George Miller – surveyor, family man, community activist and volunteer – was all those things and more. This affable gentleman moved to our district in 1993 settling with his wife Margaret in Shirley on a lovely Invermuir Road property that faced the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
He was descended from pioneering stock, his paternal forebears arriving in Canada from Scotland in 1821 and his mother’s family coming from Britain, Germany and Sweden, eventually migrating out to the West Coast.
George was born at New Westminster in 1932, to “Gussie” and Evan Miller, when his father was a millwright at Fraser Mills. When war was declared in 1939, George’s dad enlisted and served with the Royal Canadian Engineers. After his discharge in Victoria in 1945, the family lived on a farm in Gordon Head, and then he moved his family to Cowichan Bay. George and his younger siblings Gerry and David went to Cobble Hill High School.
Like most pioneering families, the youngsters were expected to contribute to the household, and George recalled that one of his responsibilities was to catch 300 pounds of salmon each year for his mother to produce a cellar full of jars of canned salmon.
It wasn’t all work, though; the family was musical, with all the boys taking piano lessons and playing the guitar and accordion. George and his brothers started their own band, playing and singing for local dances, which they continued throughout their lives whenever they were together at parties and family events.
George’s ingenuity and spirit soon came to the fore. A tall young fellow at 14, he managed to convince recruitment officers that he was older, and got to serve in the Reserve Army Corps, training in Alberta. In 1952 he began his surveying training, articling in 1953. In 1958 he attained his qualification, joining the Association of B.C. Land Surveyors. Meanwhile, George had met Margaret Burrows, and the two were married in 1954. Believing a waterfront property on Invermuir Road was the best investment they could make, George and Margaret bought acreage there in 1966, close to where Margaret’s parents had retired, though his work would naturally take him to other parts of the Canadian west.
The couple started out in Victoria where George was working for the B.C. government but he was away from his family for long periods so he decided to work closer to them. Shortly after their son was born they moved to Banff, where George was in charge of surveying the route of the Columbia Icefields Parkway, Jasper to Banff.
His next job took him to 150 Mile House, and then he started his own firm with a partner in Kamloops, Cornwall & Miller. Daughter Louise recalls how as youngsters, their dad wanted to impart his love of astronomy, and would gather the kids up to stand at his transit and observe the stars.
Lured to the job of chief surveyor for the District of North Vancouver, George held that post from 1964 to 1970, then went into business, Miller Engineering Surveys and later, Miller Technical Surveys. This was his occupation when he and his wife made the long-awaited move to settle on their property in Shirley in 1993. Meanwhile the Miller children, who’d attended school in Kamloops and North Vancouver, were pretty much off on their own: Michael in Richmond, Louise in London, Genevieve in Los Angeles, and Jim and Scott remaining locally based.
It didn’t take long for George to become a fixture here. He not only brought his surveying skills, but an incredibly good nature and sense of community responsibility. Additionally, his irreverent sense of humour (sometimes ribald) lightened many a gathering.
In the following period of political changes and land-boundary reviews in the region west of Victoria, George and a group of friends were anxious to safeguard what they considered landowners’ rights, in particular that political changes afoot not de-value their properties.
The group formed the B.C. Landowners Association and remained active through a few difficult years. George believed in standing up for one’s rights.
Wally Vowles of Otter Point, who knew George well, describes him like this: “He was a prince of a man – I don’t think they make them any better. He was always there to help. If he thought you were being beaten up by a big bureaucracy or something, he’d be right there at your side.”
Among George’s many gratis surveying undertakings, as recalled by community volunteer, Ron Dumont, were a re-organizing of boundaries on the property held by the Sooke Elderly Citizens Housing Society, the volunteer group that provided the land which now houses Ayre Manor.
When the Sooke Region Historical Society was taking on the responsibility for buying and restoring the historic Muir family cemetery, George’s contribution when he surveyed off the required parcel of the original Muir family holdings, was invaluable. The site that holds the early Muir pioneer graves on Maple Avenue, was to become Sooke’s Millennium Memorial Heritage Park. With George’s own pioneering background, this would be a gift that would come naturally to him.
In 2010 the Sooke Region Chamber of Commerce selected George Miller as its Citizen of the Year with the intent of honouring him at its annual awards banquet at Sooke Community Hall. It was a great evening, but George’s humble nature prevented him from attending – instead he sent a message saying that others should have been honoured rather than himself.
His last year as a B.C. land surveyor was 2011 – what a distinguished record. Recently, as his wife Margaret has become frail, George has mostly been home as her caregiver. Whenever you’d see George out and about, though, his friendly and caring nature always came to the fore and he’d be happily chatting, catching up with friends. He treasured visits from his far flung family and the many grandchildren and great- grands who came to visit.
A true patriot, he appreciated the Royal Canadian Legion. He wanted no service, but no doubt would have valued a glass raised to his memory.
Elida Peers is the historian of the Sooke Region Museum.