Hopewell, New Brunswick was the birthplace of Richard Bedford Bennett in the year 1870. His mother, with prophetic accuracy, anticipated greatness for her son, and tried to instill in him an appreciation for high standards, both morally and for his future career. Both of his parents were United Empire Loyalists, and Bennett too remained loyal to the Empire throughout his career, actually moving to England during the later years of his life.
From the start Bennett was a scholar. Hard work and little recreation was to be the dominating philosophy of his life, and he distinguished himself academically at an early age. By the age of 18 he was principal of four schools with 140 students. At 19 he entered Dalhousie Law School, and was called to the Bar of New Brunswick in 1893. Bennett did not believe in work for the sake of work itself, however - before reaching the age of 20 he declared that some day he would be Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Senator James Lougheed, working as a lawyer in Calgary, was desperate for a competent and committed junior law partner. He heard about the skill and ambition of young Bennett from the Dean of Dalhousie Law School, and travelled down to New Brunswick to persuade Bennett to move west.
Bennett, who never smoked, drank, or gambled, never seemed to become infected with the wild frontier spirit of the West, but he realized that the West was an opportune place to begin a career in the dying years of the 19th century. In 1897 he joined with Lougheed, and together the two men shaped a formidable legal team. Lougheed once said of Bennett's ability that "Bennett can solve any problem he puts his mind to ".[s]ome day Bennett will be called upon to solve the greatest problems in Canada."
In 1898, less than two years after arriving in Calgary, Bennett was elected to represent Calgary in the Legislative Assembly of the Northwest Territories. He won the position again in 1901, pledging to "live and die in Calgary" and by only 29 votes missed being elected for the legislature for the newly formed province of Alberta in 1905. His oratorical ability was clear both in political debates as well as in the courtroom and he won a seat in 1909. In 1911, he resigned to enter the federal political arena, and handily won the riding of Calgary East. As a Conservative he held positions as Minister of Justice, Minister of Finance. In 1927 Bennett was chosen to lead the Conservative Party. The year 1930 saw Bennett easily win the election, but the economics of the time did not help his popularity, and he was defeated by Mackenzie King in 1935.
During his tenure as Prime Minister farm credit, unemployment insurance, minimum wage laws, agricultural marketing boards and the Canadian Broadcast Corporation were created. Bennett also expanded the Canadian trade market by negotiating both the Reciprocity Treaty and the St. Lawrence Seaway with the United States. On the darker side, he imprisoned some union leaders as Communists, dominated his cabinet and resented criticism, particularly from the media.
Bennett resigned as leader of the opposition in 1938 and left for England the next year, where he lived close to his lifelong friend, Max Aitken (Lord Beaverbrook). Bennett was raised to the peerage as "Viscount Bennett of Nickleham, Calgary and Hopewell." Bennett died a bachelor in 1947.
To learn more about R.B. Bennett check out your local library for R.B.Bennett: The Calgary Years by James Grey.