A Biography of H.R. MacMillan
by Ken Drushka
Winner of the 1996 Roderick Haig-Brown BC Book Prize
Book DescriptionHarvey Reginald MacMillan (1885-1976) is one of the most significant figures in Canadian corporate history. Born into extreme poverty in rural Ontario, MacMillan continued his education after high school and went on to study at Yale. Despite serious setbacks, including a bout with tuberculosis, MacMillan persevered, and in 1912 became the first chief forester in BC. He distinguished himself at once by selling BC lumber abroad in quantities that would have a lasting impact on the province's economy. By 1919 he had entered the private sector, establishing the first locally owned lumber export company in BC. That company grew to become MacMillan Bloedel, one of the most powerful forestry corporations in the world.
MacMillan also served his country in both World Wars and gave away millions of dollars during the last two decades of his life. For more than half a century, his speeches and arguments on public policy exerted an enormous influence on Canada's business and political leaders, although he often broke ranks with his colleagues to call for long-term resource management policies that were far ahead of their time.
H.R. was a prominent and influential man, always forthcoming on matters of principle. But he was also very reserved, private and complicated. Drushka's portrait of him, compiled over years of reading through public record and working closely with MacMillan's family and business associates, is a respectful but clear-eyed look at the real H.R.: the ardent conservationist who was also a ruthless business tycoon; the strait-laced businessman who had a lifelong friendship with his eccentric cousin, Mazo de la Roche; the shy, retiring gentleman who was also described as an "elemental force of nature."