The province has announced that six Saskatchewan citizens will be invested with the Saskatchewan Order of Merit next month. It is the highest honour that the province can bestow. The six recipients are: Doctor Robert Calder, Thelma Pepper, and Neil Richards, all of Saskatoon; Gail Bowen of Regina; Maurice Delage of Indian Head; and Assembly of First Nations National Chief Perry Bellegarde of the Little Black Bear First Nation. The Order of Merit recognizes excellence and achievements from outstanding citizens.
National Chief Perry Bellegarde
Currently the National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, Perry Bellegarde has spent his life
advancing First Nations self-determination and establishing a new relationship between First Nations,
the Crown and non-Indigenous Canadians. He has a deep love of, and connection to his Cree and
Nakota cultures and an unshakeable commitment to seeing the recognition and implementation of
Inherent Aboriginal and Treaty rights. As a First Nations leader, Chief Bellegarde has also taken on an
international role advocating on behalf of Indigenous peoples around the world through his advocacy at
the United Nations.
Shortly after becoming the first First Nations person to earn an undergraduate degree from the
University of Regina’s Faculty of Administration, he became Vice-Chair and then Tribal Chair of the
Touchwood-File Hills Qu’Appelle Tribal Council. Chief Bellegarde served three terms as Chief of the
Federation of Saskatchewan Indian Nations, now the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations,
negotiating a twenty-five year Gaming Agreement, thereby stabilizing an industry in Saskatchewan that
employs more than 2,000 people today. As the Saskatchewan Regional Chief for the Assembly of First
Nations, he helped to facilitate a national multi-million dollar compensation package for First Nations
Veterans and their spouses for the injustices they endured upon their return to Canada from
Gail Bowen is a prolific author, playwright and teacher. Her best known works are the Joanne Kilbourn
series of mystery novels, all of which are set in Saskatchewan. These books have received national and
international acclaim for their realistic, continually evolving heroine and examinations of contemporary
social issues ranging from child prostitution to feminism, racism and domestic abuse. Six books in the
series have been successfully adapted for an international television audience. Among her numerous
writing awards are a lifetime achievement award from the Crime Writers of Canada and the
Distinguished Canadian Award from the University of Regina and the Lifelong Learning Centre. Readers’
Digest has called her Canada’s best mystery novelist. She is also a playwright, specializing in children’s
literature, and has adapted a number of classic works such as Peter Pan and Beauty and the Beast for
the stage and radio.
Ms. Bowen has spent her professional life helping new writers develop their craft and unique voices.
She has been a writer-in-residence at libraries in Regina, Calgary and Toronto, and has presented
courses at numerous writers’ festivals and retreats across Canada. In addition, she taught literature in
the English Department of the First Nations University of Canada for 22 years, serving six years as
Dr. Robert Calder
Dr. Robert Calder is a nationally and internationally recognized writer and researcher. Robert
was a long-serving faculty member at the University of Saskatchewan, where he also served as
head of the English Department, Associate Dean of Fine Arts and Humanities, and acting head
of the Department of Music. His prolific writing has covered a wide range of topics, including
his biography, Willie: The Life of W. Somerset Maugham, which won the Governor General’s
Award for Literature. While Dr. Calder is known as a biographer and an expert on 20th century
British literature, he has also written about Spain’s initial contact with North America, as well as
local sports history, including co-authoring a book about his favourite team, Rider Pride: The
Story of Canada’s Best Loved Football Team. In addition to his own writing efforts, he is also
involved in several organizations that promote and mentor Saskatchewan writers, including the
Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild and the Sage Hill Writing Experience.
Dr. Calder is also a dedicated and active advocate for arts and culture in Saskatchewan. He was
one of the founding members of The Word on the Street Saskatoon Literary Festival, a nonprofit
organization that holds an annual festival to celebrate Canadian reading and writing.
Dr. Calder’s passion for local sports also led him to a seat on the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of
Fame’s sport history committee.
