For 45 years, Lyle MacMillan only had to drive through two intersections to get to his law firm on 176A Street. MacMillan started his firm in 1971 with Ron McKinnon, and has stayed there through a number of name changes: MacMillan & McKinnon; MacMillan, Tucker; and MacMillan, Tucker & Mackay.
Now, the 82-year-old lawyer is leaving the office, heading into a retirement of “never-ending coffee breaks,” he said.
He didn’t sound convinced that a life of coffee breaks would be better than the legal cases he’s leaving behind. But he did perk up when he mentioned his boat and motorcycle.
MacMillan’s current bike is a Honda, although he wanted to get a Harley Davidson, like the one he used when he first started working in Cloverdale as an RCMP traffic officer. His wife had health issues, he said, “but she’s had a hip replacement now and I’ll think we’ll be back motorcycling.”
MacMillan first came to B.C. in the mid-1950s as a young RCMP officer fresh out of training in Regina. He was stationed in Burnaby at first, but soon moved to the police office in downtown Cloverdale — a small, square building, more like a concrete block than an architectural masterpiece.
It was in Cloverdale that MacMillan first got the itch for law.
In 1960, MacMillan moved from his Harley-riding position as a traffic cop to the Cloverdale courthouse. At that time, when anyone got so much as a parking ticket they had to head to court. If they plead guilty, the judge gave the sentence and they were on their way. If they plead not guilty, MacMillan stepped in.
Dressed in his RCMP uniform, MacMillan would stand in front of the judge, giving evidence and questioning witnesses. It was his first taste of the law and he loved it.
After two years of court work, and a subsequent transfer to Smithers, MacMillan purchased his discharge from the RCMP. He decided to go to UBC, first to get his Bachelor of Commerce and then his law degree.
By 1971, MacMillan was ready to open his own law firm.
In the meantime, bills had to be paid. And so MacMillan took a job at Oakalla Prison Farm, a provincial penal institution.
On his first graveyard shift in the remand wing, MacMillan heard there were rumours of a jail break.
The deputy warden told MacMillan and his partner, who had worked in the wing for a few months, that if a jail break did happen, they would need to adjust themselves accordingly.
On the third night, after MacMillan had done the rounds of the cells, he “heard a noise, a strange noise,” he said. His partner said it was just the steam pipes cracking.
“A few seconds later I heard a noise that wasn’t obviously from the steam pipes,” he said. “I got the head start on them and we ran up the stairs, five flights.”
Two inmates were out of their cells and had an officer down, choking him.
“He was blacking out when we got there, but they were so interested in dispatching him that it was quite quick for us to dispatch them, [and] put them back in their cells in handcuffs.”
Perhaps it was because of MacMillan’s background working for the prison and the RCMP that he never took criminal cases.
“They deserved a defence, and I never felt that they didn’t,” he said.
“But not from me.”
Instead, MacMillan and Ron McKinnon took on a general practice. Their first case was a $1 million estate probate – “a huge case at that time to commence the practice with,” according to MacMillan. As the ’70s went on, they gained more business in mortgages and business incorporations.
Their business grew through Cloverdale word of mouth, since that’s where MacMillan and McKinnon decided to set up shop. McKinnon had grown up in the area, and MacMillan had fallen in love with the area during his RCMP days.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to practice in Vancouver,” he paused. “This is homey. I have beautiful neighbours and friends. This is where I want to be.”
MacMillan’s enjoyment of the country town that he once considered “one hell of a long way … from civilization” is clear from his involvement in the community.
Lyle MacMillan seated behind his desk at his Cloverdale law office. Contributed
In the 45 years MacMillan has lived in Cloverdale, he’s been president of the Surrey Memorial Hospital Association, the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association, the Canadian Standardbred Horse Society and the Canadian Trotting Association. He’s served on the Cloverdale and Surrey Chambers of Commerce and was part of the Cloverdale Legion. He even became an owner and trainer at the Cloverdale Raceway, now Fraser Downs, with his horse Valiant Dauber.
For his involvement in the community, MacMillan received two awards in 2016: the Community Pillar Award from the Cloverdale Business Improvement Association, and the Bill Reid Memorial Businessperson of the Year Award from the Cloverdale Chamber of Commerce.
“I suspect that when you’re in a community as long as I have been and you get involved in the community, you’re bound to do something for the community,” he said.
“It’s not something you do to get known or to help your business. It’s because you’re part of the community.”
The community was why MacMillan moved to Cloverdale in the first place, and why he enjoyed his law practice so much.
“I’ve been so fortunate,” he said.
He likes the clients he’s worked with over the years — some of them grandchildren of the clients he had when he first started his law firm. He likes the house he’s lived in since 1972, so much that he thinks “they’ll take me out feet first before I leave.”
“It’s been a friendly town,” he said. “It’s easy to fit into the town, and it’s active but not the same type of living as in [the] city.”
MacMillan’s retirement party was on March 31, but his work isn’t over yet. He’s finishing up his last few cases, tying up loose ends that will take a few weeks to sort out.
MacMillan will be around, driving through Cloverdale on his Honda. And his name will remain on the gabled roof of the law office he created.
But after that, it’s a retirement of never-ending coffee breaks.