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W.A.C. (William Andrew Cecil) Bennett (1900-1979), also known as Cecil or Cece, was a businessman and politician. He was the Premier of British Columbia from 1952-1972.
The youngest of five children, Bennett was born on September 6, 1900 in Hastings, Albert County, New Brunswick to parents Andrew Havelock Bennett and Emma Burns Bennett. He was raised Presbyterian, and maintained a strong affiliation with the church throughout his life.
In 1901, the family moved to Hampton, New Brunswick, where Bennett received his early education. In 1915, the family moved to Saint John, where Bennett attended high school. While in school, Bennett worked part time for Robertson, Foster, and Smith’s, a local hardware firm. In grade 9, Bennett left school to work full time at the hardware store, working in most of the store’s departments.
At the age of 18, Bennett moved to Edmonton, Alberta, where he worked for Marshall Wells, a large wholesale hardware firm (1919). He was quickly promoted up the ranks, eventually becoming assistant sales manager.
While in Edmonton, Bennett took correspondence courses in such subjects as accounting, business management, business law, economics, and commerce.
On February 19, 1927, Bennett, in partnership with Joe Renaud, purchased a hardware and furniture store in Westlock, Alberta. In 1928, they opened a second store in nearby Clyde, Alberta.
On July 11, 1927, Bennett married Annie “May” Elizabeth May Richards. Bennett and May had three children, Mary “Anita” (1928), Russell “R.J.” James (1929), and William “Bill” Richards (1932).
Bennett sold his share of the Westlock and Clyde stores to Renaud in 1930 and moved his family to Kelowna, British Columbia, where he bought Leckie Hardware. On January 15, 1932, he opened McEwan & Bennett Hardware in Vernon, BC. That same year, he also helped established Domestic Wine By-Products Ltd., now known as Calona Vineyards, with partners Pasquale Capozzi and Giuseppe Ghezzi.
Bennett was elected President of the Kelowna Board of Trade in 1937, and served until 1939. In 1937, he also ran, unsuccessfully, for nomination as South Okanagan candidate for the provincial Conservative Party. In 1941 he ran again, and was elected Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for South Okanagan on October 21. Bennett was also a member of the Post-War Rehabilitation Council (1942-1946).
Bennett was active in local charities, including fundraising efforts for the Salvation Army’s Red Shield Home Front Appeal and as President of the Kelowna branch of the Red Cross Society.
In 1946, Bennett ran for leadership of the provincial Conservative Party, but was defeated by Herbert Anscomb. Bennett maintained his seat in South Okanagan until May 13, 1948, when he resigned to run as a federal Conservative candidate in the riding of Yale. He was defeated in the May 31 federal election, but was re-elected MLA for South Okanagan the following month. In 1950 he ran again for leadership of the provincial Conservative Party, but was defeated again by Anscomb.
During this time, Bennett was involved in two additional political endeavours: trying to create a Coalition Party in BC, and also attempting to reform the election system with the Transferable Voting system, in which voters could rank candidates into their first, second, third, and fourth choices.
On March 14, 1951, Bennett crossed the floor of the House to become an Independent Member. Later that year, he joined BC’s Social Credit League. He was re-elected in his riding as a Social Credit MLA on June 12, 1952, an election in which the Social Credit League of BC won a minority government. Bennett was then elected leader of the Social Credit League on July 15, and sworn in as Premier of British Columbia on August 1. This provincial election featured the Transferable Voting system which Bennett had championed. Later that year, Bennett was also made Freeman of the City of Kelowna (December 9, 1952).
On June 9, 1953, the Social Credit government was re-elected with a majority. The following year, Bennett was made Minister of Finance in conjunction with his position as Premier. In 1956, the Social Credit government was re-elected, and in 1959, Bennett and the government announced that British Columbia was free of debt.
The Social Credit government stayed in power, with Bennett at its helm, until 1972. Bennett’s government oversaw numerous infrastructure projects including road and bridge development and the expansion of the Pacific Great Eastern Railway (now British Columbia Railway Company), 1956-1958; establishment of what would become Canada’s largest ferry fleet, the British Columbia Toll Authority Ferry System (now BC Ferries), 1958; formation of B.C. Hydro and Power Authority, 1962; creation of the Bank of British Columbia, 1966 (later acquired by the Hong Kong Bank of Canada); and construction of two large-scale hydroelectric dams on the Peace and Columbia Rivers (W.A.C. Bennett and Duncan dams), 1967.
Bennett also oversaw the development of post-secondary education institutions in BC, including the establishment of British Columbia Institute of Technology (1962), University of Victoria (1963), and Simon Fraser University (1965). He was awarded an honourary Doctorate of Laws at the opening ceremonies of Simon Fraser University on September 9, 1965. SFU also named its library after Bennett in 1982.
On September 15, 1972, the Social Credit government was defeated by Dave Barrett’s provincial New Democratic Party. Bennett, who had been the longest-serving premier in BC history, was re-elected in his riding, and became the leader of the Opposition. On June 5, 1973, he resigned as South Okanagan’s MLA; his son, William “Bill” R. Bennett, won the riding in a by-election on September 7. Bennett retired as leader of the Social Credit party on November 15, and Bill was elected leader of the party on November 24. In 1975, the Social Credit party was re-elected with a majority, making Bill Bennett premier.
In 1976, W.A.C. Bennett was made an Officer of the Order of Canada. He died in Kelowna on February 23, 1979.