In the book the young Bennett dreams of becoming a schoolteacher and maybe even a lawyer. In real life he was a schoolteacher by the time he was 16, principal of a school at 18 and by 20 was in law school at Dalhousie in Halifax.
He started his legal career in New Brunswick but was lured west to Calgary in the mid-1990’s by James Lougheed, a prominent lawyer. Bennett arrived in mid-January to a classic Western Canadian weather welcome. It was -40.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography ascribes the following traits to the young Bennett:
He was something of an outsider from the very first. Never one to follow the crowd, he neither smoked nor drank and he dressed formally at all times. He could work like a horse, long hours with no play.
He had some classic legal battles with Paddy Nolan who smoked, drank, dressed as he pleased and savoured long hours of play.
Bennett was a good lawyer and a better investor and businessman. He was an early investor in oil, grain, cement and power companies. A staunch Methodist he made a practice of donating 10% of his income each year to charity.
The Dictionary of Canadian Biography further describes his character:
He loved hard work for the sheer satisfaction of mastery, in finance, accounting, law. He was a wizard with legal precedents and uncanny with errors in a balance sheet. At the same time he was a sublime egotist, clever, irascible, unsparing of himself or others. Forgiveness was one of the Christian virtues he found difficult to practise. He had a volatile temper, explosive while it lasted. Wound up in the coils of his own nature he seems rarely to have considered the effects of his words and actions. His receiving antennae were weak; sometimes they did not appear even to be deployed. R. B.’s limited receiving capacity was often the source of his strength and courage. His future rival William Lyon Mackenzie King’s sensitive antennae made him timid, his hypocrisy more crafty as he got older. Bennett scorned hypocrisy. He had the dangerous habit of saying what he really thought. What drove Bennett was his own mind, not what others might think of him.
After spending time in federal politics he lost his seat in Parliament and returned to the practice of law. After almost 30 years together there was a messy breakup with Lougheed. As happens too often when law firms separate there was litigation between the partners.
In 1922 Bennett formed a new firm Bennett, Hannah and Sandford with two colleagues from the old firm.
Through various names the firm has endured 92 years with the last three decades being known as Bennett Jones.
It is now Calgary’s largest law firm with hundreds of lawyers.
Considering Bennett’s personal combination of lawyer and businessman I expect he would like the current firm’s motto:
Your lawyer. Your law firm. Your business adviser.
R.B. Bennett is a Canadian success story growing up in the Maritimes shortly after Confederation and helping develop Western Canada before becoming our 11th Prime Minister.
I hope his firm likes The Hero of Hopewell Hill. It provides a vivid portrayal of the firm founder as a teenage boy bravely and decisively fighting for Canada.
My personal connection to the firm is that my younger son, Michael, started work there as an articling student two weeks ago.