There are people who just plain shouldn’t die. Ever. Bill MacKinnon was one of those guys, a pillar in our industry with a trucking history that goes back to the 1920s. But die he did on March 22, at home in Guelph, Ontario, after a long illness. He was 90 years old.
As kind and humble as a man could be, he launched his transport career in a time-honored way, joining the company his father Alexander created in Caledon, Ont. way back in June 1929. Dad had just bought a used Chevy truck to haul livestock, coal, fertilizer, and other farm supplies around the region just northwest of Toronto.
A little later Bill turned 15, got his driver’s licence and soon bought a second truck to begin growing the family business. At the recent memorial service to celebrate his life, his son Evan joked that his father and grandfather doubled the size of the fleet overnight. The fledgling company never looked back, and over the next many decades Bill guided it well, moving it to Guelph and becoming one of the most respected carriers in the province.
Bill was also a key builder in the success and growth of the Ontario Trucking Association, a member for over 50 years. He served as chairman twice, first in 1976, and was the longest-serving board member in the history of the association. He also served as chairman of the Canadian Trucking Association. He loved association work and had the respect of both his peers and the various government officials he ran across. His voice, a quiet one used judiciously, was one that people wanted to hear.
Evan eventually took the reins and his own son Alex became COO in time. So four generations of the MacKinnon family played an active role in being part of the Ontario trucking firmament.
MacKinnon Transport ran into trouble a few years ago, and in late 2017 its assets – trucks, trailers, and customers – were sold to Contrans. Significantly, 90% of MacKinnon employees were offered employment there. Quite a few of them had 20 or 30 years seniority, which was honored by Contrans.
According to Evan, then president and CEO of the family business, it was sold largely due to the company’s inability to hire new drivers.
“Every aspect of the business was doing amazing — linehaul margins, revenue per mile, revenue per day, per truck — it was all doing great,” he said at the time. “The only problem we had was attracting drivers. And in the last two years, our fleet had shrunk by 35% due to driver attrition. And the inability to attract drivers was the reason, the only reason, it didn’t make practical sense for MacKinnon to be an entity on its own.”
Bill and I weren’t bosom buddies, as they say, but he was the kind of guy who could make you feel that your relationship was on that level. He was always interested in what I had to say, what I thought. If I saw him at some industry dinner, I might tap him on the shoulder to say hi and he would immediately stand up to have a chat.
The thing is, he was exactly like that the first time I met him the better part of 40 years ago. As a rookie trucking writer I visited him in his office to do an interview, and he welcomed me like an old friend. I knew precious little about trucking at that point, but Bill acted as if I were an equal. That was his kindness at work.
People like Bill MacKinnon really shouldn’t ever die, but his was a life well lived. And many of us are better for it.