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8788 Geoff Bennett (RMC 1971): Mastermind behind the La Chasse-Galerie

E3161 Victoria Edwards (RMC 2003) interviewed 8788 Geoff Bennett (RMC 1971), one of thirteen Ex-Cadets (and two cadets) who will raise money for the Danny McLeod Athletic Endowment Fund by paddling a voyageur canoe from Ottawa to Kingston this September, 2016. You can make a donation to “La Chasse-Galerie” at www.rmcclubfoundation.ca or by calling Jennifer Jordan at 1-613-541-6000 ext 6807.

Victoria Edwards: Do you have any canoeing experience? Any lessons learned?

8788 Geoff Bennett: I grew up in canoes. One of the biggest influences in my early life was the Boy Scouts – camping, canoeing and all that. However, what I remember most is Baden Powell’s “Last Message” which I kept on my desk for many years. In particular, I’ve always liked his simple injunction to “try and leave this world a little better than you found it.”

“I was already thinking of the future because I stopped at all the inns and pubs on the canal. In Merrickville I admired a 34’ canoe on the beach and got an idea. A year later, in 2000, fifteen of us paddled that same canoe in the inaugural Chasse-Galerie.”

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When I was a young teenager, I paddled the Rideau several times. After grad in ‘71, 8833 John Leggat and I celebrated by paddling the entire length of the Madawaska then down to Ottawa. I’ve canoed in Algonquin, Quetico and the Boundary Waters and I’ve kayaked the Salish Sea. But I’ve often been humbled by the power of wind and water. My brother and I broke a canoe in half in a shallow riffle. And I’ve never seen wind so evil as on the River Styx just north of Kingston.

Victoria Edwards: This will be your 5th fund-raising canoe trip down the Rideau. What gave you the idea?

Geoff Bennett: For many years I lived and worked outside Canada. RMC was very far away. After we moved back to Victoria in 1999 I began to feel nostalgic.

I’d lost my father, 2435 BGen Bob Bennett (RMC 1935), (photo left) who had been the Old Brigade Adjutant and was a great booster of the college until his death in 1995. His brother 2619 P/O Tom Bennett (RMC 1937) (photo right)was MIA in WWII – his name is on the RMC Memorial Arch and there is a window dedicated to him in Currie Hall. I’ve done these canoe trips in their honour. I’m joining the OB myself this September.

In 1999 I decided to attend the ex-cadet weekend in their honour. However, instead of driving to RMC, I decided to paddle a canoe from Ottawa to Kingston. My wife, Wendy, wondered why I couldn’t just drive like everyone else. My eldest son Richard joined me as far as Smiths Falls, and then I soloed the rest of the way. I was already thinking of the future because I stopped at all the inns and pubs on the canal. In Merrickville I admired a 34’ canoe on the beach and got an idea. A year later, in 2000, fifteen of us paddled that same canoe in the inaugural Chasse-Galerie.

Victoria Edwards: Any best practices or lessons learned from the Chasse-Galerie?

Geoff Bennett: The canoe trip starts in Ottawa on unceded Algonquin territory and ends in Kingston on the traditional land of the Anishinaabeg and Haudenosaunee Peoples. Our paddles were designed by a member of the west coast Kwagiulth tribe. One of the hallmarks of the Chasse-Galerie fundraising venture is its inclusiveness – although the Class of 71 started the Athletic Endowment Fund and continues to make significant donations, the fund has accepted donations from all classes, Ex-Cadets and the general public. Over 700 donors so far. This inclusiveness is also seen in the crews, which have included a Naval College grad from 1945, Ex-Cadets from 1954-2002, up to a serving cadet in the Class of 2020 and even a few who never went to the colleges… a mix of men and women, French and English speaking. The trip itself harks back to the era of First Nations, the fur trade and Quebecois legend.

Victoria Edwards: Why was it important to you to support the Athletic Endowment Fund?

Geoff Bennett: Sometime around our 25th reunion, our Class Secretary, 8926 Ray Hook, managed to find common ground among our classmates. We needed a long-term fund-raising objective to give something back to the Colleges that trained us. A majority finally agreed to support athletics. When I proposed a canoe trip to raise money for sports it was a natural fit. However, the funds raised by the first two trips were quickly used up. So in 2005, with class support, Ray and I inaugurated the Athletic Endowment Fund and asked H25917 Major (Ret’d) Danny McLeod to lend his name to it. In this low-interest rate environment some people don’t like endowments. However, thanks to these canoe trips and the generosity of Ex-Cadets and their families the fund capital now exceeds $200,000. And what I like to point out is that, since the last fundraising campaign in 2011, the fund has disbursed $67,000 to the sports program. That’s more than we raised in 2011. The endowment is a gift that keeps on giving. In this fifth and final canoe trip I’d like add another $100,000+ to the fund and then we can really make a difference, year after year.

Victoria Edwards: What sports did you participate in at RMC?

Geoff Bennett: My athletic career was a bit of a joke, really. I was never a good athlete. I have a long list of sad and amusing sporting failures. This is ironic of course, given the athletic objective of these canoe trips. However, RMC did teach me the virtue of fitness.

So by raising money for sports I’m atoning for my poor performance. In the boxing ring I was called the Dancing Bear and my football coach said, “You may be small but you’re slow.” But I could run up and down Fort Henry all day, which led to a happy lifetime of mountaineering.

Victoria Edwards: What did you study at RMC? Outline your career progression since leaving the College. Any highlights?

Geoff Bennett: I studied as a mechanical engineer, which is actually quite a broad discipline. That stood me in good stead when I eventually heard the siren call of geophysics. I was a Reserve Entry cadet. (Classmates asked in wonder, “You paid to come here?”) But when I graduated I had no commitment, so I went to UBC and quickly turned myself into a seismologist. I’ve been exploring for oil and gas ever since, mainly in Southeast Asia. The highlight for myself and my family was a 15-year stint in Jakarta, including the discovery of several major gas fields in Sumatra.

Victoria Edwards: When we last spoke, you were working in Singapore in oil and gas exploration.

Geoff Bennett: Yes, I’m now in my fourteenth year of commuting to Singapore from our home in Victoria. And still loving the excitement of the job and the location. Every day I transport myself back into the Miocene and see things underground that no one else has ever seen. For the last two years I ran a seismic program in Papua, the hardest job of my life. However, these low oil prices are killing our company, KrisEnergy. I may soon be forced into “early retirement.” But then I’ll have more time for canoeing!

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5893 Dr. Tom Gee ‘63

8684 Peter Holt ‘71

8788 Geoff Bennett ‘71

8725 Fergus McLaughlin ‘71

8833 John Leggat ‘71

8836 Clark Little ‘71

8926 Ray Hook ‘71

9143 Bruce McAlpine ‘72

12192 Tom Lawson ‘79

M0288 Roxanne Rees ‘83

8710 Chuck Lemieux ‘71

15566 Helga Grodzinski ‘86

22461 Claire Bramma ‘02

27173 William Carpentier (RMCC) ‘18 – is from Trois-Rivières in Québec. He is presently studying in French Literature and is in Third (III) year.

27369 Andréanne Tremblay (RMCSJ) ‘20 – is the newest and youngest member of the 2016 Chasse-Galerie crew. She is a student at RMC Saint Jean. (No other details available at this time)