Maurice Delage was raised on his family’s farm in the Arborfield area. His Master of Science
Degree in Agriculture lead to a long and innovative career that helped shape Saskatchewan’s
agri?business industry. As president of Hoechst Canada Inc., Mr. Delage initiated and
successfully brokered an agreement that resulted in the construction of what is now the largest
herbicide facility in the Bayer Crop Science network in Regina. What started as a 20-employee
facility now employs more than 150 full-time and part-time staff. Maurice was also integral in
creating the Bayer Global Centre of Excellence for Canola Development, located near
Saskatoon. The facility has gone on to create herbicide tolerance, hybrid vigor and trait
development in canola, resulting in better tools and yields for Saskatchewan producers.
Mr. Delage was inducted into the Saskatchewan Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2012 for his many
contributions to the industry. In 2017, he received the James McAnsh Award from the Canola
Council of Canada.
In addition to enhancing the industry, he leveraged his position at Hoechst to contribute to arts
and culture in the province, supporting the Globe Theatre, Regina Downtown Dash, and the
Saskatchewan Science Centre. He is passionate about his community, and helped raise $1.6
million needed to restore the historic Bell Barn, at Indian Head.
Mr. Delage retired in 2001 but continues to be a passionate voice for agriculture and crop
science. He is a frequent speaker at agriculture conventions and he now operates a 28,000 acre
grain farm at Indian Head with his wife and their son and daughter-in-law.
Thelma Pepper is a photographer and advocate for arts and culture across Saskatchewan. Born
in Nova Scotia, Thelma settled in Saskatoon to raise her family and it was only after her children
were grown that she began her acclaimed career as a photographer. Mrs. Pepper’s work has
been exhibited across Canada and in Europe. Her work celebrates the uniqueness and spirit of
Saskatchewan people, particularly senior women. In her third major exhibition, Unite the Spirit,
Mrs. Pepper worked with residents of Saskatoon’s Sherbrooke Community Center to show the
dignity and happiness that exists in the lives of senior residents. Her time at Sherbrooke was
documented by The National Film Board of Canada in their production, “A Year at Sherbrooke”,
which chronicled her efforts to improve the creative culture at the centre. In 2014, she was
awarded the lifetime achievement award for her photography at the Lieutenant Governor’s
Arts Awards. Mrs. Pepper’s work has taught Canadians and an international audience about
the history of Saskatchewan, and gives a voice to the people who played an important part in
shaping our province, but were often ignored from its historical narrative.
In addition to her work as a photographer, Mrs. Pepper is an avid volunteer and literacy
advocate. As President of the Brunskill Elementary School Parent’s Advisory Council, she was
instrumental in creating the first public school library in Saskatoon. She is a dedicated
volunteer reader, spending time in senior residences, hospitals, and schools.
Neil Richards (Posthumous)
Neil Richards was born in Ontario but called Saskatchewan home since 1971 when he accepted
a position at the University of Saskatchewan Library. He immediately became a passionate
voice for the province’s LGBTQ and two-spirit community, through activism and education, as
well as by collecting and archiving rare material that documented the experiences of LGBTQ
people in Saskatchewan. Early in his career, Mr. Richards was a member of the committee to
defend Doug Wilson, a teacher at the University of Saskatchewan whose teaching duties were
restricted after his sexual orientation become public. Ultimately the case led to a resolution
being passed by the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour asking the government to ban
discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In the 1980s Mr. Richards worked on some of
Saskatchewan’s earliest AIDS awareness initiatives, at a time when such work was highly
stigmatized and misunderstood.
Through his collection of posters, publications, fiction, magazines and more, Mr. Richards
helped preserve the history of the LGBTQ and two-spirit communities in Saskatchewan. He
donated his collection to the Provincial Archives of Saskatchewan and to the University of
Saskatchewan. In 1995, he received the first President’s Service Award from the University of
Saskatchewan for outstanding contributions to the learning and working environment at the
University. In 2010 the University established the Neil Richards Collection of Sexual and Gender
Diversity at the University Archives and Special Collections. The collection has more than 6,000
titles and preserves an important part of prairie history that has often been excluded in the
past. Sadly, Mr. Richards passed away in Saskatoon on January 12, 2018.