Best known for his business career elevating Canfor, an already widely-successful forestry company into a multi-billion-dollar international forestry giant, Peter Bentley was also a sportsman at heart in every sense of that word.
Often forgotten later on when his business successes overshadowed everything else, Bentley had been an excellent multi-sport athlete in his day in widely disparate sports. He later used his business contacts and financial means as well as an unwavering passion for sport to improve and elevate the BC and Canadian sport scene. He also followed many sports as a lifelong fan like any other person. His son Michael related an anecdote from the final week of Mr. Bentley’s life as he was ill in the hospital. Michael arrived one morning and his father didn’t greet him with a ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ but ‘What was the score in the game last night?’ referring to the Canadian women’s national hockey team who was playing in the world ice hockey championships at the time. Sport was always top of mind with Mr. Bentley right to very end of his life.
Sensing the impending conflict in Europe, the Bentley family came to Canada in 1938 from Vienna, Austria when Peter was eight years old. They settled in Vancouver where young Peter learned to speak English while playing sports at St. George’s High School including rugby, cricket, basketball, tennis, soccer, boxing, cross-country running, and hockey. His parents had both been excellent athletes in their younger days—his mother a world champion dressage rider; his father a member of the Austrian national field hockey team—and encouraged their son to pursue sport as well.
At first it was tennis that young Peter excelled in, becoming one of the top junior players his age in BC, but he was never able to defeat another top junior player, future BC Sports Hall of Famer Lorne Main. His father convinced him to switch his focus to golf and he learned the game rapidly, soon becoming one of the top amateur players in BC at a time when there was no shortage of quality amateur golfers.
He played three years on UBC’s golf team beginning in 1948 and with lifelong friend Doug Bajus led UBC to the US Pacific Northwest Inter Collegiate Conference golf championship. The following year Bentley and Bajus again led UBC to the conference championship, this time in the US Evergreen Conference.
For two years, from 1951 to 1952, Peter never shot a round over par at either Marine Drive Golf Club or Capilano Golf and Country Club, where he kept memberships. It’s quite likely he would have been a regular on the BC Willingdon Cup team at that time except his father wouldn’t allow him to play in it, reasoning that their family could afford to send Peter to the Canadian Amateur each year instead and he would be taking a spot away from someone on the Willingdon Cup team who would be subsidized to go.
As it was, Bentley was selected to play for Canada four times internationally at the senior amateur level, playing against the US three times and once against Great Britain. He won 17 club championships over the course of his life, the first coming in 1951 at Capilano and the last remarkably 47 years later in 1998 at Thunderbird Country Club in Palm Springs. He served as the non-playing captain of BC’s Willingdon Cup team in 1969. He also accumulated likely the most aces over his lifetime of any BC Sports Hall of Famer: nine hole-in-ones in total. Four came at Capilano, three at Marine Drive, one at University Golf Club at UBC, and one at Thunderbird.
After stepping back from active amateur play in 1953, Peter later served as president of the BC Golf Association from 1964-65 and as a governor of the Royal Canadian Golf Association from 1964-76. For ten of those years he served as chairman of the Canadian Open committee and including one year when he chaired the 1966 Canadian Open tournament held at Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Golf and Country Club—the last time the Canadian Open PGA event would be held in BC for nearly 40 years. Peter played a huge role in the 1960s elevating the stature of the Canadian Open until it was widely considered ‘the fifth Major’ of the PGA Tour. He also served as a member of the RCGA Team Selection Committee, responsible for choosing Canada’s international golf teams, as well as an Honorary Director for the Canadian Professional Golfers’ Association and a Trustee of the Canadian Golf Foundation.
When he was younger, Peter played senior men’s hockey in the Vancouver Commercial League with Pacific Veneer’s company team in New Westminster. Later he took up trap shooting in 1954 when a back injury prevented him from golfing. He learned to shoot from his father, who was a good shooter himself, winning the prestigious Monte Carlo pigeon shoot one year. Peter proved he could hit the target as well, finishing third at the Canadian Olympic trials in 1956. Canada only sent the top two finishers to the 1956 Melbourne Olympics (where Saskatchewan’s George Genereux won gold) and Peter served as first alternate.
“I just took it up and got lucky one day, which just happened to be the championship,” he recalled. “But I never went back.”
From 1954-59 Peter raced cars all over the Pacific Northwest. He loved fast cars and travelling at speed. He recalled racing a Jaguar XK 120 on the runway of the Abbotsford Airport. Later he switched to a Mercedes-Benz 300 SL roadster with the characteristic ‘gullwing’ doors that swung open upwards and remembered racing at the opening weekend of the Westwood Racing Circuit in Coquitlam.
“On the back straight at Westwood I could get up to 160 mph, which was the car’s top speed,” he grinned.
Although most of Peter’s participation in sports as an athlete was more limited after the 1950s as he focused on family and business, he remained active in the Vancouver sports scene in other ways. The most prominent was leading a group of prominent businessmen who in June 1968 ultimately won an NHL expansion franchise for Vancouver that began play in 1970 as the Canucks. When the NHL unexpectedly introduced new rules that in Peter’s opinion limited the Canucks ability to field a competitive team that first season, he pulled out his ownership group and the NHL scrambled to find a replacement owner which became the ill-fated Tom Scallen. As a result, Peter’s critical role in securing an NHL franchise for Vancouver is often overlooked, but his contribution shouldn’t be downplayed none the less.
Later he served as a Governor of the Canadian Olympic Foundation for many years, co-chaired the NHL Hall of Fame dinner as part of the NHL All-Star Game when it was held in Vancouver in 1977, and also chaired the Special Olympic Gala Dinner to raise funds for Canada’s Olympic athletes.
Bentley was also an outstanding supporter of the BC Sports Hall of Fame for decades. He remains one of the longest-serving trustees in the organization’s history, joining the board in 1969 and only stepping off in 1993, 24 years later. He served a term as the chair of the BC Sports Hall of Fame in 1974-75 and more recently sat on the Hall’s Foundation Board as well. When the Hall was raising funds to build a new facility at BC Place, Bentley brought Canfor on as the very first sponsor, funding the 1930s Decade Gallery. A few years later when the Hall’s new construction faced a significant financial shortfall, he was one of the first to step up again with a $100,000 donation as part of the ‘Finish Line Team.’ Later Bentley was named an Honourary Trustee, a title bestowed on a rare prestigious few whose contributions have gone over and above the exceptional.
Written and researched by Jason Beck, Curator of the BC Sports Hall of Fame.
For a more in-depth look at Peter Bentley’s career, please see the September 2021 Curator’s Corner feature article here: https://bcsportshall.com/curator-corner/peter-bentley-the-sportsman-an-athletic-tribute/