Silver and Gold: Bennett and the Great Depression
New Brunswick Museum
Richard Bedford Bennett, destined to preside over the worst economic crisis in our nation's history, is born in Hopewell, New Brunswick, on July 3, 1870. The son of a shipbuilder, a graduate of Dalhousie Law School, Bennett grows up appreciating hard work and steadfastness. He eventually migrates to Alberta where he becomes a successful teacher, lawyer, businessman and politician.
The public sweeps Bennett and the Conservative Party to power in 1930, fully expecting him to deal with Canada's growing economic crisis. His early response is a call for individual initiative. He considers the idea of the state spending its way out of the Depression outrageous. During his reign as Prime Minister from 1930 to 1935, Bennett is seen to be dictatorial and overpowering.
While in office, Bennett receives numerous gold and silver presentation pieces from a succession of admirers and officials in different world capitals. Elaborate freedom-of-the-city packages include decorative boxes from the cities of London, Edinburgh, Dublin, Sheffield and the King of Siam. These shiny treasures contrast sharply with the hard times of the Great Depression and symbolize the disparity that angers many Canadians in their hours of need. Bennett's personal wealth serves as a ready target for the majority of Canadians, who exist in less fortunate circumstances.
Bennett attempts to make administrative adjustments late in his mandate. Feeling the influence of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, he pronounces the end of laissez-faire capitalism in a series of radio broadcasts. He also begins to include laws on minimum wages, pensions, unemployment and health insurance in his election platform. It is too late, however, to save his political career. He is smashed by the Liberals in the federal election of 1935.
Bennett remains in Parliament until 1938, when he resigns and leaves his homeland permanently. He eventually receives an appointment to the British House of Lords, becoming Viscount Bennett of Mickleham, Calgary and Hopewell. Lord Richard Bedford Bennett dies quietly in his bath in a Surrey mansion in his adopted English homeland in 1947.