Fonds F-55 - W.A.C. Bennett fonds

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W.A.C. Bennett fonds

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  • Moving images
  • Photographic materials
  • Sound recordings
  • Textual records
  • Records in electronic form (digitized)

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  • Source of title proper: Title is based on the name of the fonds creator.

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  • 1909 - 1981 (Creation)
    Bennett, W.A.C.

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Physical description

11.07 m of textual records
ca. 1750 photographs
23 sound recordings
17 moving image documents and other material

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Name of creator

(6 September 1900 - 23 February 1979)

Biographical history

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.

Custodial history

The W.A.C. Bennett fonds were created and accumulated by W.A.C. Bennett, and includes a number of official files from the Premier’s Office that Bennett took with him when he was defeated in 1972. The fonds remained in Bennett’s possession until he passed away in 1979, at which time custody was transferred to his wife and children.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of records relating to the life of W.A.C. Bennett. Documented are his personal life, business ventures, community service, club affiliations, and political activities, including his terms as Member of the Legislative Assembly for South Okanagan, and as Premier of British Columbia.

Personal records consist of early correspondence and household records, as well as material which documents W.A.C. Bennett's association with freemasonry and his fundraising activities with organizations such as the Salvation Army.

Business records consist of material relating to Bennett Hardware, Bennett’s Stores, and Calona Wines.

Political records refer to Bennett's tenure as a Member of the Legislative Assembly for South Okanagan, as Premier and as leader of the Opposition. Also relevant are records referring to the passage of a number of Municipal Acts and Bennett’s relationship with Federal politics.

Records include correspondence, advertisements, minutes, annual reports, telegrams, itineraries, schedules, financial statistics, financial statements, petitions, questionnaires, resolutions, reports, speeches, press releases, proposals, maps, plans, charts, file notes, memoranda, newspaper clippings, scrap books, ephemera, photographs, audio recordings, film reels, and video cassettes.

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Physical condition

Immediate source of acquisition

The records were donated to the Archives in 1986 by W.A.C. Bennett's wife May Bennett, his daughter Anita Tozer, and his two sons, R.J. Bennett and William R. Bennett.


Arrangement for these records was provided by the archivist. Researchers should note that political material is not distinguished from other records in Bennett's personal papers, therefore the entire file list of the fonds should be reviewed to determine the existence of all files on a particular subject.

Premier's Office files (series 27-53) consists of records that Bennett removed from the Premier's Office when he was defeated in the 1972 election. Of these records, the "Official Files" and the "Subject Files" were kept in a safe behind Bennett's desk, and they were organized according to the same filing structure as the remaining Premier's records (these are available at the Provincial Archives of British Columbia).

The "Official files" of the Premier's Office have been arranged according to a filing system implemented during W.A.C. Bennett's tenure. At the beginning of each year the Premier's secretary created new files for most subject headings according to a file list which provided for a general alphabetical ordering of titles by assigning numbers according to filing lists, copies of which can be found in Series 47, file 35 (F-55-47-0-35). This filing system was begun in 1953, at which time the 1952 files were converted to the new system. File lists were updated every few years, but changed very little over the twenty-year period. However, in some cases files do not follow this annual arrangement. Constituency files, for example, were cumulated into one file and cover a range of years. Most of these "cumulated" files can be found in the 1952 Official Series.

Where appropriate, notations originally on the file folder labels appear in the file list. For example, file labels on the "Official Files" and also on some "Premier's Subject Files" include information such as file title, filing number, "Premier's Safe", and "File opened [date]."

In 2006 series 55 "Newspaper clippings and publications" was deaccessioned from the fonds for preservation reasons. The series consisted of scrapbooks and binders containing press clippings about W. A. C. Bennett that were collected by the Premier's Office. The scrapbooks were in very poor condition and had limited life-expectancy due to the acidity of the newspaper and scrapbook paper.

In March 2007 twenty-two additional boxes of Bennett publications material was found in the Records Centre and processed. After appraisal, sub-series F-55-49-1 was added to the fonds.

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      Restrictions on access

      Some files may contain personal or confidential information. Access to these files may be restricted as stipulated by Archives policy or the donor. Files marked "pending review" must be reviewed by an archivist prior to release and, as a result of the review, access restrictions may apply. Please see the file lists and consult the archivist for more details.

      Access to film and videocassettes is restricted due to fragility of the original medium. Videocassettes have been digitized and access is provided via digital access copies. Consult the reference archivist for more information.

      Terms governing use, reproduction, and publication

      Finding aids

      File and item lists are available for these records.

      The Appendix contains the following reports:

      Appendix A: item-level descriptions for portraits of political figures (series F-55-58-2-1)

      Appendix B: item-level descriptions for photographs (series F-55-58-2-2)

      Appendix C: item-level descriptions for audio and film records (series F-56 and F-57)

      Generated finding aid

      Associated materials

      For related records on W.A.C. Bennett, please consult the inventory of the David Mitchell fonds (F-56). The British Columbia Archives holds the W.A.C. Bennett Oral History Collection (Record Number T1675) and records from the Premier's Office (GR 1414).

      Related materials


      As of March 2007, all accessions have been processed. No further accruals are expected.

      General note


      Fonds includes: 30 audio reels, 1 audio cassette, 15 film reels, 4 video cassettes and 4 .mov files; 1723 photographic prints (b&w and colour), 17 photographic contact sheets (b&w), 15 photographic negatives (b&w and colour), and 5 slides (colour).

      General note

      Financial assistance for the arrangement and description of the records and production of the finding aid was generously provided by the Government of Canada through the National Archives of Canada and the Canadian Council of Archives' Control of Holdings Program (March 1987), the S.F.U. Summer Career Placement Program (August 1996, July 1997), the Community Archives Assistance Program (CAAP) (October 1997), and the Canadian Council of Archives (CCA) (July 1999).

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      Finding aid prepared by Angela Schiwy (textual records - March 1987); James Saunders (moving images - August 1996); Salman Manki (sound recordings - July 1997); Caitlin Webster (photographs, additional textual records - October 1997); Krisztina Laszlo and Frances Fournier (RAD redescription - July 1999). Finding aid revised, descriptions updated, and additional photographs processed by Lisa Beitel (March 2007); biographical sketch revised by Marcia Beacham Fuller and Jennifer Zerkee (July 2011); items re-numbered and converted to new control system (August 2012); metadata representing digitally preserved videocassettes added (August 2018).

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