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"The land really is what feeds us and if you treat the land with respect it will treat you well."
Walter Paszkowski’s ardent community leadership and distinguished service as an elected official have enhanced the quality of life enjoyed by people across the province. His extensive efforts to promote agricultural innovation and foster vibrant rural communities have been particularly meaningful to his fellow Albertans.
Walter was born April 23, 1934 on the Paszkowski farm in Sexsmith. The farm served as a welcome refuge for his parents who came to Alberta in 1929 fleeing a Second World War that they feared would soon affect their native Poland. Walter’s father, Walter Sr., was a veteran of the Great War and was determined that he and his wife, Cheslowa, would escape the horrors of a terrible second conflict. They chose Canada because it promised safety, freedom and opportunity. They chose the fertile farmland of northwest Alberta to be near three sisters who had settled in Sexsmith years earlier. Canada certainly delivered the freedom and safety they craved but their arrival during the period leading up to the Great Depression meant long years of economic hardship.
As the youngest of three children, Walter spent much of his early days without playmates while his older sisters, Jean and Mary, were in school. The family’s limited resources didn’t allow for much in the way of creature comforts so Walter was left to his imagination and to roaming the farmland he grew to love. When it came time to attend school, Walter was introduced to the riches of the school library, the fun of the playground and the pleasure of socializing with kids his own age. In relatively short order, Walter was ready to dive into community life armed with the lessons of honesty, integrity and responsibility he learned from his parents. He became an eager member of student council, air cadets, the Catholic Youth Organization and 4-H.
When it came time to attend post-secondary school, Walter’s love of watching things grow led him to agricultural studies at Fairview College. He graduated with honours in 1952 and began farming a quarter section of land that his father gave to him, with the proviso that he look after all expenses. Walter couldn’t afford insurance so he took a chance and learned a hard lesson with the total loss of his first crop due to hail. An oil patch job doing seismic testing over the next two winters provided the resources he needed to continue farming and expand the operation.
Working both on and off the farm became a lifelong pattern as Walter split his time between his Sexsmith seed farm and retail seed outlet and other responsibilities, including 12 years as an office manager with the Federal Prairie Farm Assistance Act (PFAA) Program. Many of those off-farm commitments sprang from his interest in new developments in the agriculture industry. Over the years, Walter has lent his love of innovation to efforts to drive the development of canola as an alternative crop. His tremendous work to encourage diversification and his willingness to embrace new technologies has led to considerable improvements in yields and profitability for Canadian producers. He served as founding director of the Northern Alberta Rapeseed Crushing Plant and also worked with the Beaverlodge Research Station to develop new insect controls and disease resistant varieties of canola. His sizable contributions to the development of canola as one of Canada’s most important crops also flowed from his service as president of the Alberta Canola Growers, Director of the Northern Lite Canola Inc., Chair of the Canola Council of Canada and Chair of the Grow with Canola Committee, which produced a program that has been recognized as the most successful of its kind in North America. Along the way, Walter found a third focus for his time. He married his first wife, Trudy, in 1972 and became a very enthusiastic step-father to her son, Dwayne. Sadly, they lost Trudy to cancer in 1994.
While many people would be fully occupied with family, farming and work as an industry leader, Walter’s willingness to serve led him to yet another parallel career. He began his foray into politics in 1979 when friends and family encouraged him to run as a councillor for the Town of Sexsmith. That decision led to a total of 11 years on town council, six of them as mayor. During his time leading the community and serving the Peace region as a whole, Walter earned a sterling reputation as a compassionate, honest and forthright politician with an ability to carefully listen and to fully hear the needs, concerns and opinions of the people he served.
In 1989, Walter took his political career to the next level as a Progressive Conservative candidate in the Alberta general election. He was elected as Member of the Legislative Assembly for Smoky River, defeating his opponents by a comfortable margin. While his son, Dwayne, took on the day-to-day responsibilities of running the farm, Walter plunged himself into the challenges of a new political playing field. In 1993, he ran again and handily won the newly created electoral district of Grande Prairie-Smoky. In his second term, Walter enjoyed a distinguished tenure serving the industry he loved as Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development. He won a third landslide majority in the general election of 1997 and took on new duties as Minister of Transportation and Utilities. During his tenure in the portfolio, Walter’s many successful initiatives included establishing a solid foundation for work that would lead to the creation of the North-South Trade Corridor and to valuable trade and export opportunities for the province in general and northern Alberta in particular. He took on a final portfolio assignment in 1999 as Minister of Municipal Affairs. That same year, Walter married Marlyss Moller. He retired from politics in 2001.
Walter Paszkowski’s extensive service has been recognized with an outstanding achievement award from the Canadian Seed Growers Association as well as honours and lifetime membership from the Canola Council of Canada. Fairview College established the Walter Paszkowski Chair for Agriculture Development in honour of his outstanding support of the school and his distinguished work in the industry. In 2008, he was awarded the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Merit by the Government of Poland for his valued work advising that country on agricultural and municipal matters.
In addition to his extensive contributions as an agricultural and political leader, Walter has served as Director of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, as Chair of the Federal Panel for Rail Freight Service Review and as a member of the Alberta Order of Excellence Council. He has been a strong supporter of the new Philip J. Currie Museum to house the bounty of dinosaur fossils unearthed in northwest Alberta and he has offered longstanding efforts to promote and share the history of the region, including the donation of his parents’ historic log house to the Sexsmith and District Museum Society. Walter is an active member of his church and a supporter of the Knights of Columbus.
In 2002, Walter found yet another way to serve his native Peace Country, as Economic Development Officer for the County of Grande Prairie, where he has worked to foster economic diversification and strengthen the quality of life enjoyed by all residents of the region. When asked to describe his motivation to build a stronger future for his fellow citizens, Walter says, “quality of life really is all about opportunity, safety, freedom and family. It’s the freedom to do what you want to do, what you can do, what you should do.” Walter Paszkowski has used his freedom as an Albertan and a Canadian to serve his province and country with distinction and the legacy he has created will long stand as a model of excellence.