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"Ken Drushka, a former journalist, logger and mill owner, has produced a detailed and well-written biography of a key figure in the history of our province, enriched by the access Drushka obviously had to MacMillan's files, family, and associates."

-Vancouver Sun


B.C. Historical News - Winter 1997/98
This biography is an illuminating chronicle of an extraordinary life. It may surprise many to find that it is a rags to riches story. Harvey Reginald MacMillan was "born and raised in obscure poverty on a small farm north of Toronto. " His father died when he was two and he and his mother were forced to live apart with relatives. Deliverance came at the age of 15; he was hoeing potatoes one day when a man driving by stopped and told him that scholarships were available at the Ontario Agricultural College (now the University of Guelph). MacMillan hated agriculture, but the scholarship took him off the land, and summer jobs kept him safely away from it

It was at Guelph that he first encountered forestry, and in particular the ideas brought to North America some years before by Bernard Fernow, a German forester. The objective was a permanent industry based on sustained yield, instead of the smash-and-grab tactics that brought quick profits but left the forests devastated. A Forestry Branch had been established in Ottawa, and MacMillan secured summer employment with the survey parties it sent to the West

After graduating from OAC, MacMillian decided to pursue graduate studies at Yale's forestry school. It was a two-year course and in the intervening summer MacMillian joined a party that was to bmber cruise in British Columbia - his first introduction to the province that was to make his name and fortune. When he graduated in 1908, all seemed set fair for a successful career, but disaster struck in the form of advanced tuberculosis the disease that had killed his father.

To many it would have been a mortal blow, but H.R. faced it with the determination characteristic of him. The battle lasted thirty months, but he emerged cured and ready to resume his career. The Forestry Branch was again his employer until 1912, when the organization of a forest service in British Columbia offered a new opportunity. In May 1912 he was appointed its first Chief Forester.

MacMillan assembled a staff (no small task as trained foresters were still few in number) and launched a forestry management programme. All seemed set fair until 1914 and the outbreak of war. The impact on the British Columbia lumbering industry was severe. It had depended heavily on American brokers for orders and on sea transport the war diverted the interests of one and disrupted the other. The B.C. Government decided that some first-hand knowledge of world markets was essential and sent MacMillan on a tour that took him to Britain, South Africa, India and Australia.
Home again, H.R. was restless. He felt that the B.C. Forest Service was "in for some lean years" and he had no lack of opportunities for alternative employment. Four universities wanted him to head their forestry schools; one invitation came from Bernard Fernow, who had become Dean of the school at Toronto, and wanted MacMillan to succeed him. But H. R. decided to enter business instead and became assistant manager of a lumber company based at Chemainus.

His experience there was not happy, and only a year later he moved to a new and much more exciting assignment British airplane losses in the war were mounting; one of the vital needs for building replacements was Sitka spruce, the largest available supply of which was in British Columbia, much of it in the Queen Charlottes. The British Imperial Munitions Board set up a subsidiary in Vancouver to taclde the spruce supply problem, and late in 1917 MacMillan became its assistant director. His task was to secure vast quantities of airplane quality spruce as quickly as possible, and to do this he had to "organize from scratch" what Drushka describes as "the biggest logging show anyone ever attempted to put together. "A tentative objective of three million board feet per month was reached in July 1918, and this had been tripled by the end of the war.
MacMillan was to perform a comparable feat in the Second World War. He had been called to Ottawa by the redoubtable C. D. Howe to serve as Timber Controller, but within months the heavy toll being taken by U-boats made it clear that an emergency shipbuilding programme to produce replacement ships was essential. Late in March 1941 MacMillan became head of a new agency, Wartime Merchant Shipping, with headquarters in Montreal. He tackled the assignment with his usual speed and efficiency. By early April he had placed orders for a hundred standard cargo ships with Canadian yards; the first of them was launched in October and went to sea on her first voyage on December 7 - Pearl Harbor Day. As Eastern yards were heavily engaged in repairing damaged ships, the bulk of the orders were placed with western yards, with the Burrard yard in North Vancouver at the top of the list.

MacMillan had vastly increased his activities in the inter-war years. He had acquired sawmills and had become one of the major lumber producers in the province. He had experienced firsthand the difficulties of securing orders for lumber from distant customers and of securing space in cargo ships to fill them. In 1919, in association with Montague Meyer of London, who had been British limber controller during the war, he organized the H.R. MacMillan Export Company: Meyer would secure orders in Europe; MacMillan would fill them. Except for the odd lean year, the Export Company expanded rapidly. Securing space in cargo ships continued to be a problem, and in 1921 MacMillan founded the Canadian Transport Company to solve it. At times it had as many as forty or fifty ships on long-term charters.

