CM . . .
. Volume XXI Number 5. . . .October 3, 2014 |
In Barbara Martin's, The Hero of Hopewell Hill: An Early Adventure of Richard Bennett, readers see 13-year-old Richard Bennett teaming up with his chum Len Tilley (later New Brunswick Premier "Sir Leonard" Tilley) to foil a Fenian Raid. This action-packed novel ends with Richard winning his father's respect and planning a future of helping others.
R.B. Bennett came from a shipbuilding family on his father's side, but when the story opens, the demand for steel-hulled steamships has caused a downturn in the family business. Young Richard's father is drinking heavily, and his mother depends upon her eldest son to be "the responsible one". Richard, however, can hardly wait to "leave the village of Hopewell Cape and its gossips." The father-son conflict in the novel is based on fact and is well-drawn. As an adult, R.B. Bennett travelled far from his beginnings, becoming a lawyer, a multi-millionaire and the eleventh Prime Minister of Canada. According to John English, in The Canadian Encyclopedia, Bennett eventually "bitterly abandoned Canada" in 1938, moved to England, bought an estate in England and became a viscount in 1941 through the efforts of his friend, the press baron Lord Beaverbrook.
Barbara Martin's novel is set in 1880. Although there was a Fenian raid on Campobello Island in 1866, by 1880 the Fenian threat to Canada had pretty much subsided. Novelists often take small liberties with historic fact; for instance, they may have their characters see a movie that wasn't released until a year after the story takes place, but the time-gap between 1866 and 1880 is pretty long.
One of Martin's characters misrepresents Canada's level of independence in 1880 when he says:
Certainly Confederation did take place in 1867, and while the US-based Fenian raids did not directly impact Britain, a study of Canadian history shows that we were not as much "our own country" as Martin's character thinks. In the areas of foreign policy and defence, Canada remained in a quasi-colonial situation for some years, as indicated by the controversy surrounding Canadian participation in the South African War at the turn of the century, and over the establishment of a Canadian navy in the early 20th century.
The Hero of Hopewell Hill includes an introduction by John Boyko and an afterward by Barbara Martin, titled "Truth and authenticity in The Hero of Hopewell Hill." These sources of additional information for young readers tell the truth, but not the whole truth, about R.B. Bennett. Boyko, the author of a revisionist biography of Bennett, emphasizes the former prime minister's charities and innovative policies. Both Boyko and Martin indicate, rightly, that Bennett was not to blame for the Great Depression. Indeed, this crisis of capitalism was a worldwide phenomenon.
Yet Bennett was faulted in his own era, and has been since, for his failure to recognize the magnitude of the crisis and for using Keynesian stimuli to help the unemployed while getting the economy moving. Soon after he took office, Bennett established military-run relief camps for single men who were ineligible for social assistance and risked being arrested for vagrancy. These relief camps were a fiasco. The inmates led prisoners' lives doing bush work at low pay in remote locations - isolated because of the establishment's fear that they would foment social unrest in urban settings. In 1934, the relief camp workers went on strike in British Columbia, then began an On-to-Ottawa Trek (1935) that won remarkably widespread public support. Trek leaders travelled to Ottawa and secured an audience with Bennett, at which they were rudely treated. The rest of the strikers, back in Regina, were violently dispersed by the authorities.
Bennett's reform package, alluded to by Boyko and Martin, was a pale imitation of the successful "New Deal" program started in 1933 by American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. According to W.H. McConnell, in "Some Comparisons of the Roosevelt and Bennett New Deals, in Osgoode Hall Law Journal, Vol. 9, No. 2), the political advantage of such a program was brought to Bennett's attention by his brother-in-law, W.D. Herridge, in 1934. Herridge wrote to him that "the spirit of the New Deal is what really matters. The mechanics of the New Deal are a lesser thing." Early in 1935, Bennett came out with his "Fair Deal", an "anemic, less ambitious" imitation of Roosevelt's policies, but the electorate, whose trust he had lost, voted him out of office in the October 1935 election.
The “Leaders & Legacies” series, published by Fireside Publications, comprises four fictional adventure books about youths who later became prime ministers of Canada. The earlier three were about John Diefenbaker, (The Mystery of the Moonlight Murder: An Early Adventure of John Diefenbaker), John A. Macdonald (The Legends of Lake on the Mountain: An Early Adventure of John A. Macdonald) and Paul Martin (Showdown at Border Town: An Early Adventure of Paul Martin).
All four novels adhere to the old adage that "the child is father to the man" and consist of fictional situations in which the protagonist's youthful behaviour foreshadows the courage, vision and virtue that he will practise in public office later on. In real life, however, it is common knowledge that a seemingly feckess youth can turn out successful, even heroic, while someone apparently destined for great things may not fulfil the promise of his early years, or may attain high office and fail abysmally.
Ruth (Olson) Latta has a Master of Arts in History from Queen's University. Her books include Grace MacInnis, a Woman to Remember and They Tried: The Story of the Canadian Youth Congress.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.