Dr. Willoughby Belch

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IMG_0431Dr belchsmall Those of you who know the Belch family probably associate them with buffalo.  You have probably seen their sign on Sherbrooke Street offering buffalo meat for sale, and, Dr. Belch’s website is called “Buffalobill”.  However, the “Buffalo” farm on Sherbrooke Street run by the Belch family actually raised Bison, as a true buffalo, which are part of the same animal family as domestic cattle, can only be found in Africa or Asia. 
    Farming has been only a part-time interest for Willoughby Belch, who in 1945 at the age of 17, joined his brothers in deciding to follow the unrealized dream of his father to study medicine.  After completing his education at the University of Toronto, he followed a cousin, Dr. Fallis, to Detroit where he worked for three and a half years and where he met his wife Mary, a Canadian born nurse raised on a tobacco farm in Virginia.  With typical charm, he told Mary that their union was inevitable… she was “part of his plan.”  They returned to Toronto for five years of post graduate study and then moved to Peterborough where Dr. Belch practiced as a general surgeon and orthopedic specialist for over 50 years, with Mary performing his nursing duties for over 15 of those years on top of raising their family of five children.  For 40 years of his practice he was also ably assisted by secretary Marlene Hutchison, who is still working today in Peterborough assisting Dr. Petrosec. 
    Besides providing physical care, many remember Dr. Belch as a source of entertainment as he provided comic relief to hospital patients.  He has been known to travel the halls of both former local hospitals, travelling on his unicycle or his reproduction Penny Farthing (see photo), after the halls had been cleared for safety, of course.  He also performed on these vehicles in many local parades in Keene and Jackson Park.  His son Tim is expected to make an appearance with the Penny Farthing in Millbrook later this month, at Rally in the Valley.
    Dr. Belch comes from a progressive family.  When his parents moved to Dr. Belch’s home farm on Fallis Line in 1919, his parents had some impressive technology: a steam engine in the barn for threshing grain and a bathroom in the house for his mother who insisted it be installed before she moved in.  His father Nathaniel continued to operate this farm until his death in 1976 at age 95, and his mother remained on the family farm for another 14 years.   Willoughby attended school in Millbrook and the horse drawn carriage he used to get there remains in his outbuilding today.
    Dr. Belch is a pioneer in his own right, being one of the founders of the Canadian Bison Association which recently recognized the couple with a special memorial award for their many years of service to the organization.  The idea to raise this unique livestock came in 1968 when Dr. Belch was searching for a way to alleviate the food shortage that was much discussed at the time.  The bison is a species protected by federal law, and their numbers were dwindling.  The government had decided to auction off some of these animals from a national park in Alberta in an effort to support the threatened species by offering them a more sustainable future as a domesticated breed.  Dr. Belch purchased 44 animals from the second such auction and shipped them by train from this park 20 miles outside Edmonton to their new home on Sherbrooke Street in Peterborough.  Interest in the new meat product was slow to take off, but consumption of buffalo meat has steadily grown as Bison is a nutritionally rich red meat source, low in fat and raised and processed without hormones, additives or drugs of any kind.  At their peak, the Belch herd reached 350 animals.  This required over 1000 acres of productive land to supply the hay and corn silage to support these massive animals.   During their career, the Belchs sold their products through the CNE, the Royal Winter Fair, local restaurants and farmers’ markets and of course at their home, with Mary in charge of sales.  They have also exported animals to Europe and in 1988 they chaperoned 24 live bison from their farm to Frankfurt on a 747 transport aircraft and visited the Harz mountain area in West Germany while they were there. 
    Last year the couple retired from this venture and sold their remaining breeding stock to a farm south of Ottawa.  Their many prizes for show winners and media attention remain in what they called their “Buffalo room”, which is presided over by a mounted Bison head.  The room holds many happy memories.
    In ___, Dr. Belch received his 50 year service award from Peterborough Regional Hospital, having served as a general surgeon at St. Joseph’s and Peterborough Civic hospitals for over 50 years.  You would think that service would suffice and someone with as many outside interests as Dr. Belch would embrace the opportunity to focus on some of his many projects.  Instead, Dr. Belch remained on call for another 10 years serving as a surgical assistant.  Mary mentioned that the calls from the hospital have only recently stopped coming – his name has finally been removed from the availability list. 
    That is a good thing, too, because both Mary and Willoughby Belch have projects to complete.  Mary still maintains the gardens around the family farm, but has given up her large vegetable patch despite the relatively new roto-tiller her husband gave her as a gift.  Don’t misunderstand – this was not a suggestion to get working, but the gesture of a husband who understands and appreciates the true interests of his partner.  She has run out of room to display more of the fine china tea cups she has collected over the years but with Willoughby home more now, perhaps this will change. 
    Dr. Belch has a variety of mechanical projects lined up in his outbuildings, including 2 Model T Fords dating from  1921 and 1924 (see photo) to be rebuilt, the development of an authentic blacksmith shop and the refurbishing of several tractors of various ages.  In addition, he has recently embraced a new interest in the arts as he is participating in this summer’s 4th Line Theatre production where he will perform as a member of the clergy in The Winslows of Derryvore.  Robert Winslow remembers this distinguished gentleman as the physician who set his broken leg on Boxing Day when he was 16, and later in 1990 when he provided medical care to his mother.  This summer their reunion will be a happier sort as Dr. Belch uses his talent and wit once again to support Robert as together they entertain an appreciative audience at the Winslow family farm, where Willoughby will feel quite at home.

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