R. I. P. Avie Bennett, onetime Expos minority investor

Former Montreal Expos minority investor Avie Bennett passed away on June 2. Photo Credit: Historica Canada

Former Montreal Expos minority investor Avie Bennett passed away on June 2. Photo Credit: Historica Canada

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Avie Bennett would have it no other way.

His death notice indicating his June 2 farewell was short, sweet and simple, devoid of any mention of what he did in life. He just wasn't going to talk about his life, even after death.

"A remarkable life lived fully,'' the notice said. Then it went on to mention his surviving family members, including Beverly, his wife of 67 years.

There was no mention that he was a real estate mogul, who obtained considerable wealth from opening strip malls in the Toronto area in the 1950s. There was nothing said about him rescuing the book-publishing company McClelland & Stewart from financial ruin in the 1980s.

Bennett didn't want to mention that he was a philanthropist and lost in all of the contributions he made to society was that he was a largely anonymous minority investor in the Montreal Expos in the 1990s. Bennett's involvement with the Expos is how I remember him.

His McClelland & Stewart Sports division based in Toronto was one of a dozen or so corporations, businesses and entities that heeded the call to comprise a consortium that would purchase the Expos in 1991 from outgoing majority owner Charles Bronfman and his partners Hugh Hallward and Lorne Webster.

Out of national pride and duty, Bennett's company contributed close to $10 million to be part of the ownership group but had no say in the operation of the team. The operational reins fell into the hands of managing general partner Claude Brochu, who had been Expos president when the Bronfman group decided to sell the team.

Other consortium partners included Bell Canada, Burns Fry, Canadian Pacific, Féderation of Caisse Populaires of Montreal and Western Quebec, Freemark Investment Inc., the Provigo grocery store chain, Télemedia, and Vista Services.

Shareholders like Bennett got little or no return on their investment. Their contributions were more or less donations to a worthy cause -- keeping the Expos in Montreal. It's believed that Bennett was the lone non-Quebec entity to invest in the Expos. The others had headquarters in Quebec, including Bell Canada.

"Sorry to hear about Avie," said fellow Expos minority shareholder Mark Routtenberg, who ran Freemark. "He was one of the good guys with the Expos' franchise.

"He was passionate about baseball and he joined the consortium because he wanted to see baseball survive in Montreal. He felt as an Ontarian that this would be his contribution toward national unity.''

Whenever I did get Bennett to the phone to see if he might give me any nuggets, he preferred not to say much. He was a very private person, just the way his abbreviated death notice indicated.

Funeral services were held June 5 in Toronto. Condolences go out to his family on the loss of a great Canadian and Expos' supporter.