The Forestry Innovator
Henry Reginald MacMillan(1885–1976)
Henry Reginald (H.R.) MacMillan was born in 1885 on a small farm north of Toronto. He attended the Ontario Agricultural College in Guelph, where he learned about forestry and about creating a sustainable resource. MacMillan received a master’s degree in forestry from Yale University and, upon graduation, went to British Columbia to work in the rapidly developing forest product industry. He later joined the civil service — first in Ottawa and then in Victoria, where he was British Columbia’s first chief forester.
The First World War provided challenges for the B.C. forest industry, which relied on selling to international markets through U.S. agents. After the war, MacMillan, with backing from a British timber merchant, established H.R. MacMillan Export Company, Ltd. to develop the international sale of Pacific Coast timber products. The company expanded in the early 1920s into shipping and the manufacture of sawn lumber.
In response to competitive pressures, the company extended its operations in the mid-1930s to include plywood. It acquired extensive timber areas on Vancouver Island and began milling operations, becoming the province’s first truly integrated forest products company. From there it expanded into door manufacturing, railway-tie production, and shipping and sales.
The H.R. MacMillan Export Company was a pioneer in vertical integration, purchasing firms involved in all parts of the lumber trade. During the Second World War MacMillan’s company experienced booming business, and it expanded at an even faster rate after the war.
This culminated in the 1951 merger of MacMillan’s company with Bloedel, Stewart and Welch to create MacMillan Bloedel Limited, the largest consolidation in the Canadian forest industry. MacMillan had a larger marketing operation, and Bloedel had more timberland. The merger resulted in British Columbia’s largest lumber and pulp operation.
When MacMillan stepped down as chairman in 1956, MacMillan Bloedel was not only the largest corporation in British Columbia, it was also the largest forest products company in Canada and one of the biggest forestry industry companies in the world, exporting to Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Great Britain, and the United States. And it was as profitable as it would ever be.
Throughout his career, MacMillan retained an interest in sustainable forestry. His company inaugurated long-term planning that included reforestation.
His successor, Bert Hoffmeister, stated that MacMillan was “in every way a great Canadian, and his emotions were easily aroused when Canada’s interests were involved.”