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Memorable Manitobans: Richard Henry Gardyne Bonnycastle (1903-1968)

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R. H. G. Bonnycastle
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Business executive, publisher.

Born near Dauphin on 25 August 1903, the eldest of six children of magistrate Angus Lorne Bonnycastle and Ellen Mary Boulton, he was educated at Trinity College in Toronto. He later earned BA and law degrees from Oxford University in 1924. A star athlete at Oxford, he toured Europe as a member of the world champion Oxford hockey team along with team mates Roland Michener (later Governor General of Canada) and Lester Pearson (later Prime Minister).

He returned to Winnipeg and after a short stint with a law firm the lure of adventure pulled him to the Hudson’s Bay Company. From 1926 to 1937 he toured the western arctic where he rose quickly to the position of Chief Fur Trader. A keen observer of great curiosity and energy, his arctic diaries, published in 1984, vividly recount his harrowing travels and the challenges of rejuvenating the far-flung Hudson Bay empire in rapidly changing times. He returned to Winnipeg as a senior manager and worked for the Company until 1945 when he left to become Managing Director for Advocate Printers. During the next 10 years, he put together the beginnings of what is now the world’s largest publisher of romantic fiction, Harlequin Enterprises Limited. A leader in the Winnipeg business community, he sat on several corporate and charitable boards and served as President of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce (1951-1952), First Chairman of Winnipeg’s Metropolitan Corporation, and First Chancellor of the University of Winnipeg.

He gave generously of himself in the cause of conservation. The outdoors was an important part of his life from boyhood onwards and after returning from the arctic another Oxford hockey team mate, Winnipeg lawyer Edward B. Pitblado, helped draw Dick to service with Ducks Unlimited Canada. He joined the Board in 1955. His talents and energy were quickly recognized and he was elected President in 1957, serving four full terms through 1960. First as President, then as Chairman of the Board (1961-1962), and later as Chairman of the Executive Committee (1962-1968), he offered Ducks Unlimited outstanding leadership during a period of challenge and change. He is credited with leading the Directors to a more active and business-like role in the conduct of DU affairs. He led the push for enhancing reconnaissance and surveys to provide information to guide long-range conservation planning; he played a key role in bringing the company under firmer administrative and fiscal control; and he initiated a tradition of meeting away from corporate board rooms, in the field, with the people actually delivering DU’s conservation programs.

At the DU annual meeting in 1958, he posed the unorthodox idea of engaging an independent agency to examine and evaluate active DU projects so that the company “would have an impartial appraisal of the effectiveness of their work”. In his view this would be helpful to management and would aid the Board in determining the extent to which expenditures were being wisely made and objectives achieved. Frustrating attempts to arrange for these evaluations with government agencies ended in 1964, but his vision of a group dedicated to providing scientific leadership for conservation was realized in 1991 with the establishment by Ducks Unlimited of the Institute for Wetland and Waterfowl Research.

He was given a Manitoba Golden Boy Award in 1967.

He died on 29 September 1968, at the controls of his floatplane after landing on Long Island Bay in the Manitoba wilderness he loved. He is commemorated by R. H. G. Bonnycastle School and Bonnycastle Park in Winnipeg.

His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:

The Fur Trade of Today, 1935
MHS Transactions, Series 3, Number 10, 1953-54 Season

See also:

R. H. G. Bonnycastle, A Gentleman Adventurer: The Arctic Diaries of Richard Bonnycastle edited by Heather Robertson (1984).

The Merchants of Venus: Inside Harlequin and the Empire of Romance by Paul Grescoe (1996).

Sources:

“City C of C recalls fights and triumphs,” Winnipeg Free Press, 3 February 1954, page 24.

Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 2 October 1968.

The above information is used with the permission of Ducks Unlimited Canada.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 28 June 2014

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