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1934: Prime Minister R.B. Bennett inspires Canadians amid ‘great dark days’

The Story


Governing Canada during the hardships of the Great Depression demands a leader who can inspire. R.B. Bennett, Canada's 11th prime minister, has that ability -- as well as the ability to alienate and enrage. In this 1934 recording, believed to be an address to the Canadian Manufacturers' Association, Bennett is all inspiration. As Canada claws its way out of the grip of economic depression, Bennett draws inspiration from his young nation's other trials by fire, from the Last Spike to the First World War.

Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio Special
Broadcast Date: June 8, 1934
Guest: R.B. Bennett
Duration: 10:08

Did You know?


• Richard Bedford Bennett was born on July 3, 1870, in Hopewell Hill, N.B. He became a teacher and principal, then went to law school at Dalhousie University. Bennett moved to Calgary in 1897 to become a partner in a law firm. The following year he won a seat in the Northwest Territories legislative assembly. He made two unsuccessful attempts to enter federal and Alberta politics, but his law firm prospered and he became very wealthy.

• Bennett was eventually elected as a Conservative member of the Alberta legislature in 1909, and won a federal seat two years later. He served briefly as the justice minister and finance minister for Prime Minister Arthur Meighen, and in 1927 he was elected leader of the Conservatives.

• In 1930, Bennett was elected prime minister, defeating Mackenzie King on a platform of aggressive economic measures and assistance for the unemployed. But as the Great Depression wore on, Bennett's government brought in increasingly drastic and unpopular programs, including the 1932 Relief Act. That act established remote work camps for single unemployed men with nowhere else to turn. Their hard work was rewarded with a subsistence wage of 20 cents a day.

• To protest the camp conditions and Bennett's policies, thousands of unemployed men rode the rails from west to east, intending to bring their complaints to Bennett himself in Ottawa. But the On to Ottawa Trek was halted in Regina. On July 1, 1935, Bennett ordered the RCMP to attack the crowd and throw its leaders in jail. A plainclothes policeman was killed, 120 people were arrested and hundreds were injured.

• Bennett was notorious for not delegating authority or consulting his cabinet. (As prime minister he kept the finance portfolio from 1930-1932, and external affairs from 1930-1935.) The result was rebellion inside his government.

• In 1935, Bennett dropped his hardline economic policies of high tariffs as well as trade within the British Empire in favour of social reforms modelled on Franklin Roosevelt's "New Deal." But he was crushed in that year's election. Mackenzie King's Liberals were back in office as they took 173 seats to just 39 for the Conservatives.

• Bennett stayed in opposition until 1938, and emigrated from Canada to England in 1938, where he was made a viscount in 1941 and sat in the House of Lords. He died of a heart attack on June 26, 1947, and was buried at Mickleham, Surrey -- the only Canadian prime minister not buried in Canada.

• This clip, recorded in 1934, actually predates the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. It was R.B. Bennett who introduced the Canadian Broadcasting Act in 1932. That act established the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission (CRBC), which became the CBC in 1936.


Also on June 8:

• 1824: Noah Cushing receives a patent for a washing machine; first patent issued in Canada.
• 1992: Canadian Space Agency chooses 4 new astronauts from 5,300 applicants: Chris Hadfield, Julie Payette, Robert Stewart, and Dafydd Williams.
• 1995: Mike Harris wins the Ontario election for the Progressive Conservative Party, defeating Bob Rae of the NDP who were in power since 1990. The Tories takes 82 of 130 seats.


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