GRAVENHURST - Fellow politicians had praise and his family had their proud tears as former Ontario premier Frank Stuart Miller’s legacy was etched into time.
Ontario’s 19th premier, the late Frank Stuart Miller, was honoured April 20 with a special commemorative plaque at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre in Gravenhurst with several political figures sharing their praise. The father of current MPP Norm Miller, his legacy stretches through both professional and strong family ties. From left to right at the unveiling are: daughter Mary Finch, son Ross, widow Ann and sons Larry and Norm Miller.
Photo by Neil Etienne
Frank Miller (1927-2000), who served as premier in 1985 and had a long illustrious political career that has since been passed on to his son, current Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller, was honoured April 20 with a commemorative grave site marker unveiled at the Muskoka Boat & Heritage Centre in Gravenhurst. The ceremony, part of the Ontario Heritage Trust’s honouring Ontario’s premiers program, drew poignant words of praise for the man who was a local business owner, municipal politician, volunteer and most importantly to some, a kind and supportive father.
“You look at the friends he made while he was in politics; he cared about the people, not the party they represented,” said son Larry Miller as he fought tears, speaking to the audience on behalf of his family. “Dad was a patriotic Canadian; he couldn’t understand when people wouldn’t sing the national anthem. He was a family man who loved to be surrounded.”
“He truly enjoyed the fact that anybody in Ontario could become premier; you didn’t have to be born in any certain family, you didn’t have to have a connection. What you had to have was the passion, the desire and the hard work and he certainly had all of those,” Larry added. “One hundred years from now the memorial will still be here, but the difference in the world will be because he made a difference in the lives of children.”
Technically acting in his official capacity as the local provincial representative, MPP Norm Miller gave praise to both the politician and the father Frank Miller was to him.
“He would be honoured with the fact so many of you took the time to come out today to this ceremony,” he said.
Miller said his father enjoyed a public light and the chance to meet new people. Being premier “certainly was something he was very proud of, amongst family, the work he did in being an engineer, it certainly was something that ranked right up there for him personally.”
The junior Miller MPP said in his past 12 years at Queen’s Park he is often reminded of the trail his father blazed before.
“That’s something I enjoy, it helps keep him alive for me,” Miller said, and added in just the last week he was mistaken by an elderly voter in Toronto for his father. “He wanted it to be very clear it was a compliment to be confused with him and I certainly took it to be.”
MPP Miller also recalled a recent visit to the northern Ontario community of Atikokan, a town he had never been to, but one that as minister of health, a brash Frank Miller did visit about three decades ago.
“I got a hero’s welcome; then I found out it wasn’t just because they wanted to see me, but it was because my father had been there,” Miller explained.
Miller said the town made a pitch for a new hospital during his father’s visit as a young minister of health. “He agreed on the spot and announced it, at which point all these bureaucrats were saying ‘you can’t do that’… but Atikokan got its new hospital and 25 years later they still remember that.”
Don Pearson, board member with Ontario Heritage Trust, explained since the program’s inception in 2008, some 15 premiers had been so honoured, with Miller the 16th.
Premier Miller was born in Toronto in 1927 and moved to Gravenhurst at a young age, eventually attending Gravenhurst High School.
On a scholarship he attended McGill University and graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 1949.
He would eventually return to Muskoka and set up an auto dealership in Bracebridge, followed by several tourist resorts. Pearson explained Miller joined Bracebridge municipal council from 1967 to 1970 and was first elected to the provincial legislature in 1971, being re-elected MPP in ’75, ’77 and 1981. In 1985 he was elected to the premier position, taking over for William Davis who had served 14 years prior as the province’s premier.
In his 14-year legislature tenure, Miller held numerous portfolios, including that of minister of health, natural resources, inter-governmental affairs and economics.
“Known within Progressive Conservative circles as representing an alternative brand of conservativism to that which had previously guided the party, Frank Miller was the only candidate (in 1985 for the leadership) from outside of Toronto,” Pearson explained. He was often described as a “candid, intelligent and experienced politician” that easily engaged him to people of all walks of life, Pearson added.
Miller’s tenure as premier was a short one, ending with his defeat the same year he was elected by a Liberal-NDP pact for a motion of non-confidence, led by Miller’s successor David Peterson.
He resigned from provincial politics that year, returning to the area to serve as chairman for the District Municipality of Muskoka and Algoma Central Corporation.
Sending regrets for being unable to attend, current Premier Dalton McGuinty did pass on his respects as well on behalf of the government.
“We celebrate his contributions to Ontario and honour his memory,” McGuinty sent in writing. “He has left an indelible mark on the province he was proud to call home and his accomplishments will forever serve as a source of pride and inspiration to his community and all Ontarians.”
Parry Sound-Muskoka MP Tony Clement added his congratulations, explaining his connection to the Miller family goes back to his own political stepfather, John Clement, who was MPP in the Niagara Falls area in the ’70s, later serving as attorney and solicitor general for Frank Miller’s predecessor William Davis.
“(He was) a great man, who was also a great character,” Clement said. “He had a real personality and often in politics, real personality is wrung out of you. He had this forceful presence, one that really spanned the whole gamut of what it is to be a representative.”
“He was also a man, by virtue of his background and I dare say his intelligence, to be a person who understood the world as well,” the MP added. He recalled meeting Frank Miller as a young PC during one event when a peer began asking Miller questions in Japanese.
“Without missing a beat, Frank Miller returned the conversation in Japanese; he had that knowledge of the world outside of Muskoka and it was a talent of his.”
“Norm and I, sometimes we stand on the shoulders of giants; the two greatest personalities in recent memory who have served Muskoka have without a doubt been Stan Darling and Frank Miller,” Clement said. “When I think of Frank Miller, I think of a great Canadian.”