douglas is now chairman of the PCL board.
“My role, as relates to entrepreneurship, is fostering entrepreneurship and encouraging it in others in continuing to enhance the PCL culture. Entrepreneurship is part of the culture,” muses Douglas. “Leadership is engaging others and working with others to have a synergistic effect that ends up with very successful results at the end of the day. To me, ‘entrepreneur’ is more of a spirt and attitude and leadership is more of a skillset that you continue to learn and build on year after year.”
Douglas has had a very long and successful career, and is the recipient of many awards, including the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal, for his outstanding work at PCL and in the community. However, he cites being named an Alberta Business Leader in 2016 and being inducted into the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Business Hall of Fame as “the snowcap on the pinnacle.”
Community-focused work is, for the Douglas family and for PCL, very important.
“We are very proud, PCL and the Douglas family, of what we do for the community and the industry. The United Way has always been a big one for PCL and the Douglas family. When you become part of PCL, you become ingrained in the United Way, so we can give back to every community that we work in. My wife, Cathy, and I have a focus on international organizations, education and development of women in third world countries. We believe it is an important part of raising people out of poverty in their situation and making less fortunate communities a better place.”
The Douglas family is also passionate about the province’s healthcare system. “Healthcare in Alberta is something we are fortunate to have, as is the standard and quality of care we do have. It’s thanks to people that sit on community boards to raise money, get the best equipment, researchers, and to train the best physicians. I sat on a number of those boards and continue to try to ensure that Alberta is a leader [in healthcare], and to make sure Edmonton is a leader in the world.”
The Junior Achievement organization means a lot to Douglas.
“I’ve been involved with Junior Achievement mainly through PCL, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the annual sessions and meeting all the passionate young Junior Achievers out there. The spirit they have is great to see for the future of Edmonton and the growth of it, and for their own future. They are learning a lot and get to practically apply their entrepreneurship on their first stages of being a business person.”
His advice for Junior Achievers is, “Education is a given these days. Students are all being well-educated. The differentiator is their entrepreneurial spirit, and a lot of that comes down to passion and attitude, combined with the ability to recognize opportunity and translate that into something practical and functional. Always remember, because you are always full of passionate exuberance, that there is so much more to learn, particularly in the areas of leadership.”
When Douglas learned he was going to be inducted into the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Business Hall of Fame, he felt, “Shocked, actually! Then, as I reflected on it, I felt extremely proud to be included. I know a number of other people in the Hall of Fame and admire them greatly, including some former members of PCL. The Pools, the Stollerys…to be included in the group is humbling and truly an honour.”
Douglas extends his thanks to PCL. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for PCL. They trained me, grew me and gave me the opportunities and probably nominated me for this award! I have to say a big thank you to them and my coworkers, as well as to the selection committee that saw me fit to join this great group.”
Dr. Prem P. Singhmar
Dr. Prem Singhmar is the president of the Singhmar Group of Companies, which incudes Singhmar Development Inc. and AUM Hotel Group, among others. He holds a Bachelor of Medicine degree and a Master of Surgery degree. After nearly a decade of medical work in India and Libya, Dr. Singhmar and his family decided to see what else the world had to offer. They considered living in Belgium, Italy and the United States. They were in Los Angeles speaking with the consulate when they learned of a new immigration system that was bringing people to Canada. In 1985, the family landed in Edmonton, saw a farm they liked and purchased it. Dr. Singhmar and his family have been in Edmonton ever since.
“We were just trying to move,” laughs Dr. Singhmar of his sudden appearance in Edmonton. “It wasn’t planned out. We did not know anyone here.”
He managed the farm, a 20,000 bird egg-layer poultry operation, until 1987, transitioning a few years later to owning and managing more than 40,000 acres of agricultural land across Western Canada.
In 1998, he noticed a motel for sale. “I bought it, and then I kept buying them,” he remembers. “I built my first hotel in 1998, and then I built eight more.”
The Singhmar name is well known across Edmonton because the family is a strong supporter of arts and education, as evidenced by the approximately $6 million in donations and endowments bestowed upon the University of Alberta, The Art Gallery of Alberta, the Peter Lougheed Leadership College and many more.
In 2014, the Singhmar family donated $2.5 million to NorQuest College, creating the Singhmar Centre for Learning.
“I did this for two reasons,” Singhmar explains of the generous donation. “They [NorQuest College] do a wonderful job. They turn immigrants into taxpayers, but they are not well recognized for the work they do. We have invested in culture and education because we believe that education is important for society and culture is important for our city to go to the next level. You need things like art galleries, museums, citadels, etc.”
Over his long and varied career, the philanthropist and businessman learned many lessons that he is happy to share with aspiring Junior Achievers.
“Work hard, stay within the law. Work with your gut feeling. I’ve made more mistakes than what I’ve achieved. When I look into it, I think how big of a screwball I was! If time could turn back, I could do much better, but hindsight is 20/20! We succeed, not because we are good, but because the system here is good. Go into anything and stick with it, and you’ll be fine.”
He was surprised to learn that he was being inducted in the Junior Achievement Alberta & NWT Business Hall of Fame.
“I got the call and it was very humbling. I thought, what are they doing? I don’t think I’ve done much. I’m very appreciative of them thinking like that. I’m very thankful to society in large in Canada, especially Edmonton. The people here are wonderful to work with. I’m thankful I had the fortune to work here.”