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John Francis “Lofty” MacMillan, one of Canada’s trade union giants and a founding CUPE pioneer, has died at the age of 88. He will be remembered for the substantial, long-term improvements he helped bring about for Canadian workers.

His involvement with the labour movement began when he became a Cape Breton coal miner at age 16. Tired of seeing colleagues die in mining accidents, he decided to get involved in the union.

In 1945, MacMillan joined the police force of Saint John, N.B, and two years later became their union leader. He eventually covered all four Atlantic provinces for CUPE.

He became the second national organizing and servicing director in CUPE’s history. He was a legendary organizer, bringing many workers into the CUPE fold. He was also instrumental in winning collective bargaining rights for N.B. government employees in 1969.

CUPE regional director in N.B., Bob Davidson, remembered MacMillan as a committed trade unionist to the end. “He was in a nursing home at one point, and he was hollering at them that there weren’t enough workers,” Davidson told a Moncton newspaper this week.

MacMillan’s life and accomplishments are summed up in his autobiography, The Boy from Port Hood. He passed away Sunday at his home in Vancouver after a long illness, surrounded by his family and friends. His cremated remains will be transported to his birthplace on Cape Breton Island, N.S., with an official memorial ceremony scheduled for July.