Viola MacMillan

Awards and Recognition

  • Inducted to the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame (first woman inducted), 1991
  • Member of the Order of Canada, 1992
  • Namesake of the Viola MacMillan Mineral Gallery at the Canadian Museum of Nature
  •  Namesake of the Viola R. MacMillan Award by the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada


Viola MacMillan was born Violet Rita Huggard on April 23rd, 1903, to Thomas Francis Huggard, a farmer and mail coach driver, and Harriet “Hettie” Spiers, a farmer and midwife. She was one of 14 children. The family was hard-working but impoverished. Joe Huggard, Viola’s brother, inspired her interest in the mining industry when he took her on a tour of the Coniagas Mine, a cobalt mine where he worked. She disguised herself in order to be able to visit the mine as women were considered bad luck and not allowed underground.

In 1923, she married George Alexander MacMillan. George’s father and his prospector uncle (known as “Black Jack MacMillan”) taught him the basics of mining when he was young. In 1926, George and Viola received the opportunity to assess mining claims in Frenville Township; it was Viola’s first trip into the bush.

Later, during another trip, George and Viola met a prospector who had been ripped off by investors. Prior to her first mine visit with her brother, Viola had worked as a legal stenographer, where she gained certain legal knowledge. She used this knowledge to find a lawyer and bring the case to the Mining Court of ontario, where she won. Based on this experience, she understood the the importance of protection prospectors’ rights.

Within a decade, she was well-respected in the industry. With her extensive mining legislation knowledge, she opened MacMillan Securities Ltd. to negotiate deals between prospectors and investors, sell shares for mining companies, and set up syndicates. Through her company, she invested in a number of mining projects. Her most profitable investment was the Victor mine in British Columbia: she paid $50,000 in 1948, and by its closure in 1962, it had produced over $9,000,000 of silver, lead, zinc, cadium and gold. Other notable investments include Canadian Arrow open pit and the Hallnor gold mine in Tommins. She bought and developed the Kam-Kotia base metal mine, developed the ViolaMac Mines and developed and brought to production the Lake Cinch mine.

In 1932, Viola and George joined the Ontario Prospectors and Developers Association, and she became the Secretary-Treasurer in 1941 with George as President. Her ability to attract new members was so well regarded that she was elected President of the Association in 1944 with no dissenting voices. She held that position for 20 years, during which time the Association was renamed to the Prospectors and Developers Association in 1957. In 1987, it was renamed the Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada. Viola was, and remains, the Association’s longest serving President.

During the Second World War,  she was heavily involved with provincial and federal governments in working with the wartime Metals Control Commission. She organized educational sessions to identify important metals. She also contributed to the creation of the Emergency Gold Mining Assistance Act in 1948. This Act helped save Canada’s gold mining industry from an imminent collapse due to high operating costs. 

In 1967, she was accused of wash trading for selling shares of MacMillan Prospecting & Development Co. Ltd. to her husband George, and of fraud after a highly-publicised claim turned out to be uneconomic. Though the fraud charge was dropped, she was convicted of the wash trading charge. She spent seven weeks of her nine-month sentence in prison. She was the first person to be convicted of wash trading in Canada. In 1978, she applied for and received a full pardon from the federal government.

The same year of Viola’s pardon, her husband George passed away.  She subsequently donated $1,250,000 to the National Museum of Natural Sciences (now the Canadian Museum of Nature) to purchase William Finch’s collection of minerals; the exhibit is named after her.

For her contributions to the industry, she was inducted to the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 1991, and was awarded a Member of the Order of Canada in 1992. She died on August 26th, 1993 and left the bulk of her estate to charities, universities and hospitals. The Prospectors and Developers Association of Canada also named an award in her honour, which is given to an individual or organization demonstrating leadership in mangement and financing for the exploration and development of mineral resources.