Former McClelland & Stewart publisher, philanthropist, and business executive Avie Bennett has died. He was 89 years old.
Born in Toronto on Jan. 2, 1928, Bennett got his start working for his family’s commercial real-estate business. In 1985, Bennett purchased the financially troubled publishing house McClelland & Stewart — home to golden-age CanLit icons such as Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro, Leonard Cohen, and Michael Ondaatje — from Jack McClelland. In 1991, Bennett acquired Hurtig Publishers, publisher of the Canadian Encyclopedia, and in 1995, Montreal kids’ publisher Tundra Books.
In 2000, Bennett – unable to find a Canadian buyer for M&S, as required under the country’s foreign-ownership laws — donated 75 per cent ownership for his business to the University of Toronto, which in return used subsequent revenues to establish an endowment dedicated to culture. Random House of Canada, a division of German-owned Bertelsmann AG, acquired the remaining 25 per cent, and, in 2012 became M&S’s sole owner.
From 1998 to 2004, Bennett served as chancellor at York University and, as chancellor emeritus, established the Avie Bennett Historica Institute Chair. In 2015, Bennett – a Companion of the Order of Canada — was presented with the Harbourfront Festival Prize for his commitment and contributions to Canadian publishing.
Brad Martin, Penguin Random House Canada president and CEO, says in a statement, “Avie Bennett left an indelible mark on the world of Canadian letters through his ownership of McClelland & Stewart and his unwavering commitment to, and support of, Canadian authors during his time at the helm of McClelland & Stewart and every day since. We owe him a great debt and much appreciation. He will be missed.”