Maxwell Bates was born in 1906 in Calgary, Alberta in 1906. He started painting at an early age, his piece 'In the Kitchen' was painted when he was only fifteen years old. During young adulthood, Bates worked for his father's prominent architecture firm. In 1926 he spent a year studying with Lars Jonson Haukaness at the Provincial Institute of Technology and Art in Calgary.
In 1931 Bates moved to England, where worked as a door-to-door vacuum salesman while exhibiting his art at the Wertheim Gallery.
In 1940 Bates became a member of the British Territorial Army, he was captured in France and became a prisoner of war in Thuringia until 1945.
Bates returned to Calgary in 1946 once again to work with his father's architectural firm. His most notable work was St. Mary's Cathedral, which was consecrated in 1957.
Bates studied at the Brooklyn Museum with artist Max Beckmann in 1949.
In 1961 Bates suffered a stroke. He moved from Calgary to Victoria, British Columbia a year later.
Bates' work has been showcased internationally at galleries such as the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Vancouver Art Gallery. His art is expressionistic, often making social commentary, and exploring the many experiences he had in his lifetime.
In 1971 he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Calgary. In 1980 he was made a Member of the Order of Canada. He is also a member of The Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.
Bates suffered a second stroke in 1978 and died in Victoria British Columbia in 1980.