In 1930 he had become involved in another industry fisheries. B.C. Packers, "the largest fish processing company on the West Coast" was in financial difficulties. H.R. was invited to join a new board of directors, whose first task was to avoid bankruptcy. MacMillan was new to the industry, but Drushka remarks upon his "capacity for taking on a diverse variety of tasks, without losing track of the details in any one of them." The fishing industry intrigued him; he visited canneries strung along the West Coast to become familiar with details. In 1933 he became President of B.C. Packers; three years later, despite the depression, it returned a small dividend; and, within a few years, through the Export Company, he had gained control of it.

In 1958 MacMillan decided to resign as Chairman of MacMillan & Bloedel, as his company had become. As a successor he chose J.V Clyne, a justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. Drushka remarks that why he did so "is one of the great mysteries of Canadian business" as Clyne had had no business experience. Certainly the consequences were not what MacMillan had anticipated. He had always endeavoured to raise capital within Canada; Clyne looked to other markets, notably the United States. MacMillan had kept the operations of his companies largely confined to Canada; under Clyne they became involved in operations in such diverse locations as the Netherlands, Alabama and Australia. All this was accompanied by a steady effort to push MacMillan into the background.

Drushka throws considerable light on MacMillan's philanthropic activities. He gave many millions to causes that interested him, with UBC at the top of the list The Vancouver Foundation, the Vancouver Aquarium and the MacMillan Planetarium were all supported liberally. In 1965 he gave the UBC Library $3,000,000 for the purchase of books - the largest grant of the kind ever given to a Canadian library. Conditions were often attached to his gifts; in this instance he specified that the money was to be spent on books and on books only - UBC was to meet the very substantial cost of cataloguing them. Every gift or grant was followed promptly by a letter or telegram confirming the gift and recalling any conditions that had been attached to it.

The book is rich in detail, but one wishes that a little more had been said about MacMillan's close associates, notably W.J. Van Dusen. Fernow introduced him to MacMillan at a meeting in Montreal as early as 1908 and H.R. recruited him for the B.C. Forest Service in 1913. A decade later he persuaded him to leave the Service and join the Export Company. They were close associates thereafter, and he prospered with the company. As a philanthropist he rivalled MacMillan; he was virtual founder of the Vancouver Foundation; and to it and the related Van Dusen Foundation he gave in all more than a hundred million dollars.
-W. Kaye Lamb, B.C. Historical News


BC Studies Book Review
In the early months of 1960 Harvey Reginald MacMillan, founder of British Columbia’s largest forest products company, set off from Lima, Peru, on his private yacht, the Marijean, for the Galapagos Islands. Aboard was Sir Arthur "Bomber" Harris, the controversial Royal Air Force commander famed for the bombing raids he launched on German cities during the Second World War. On the first morning out to sea, "Harris arose and, for some reason, presumed to order the captain to make a change of course. When MacMillan . . . learned of this, he ordered the captain to take the ship back to Lima. Harris was put ashore, and they departed (again) for the Galapagos without him." In the words of author Ken Drushka, "No one but MacMillan gave orders on his ship."

Of the many stories that Drushka tells in HR, a biography of British Columbia's most successful lumberman, none captures more succinctly the force of MacMillan's personality, or the power that MacMillan commanded over all who worked with or around him. MacMillan presided over the expansion of British Columbia's forest industry through the first half of the twentieth century. He was the quintessential entrepreneur, a man who in 1919, at the age of thirty-four, saw the possibility of making substantial profits by coordinating the sale of BC lumber in world markets, a function to that time controlled by American agents. The H.R. MacMillan Export Company succeeded brilliantly, so much so that eventually it provoked a rival group of mills to establish its own marketing company, known as Seaboard Lumber Sales. Their bitter competition provides the dramatic tension around which Drushka tells the story of MacMillan's rise to business prominence. Whether by skill, stealth, or good luck, MacMillan always seemed to out manoeuvre his opponents. By 1958, when he retired as chief executive of the firm, MacMillan had successfully incorporated into the company the coastal region's largest logging enterprise, Bloedel, Stewart, and Welch, and had laid the foundation for a merger with the province's largest producer of pulp and paper, the Powell River Company. Out of these acquisitions emerged a large, bureaucratic, and professionally managed corporation far different from the H.R. MacMillan Export Company of the interwar period.

HR traces the public life of MacMillan in a detailed manner for the first time. Discussion of MacMillan's early history as a professional forester, his work during the two world wars as a servant of the federal state, his endlessly clever responses to competitors, his views on the new forest management practices implemented by the Coalition and Social Credit governments of the 1940s and 1950s, and his disillusionment with J.V. Clyne, his successor at MacMillan Bloedel, adds significantly to our understanding of this important industrialist. The intensely personal nature of the forest industry in British Columbia to the I940S is strongly suggested through the author's careful documentation of MacMillans many friends and contacts both inside and outside of the business community. MacMillan seemed to know everybody. However, apart from some very insightful suggestions about MacMillan's relationship of more than thirty years with his private secretary Dorothy Dee, who devoted her life to serving him, Drushkds approach does not tell us much about his domestic life, or about his family.

