Bennett, Avie J.
BENNETT, AVIE J.
BENNETT, AVIE J. (1928– ), Canadian property developer; best known as a philanthropist, dedicated supporter of the arts, and former owner of several Canadian publishing companies, foremost among them McClelland & Stewart of Toronto. Described as a "Maecenas with the courage of his convictions and the money to back them up" (MacSkimming, 314), Bennett worked tirelessly and creatively throughout his career to enrich the cultural landscape of Canada.
As a business pioneer, Bennett made his fortune as a developer of shopping malls, acting as chairman and president of First Plazas Inc., the successful commercial real estate company that has helped finance many of Bennett's ventures in the arts.
In January 1986, Bennett purchased McClelland & Stewart from the charismatic Jack McClelland, whose father had founded the company together with his colleague Frederick Goodchild in 1906. Following years of financial difficulty, with M&S on the brink of bankruptcy, Bennett stepped in to rescue a company that had become known as "the Canadian publishers." Bennett's infusion of cash was a stabilizing force, and his energy and vision ensured M&S's standing as a premier publisher of Canadian trade titles.
While at the helm of M&S, Bennett acquired Hurtig Publishers of Edmonton (in 1991); Tundra Books of Montreal (1995); and Macfarlane Walter & Ross of Toronto (1999). With Penguin Canada, he created Canbook, a joint warehouse and distribution center. In 2000, in an unprecedented move, Bennett donated 75 percent of M&S to the University of Toronto. As he proclaimed, "[t]o achieve the survival of one great Canadian institution, I have given it into the care of another great Canadian institution" (MacSkimming, 357). He sold the remaining 25 percent of the company to Random House of Canada. Bennett remains chairman of the board of M&S.
Bennett was a board member of many arts organizations in Canada. In 2005, he was vice chairman of the Historica Foundation and co-chair of the Canadian Democratic and Corporate Accountability Commission. He was made Officer of the Order of Ontario in 1996 and Officer of the Order of Canada in 1997. From May 1998 to June 2004, Bennett served as chancellor of York University in Toronto.
R. MacSkimming, The Perilous Trade: Publishing Canada's Writers (2003).
[Ruth Panofsky (2nd ed.)]