53 Henry James Mackin

HENRY JAMES MACKIN  (July 13, 1885-December 22, 1958)

Records conflict about the year that Henry James Mackin was born in New York City of Irish-Catholic parents Joseph (Joe) Patrick Mackin and Catherine (Kate) Byrne Mackin.    A Vancouver, BC burial park gravestone notes DOB as July 13th 1885.   US WWI military draft records list 1884 as year of Birth as does the 1911 Canada Census record which further records arrival in Canada during 1908.


The Mackin Family endured and eventually prospered enough to travel across America to settle in Oregon State.  It was in Portland, Oregon, after completing a Grade 4 education that Henry Mackin began factory work as a barely literate child labourer of The Standard Box Company.  It is quite likely that a good sized midday meal was provided at the worksite giving Henry an advantage over other family members whose meals were likely scant and carefully portioned out.


The experience gained at Standard Box ultimately proved central to the optimistic cheerful personality that led Fraser Mills in efforts to survive two global wars, the great depression and a violent workers strike.  Ironically the desperation of poverty and racial exclusion drove Mackin to establish his family’s fortune and end up in the pages of Fortune Magazine (January 1954).  The lack of both adequate education as well as reasonable childhood recreation experiences became motivators for a life of philanthropy in the areas of learning and recreation.

 Published descriptions

The following description published in Fortune Magazine (January 1954) highlights the goal orientation aspect that motivated Henry Mackin until retirement.  “A Manhattan-born, intensely sales-minded Canadian, Mackin was until recently president of Canadian Western.”  Leading the cohesive and uniquely multi-cultural Canadian Western Lumber workforce at Fraser Mills, BC Mackin was able to deliver product and deliver on time for decades.  He thrived when faced with apparent insurmountable obstacles.


Historical writer E. G. Perrault in his comprehensive volume covering the story of the timber industry in BC (Wood & Water – The Story of SEABOARD Lumber and Shipping – Douglas & McIntyre Vancouver/Toronto) created further thumbnail sketches: “Henry J. Mackin was a businessman/lumberman with the strength and tenacity of a bull terrier.”  He added: “By 1939 Canadian Western Lumber was generally recognized as the largest lumber producing company in the British Empire, much of this due to Henry Mackin’s perception and leadership qualities.  He was active in every aspect of the lumber industry, including the formulation and production of standard grades elected from Canada.”

 Multi-cultural workforce

Having come from a marginalized immigrant background himself Henry Mackin’s insights into the unique challenges facing immigrant millworkers gave him an edge over other lumber executives.  As well his lack of education and a very early start as a factory labourer aligned him rather than separated him from his labour force.  Mackin’s passion for baseball extended into the mill population with the formation of teams which were comprised of both Asian as well as other ethnic groups.   Mackin Park in the Village of Maillardville was gifted to the City of Coquitlam by Mackin acting on behalf of Canadian Western Lumber.  The park served as a venue for mill employee baseball games.   


Within the early mill site proper existed small ethnic populations of Greek, Hindu, Japanese and Chinese workers many of whom spoke little if any English.  Toyo Takata in his book Nikkei Legacy The Story of Japanese Canadians from Settlement to Today records that, at one time, of the 1,800 persons on the Canadian Western Lumber payroll one-third were Japanese.  In this company town setting each ethnic group had their own allocated accommodation spot and access to Company owned land for the growing of produce and keeping of chickens.  Ethnic dietary customs as well as differing religious traditions kept the mill population separate in some aspects of daily living.


 In addition to Japanese, Hindu, Chinese, Greek and other employees the mill relied as on a population of French-Canadian workers most of whom resided offsite in  nearby  Maillardville where Mackin and his wife Mary started their married life in a modest wooden structure expanded in the mid ’40’s to house a second generation of the Mackin Family.  Maillardville was primarily a Catholic community. While millworkers owned their own land and were provided with building supplies for their cottage-style accommodations Mackin lived in a company house in the midst of the francophone natives.  It was the guarantee of land and building materials that had induced a large population of Quebecoise to relocate to British Columbia.  Catholic Church clergy along with community leaders in Quebec made less than adequate travel arrangements which resulted in some groups crowding into tiny homes for shelter while others opted to live short term in box cars while their homes were completed.


Many very highly skilled mill workers came and settled in Maillardville which had started as Milltown. Others, not so skilled, took positions as cooks in many BC sites.  With prohibition the Quebecoise left the kitchens in favour of the more lucrative pastime of making moonshine thereby opening up an area of labour which the Chinese were satisfied to fill. It is worth noting that the First Nations from the Fraser Mills area to date remain almost invisible in the historical tapestry.  It is most likely that Henry Mackin and all those who participated in the dazzling success of Fraser Mills were misled by Government of Canada agents regarding treaty status with First Nations. 

 A Legacy of Philanthropy 

Vancouver College as well as the City of Coquitlam was beneficiaries of Henry Mackin’s gifts. Mackin Park, in the Village of Maillardville BC originally served as the Fraser Mills baseball playing field.  The City of Coquitlam accepted the lands in the mid 40’s after approaching Mackin then head of Canadian Western Lumber.   The Vancouver College gymnasium-auditorium construction sod turning ceremony was featured in the Vancouver Sun June 8, 1949.  Mackin Hall comprised of cafeteria space, classrooms and science room space opened in 1957.


On December 22, 1958 Henry Mackin died suddenly survived by his wife Mary and two brothers Walter and William, of Portland Oregon.  His younger brother Raymond died a few hours after his older brother Henry.  Other family members, in 1958, included a son W. J. Mackin (who also lived in Maillardville and worked at Fraser Mills) and three daughters Josephine Abernethy, Dorothy Markle and Marjorie Oxendale as well as their spouses.  There were 15 surviving grandchildren. Three generations of the Mackin Family were educated at Vancouver College most recently great grandsons Gordon and Charles (Charlie) Byrn.

 Submitted By:Jackie Mackin Byrnjackiebyrn@yahoo.caPhone (604)331-0319Additional information available upon request