The other strand that runs through HR - the part that is less about MacMillan and more about the industry - finds its fullest expression in Drushka's discussion of government forest policy. MacMillan disliked the forest management practices implemented in the 1940s and I95os because they left too much control in the hands of the government and bureaucracy. He attacked the concentration of ownership among fewer and fewer large corporations, a tendency that the new forest management licensing system would reinforcer Regeneration of the forests would suffer because responsibility for reforestation was divided between the public and the private sectors, and because the British Columbia government - owner of most of the province's forest land - would divert forest income into the province's general revenue rather than reinvest it in the resource. In his submission to the second Sloan Commission in 1955, MacMillan argued for small, independent operators working alongside large corporations. This position, says Drushka, made MacMillan an overnight ‘hero and champion' to the thousands of people in coastal communities whose livelihoods depended upon the viability of small operators. In several previous publications Drushka has also criticized the big business/big government/big labour approach to forest management that emerged in British Columbia after the Second World War, and Drushka's empathy with MacMillan on these matters may explain, at least in part, his very favourable portrayal of MacMillan.

While not an official biography, HR is written primarily from sources generated by, or sympathetic to, MacMillan and his company. "Much of the information" in the book, including audiotapes of interviews with several of MacMillan's friends and colleagues, "came from material collected and a manuscript written by MacMillan's grandson, the late Harvey Southam. Two collections of H.R. MacMillan's papers, one personal, the other corporate, constitute the other major source. From these materials Drushka has drawn many insightful quotations that allow us to hear MacMillans voice on a wide range of issues. . .

A Biography of H.R. MacMillan presents a well-written and engaging portrait of a very influential British Columbian. Drushka succeeds admirably in telling the story of a forest industry leader and, through MacMillan's biography, of the industry itself in its formative years. The book is highly accessible to the general reader yet suggests many possibilities for additional research in the fields of British Columbian business and forest history. The latter may be its enduring legacy.
-Robert A.J. McDonald, BC Studies


MacBlo chief always saw the forest despite the trees
The popular image of H.R. MacMillan during his long business career and probably even today is that of what the author terms "a buccaneer capitalist." How much more there was to the man has now become clear from this biography, a book long overdue among the literature of Canadian business. "MacMillan was full of contradictions," Drushka asserts.

Born in Ontario in 1885 and raised in poverty, MacMillan nevertheless managed to get into college, ultimately graduating in forestry from Yale in 1908 and going to work for the Canadian government. He was highly idealistic about forestry in a time when few gave trees much thought.

"Most owners of industrial operations showed little or no interest in managing forests to provide themselves with a long-term timber supply," Drushka writes of the period. That disturbed MacMillan deeply, as a student and throughout his life. The environmentalists who slag MacMillan Bloedel Ltd. today for alleged logging infractions will be surprised to learn that the founder preached sustainable forestry throughout his career. They will also be surprised to learn that MacMillan presciently opposed the forest tenure system adopted in B.C. in 1947 because it would lead to corporate concentration and squeeze out small operators.

His first chance to do something about his views came in 1912 when he became British Columbia's first chief forester, a job Drushka describes as "the most prestigious that existed for a professional forester when MacMillan accepted it. B.C. Forests, in the first decade of the twentieth century, were among the largest and most valuable unexploited forests in the world."

Of course, the definition of sustainable changes with the circumstances. In 1912, it meant growing the industry to keep up with the annual production of the vast forests. "What is not cut is wasted in the end," MacMillan believed. When the First World War collapsed export markets for lumber, MacMillan was sent by Ottawa on a world tour in 1915 to look for new markets for Canadian lumber. That propelled him into going to work in the private sector and, ultimately, to start his own export company.

"In later years, he was criticized, usually behind his backby business competitors, for going into private business after travelling the world at public expense to study the global lumber business," Drushka writes. MacMillan was aware of that potential criticism at the time but he concluded that he could do more to advance the B.C. forest industry outside government than within. "He knew that working for government could not necessarily be equated with working in the public interest" the author writes.

Throughout his career, MacMillan, later a major philanthropist, had plenty of time for the public interest. During the Second World War, he was one of C.D. Howe's band of so-called dollar-a-year men, first as. . . controller and then as head of the program to build cargo ships for the war effort Time magazine was to describe him as a "hard-driving, hard-headed lumberman who befieves in getting things done."

Drushka has abundant anecdotes about MacMillan's domineering impatience with anyone not moving at his fast pace. One involves his close relationship with an executive named Bert Hoffmeister, a decorated Canadian war hero whom MacMillan regarded almost as a son and anointed as his successor at MacMillan Bloedel. Yet MacMillan also fired him. Why? Hoffmeister never knew and Drushka never quite gets to the bottom of it either.

Hoffineister was replaced by J.V. Clyne, who turned out to be every bit as domineering and impatient as MacMillan. It turns out that MacMillan came to consider the Clyne appointment as his single biggest mistake. MacMillan lived long enough to see his company suffer its first loss in 1975, with some of the responsibility resting on policies Clyne, by then retired, had put in place. . .

-Financial Post, John Schreiner