Chapter 2 – Hector, The Early Years


Chapter 2

Hector, The Early Years

Hector McMillan was born July 16, 1915, in a modest framed farmhouse one-half mile west of Avonmore, Ontario The sixth child for Daniel Lochiel (DL) McMillan, a Scotch-Canadian farmer and Jane McElheran McMillan. Hector’s siblings were the ten-year-old Archie, and four younger girls named Florence, Irene, Alice and Jean. Daniel and Jane married in 1903, he was 34 years old and she was 28. Archie came two years later and soon followed by the three girls. Three years after the girls, Hector was born, another little girl arrived, baby Eleanor. Despite being in such a large family, Hector was very shy and reluctant to leave his mother’s side in large gatherings.

In 1917, there was a dreadful ‘flu epidemic; all the family were ill except for Jane who nursed them. Whilst Jane survived this illness episode, she later developed tuberculosis and died when Hector was only five. Hector recalls:

DL McMillan with his five daughters at the Avonmore farm house. c 1923

My mother loved the Lord, when she knew she was dying with tuberculosis and would not live to raise her family, she trusted God to look after us. Her verse was from Psalm 138:8 – “The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me.”

DL managed his grief by keeping busy, the family had daily devotions after breakfast each morning. Everybody in the family had their chores, Florence had to look after the younger ones but could not really manage the youngest, two tear old Eleanor who was sent to live with relatives in Montreal – two hours’ drive away.

Archie and his father
Archie and his father on the hay wagon at Avonmore Farm – 1926

Hector grew up with the minimum input, unlike Archie, he was not too fond of school although he was a quick learner and loved to be busy.

Florence recalls that after his mother died, Hector decided to be a dog; and he crawled around the floor refusing to sit at the table for meal times and refusing to speak. His food was placed on a plate and the floor. He kept this up for several days before giving up.

Another example of his vivid imagination is that he always referred to thunder as ‘God moving furniture upstairs’.

He was also a fairly pragmatic child, one day on a visit to the Fairground his father gave him 25 cents. At the end of the outing, the family were unable to find Hector and on returning home found him there. When questioned, Hector explained that he had spent his money so decided to go home as there was no more of interest to him.

The post war years on the farm were hard, DL could not get help and his solution was to take Archie out of school, a move he always regretted but one that made him determined to see the other children had a good education. It was a half mile walk to school which the children undertook four times a day in all weathers prompting them to debate whether the wind was colder from the North or the East. The family decided the spring walks were the best once the snow had left the road and the ditches were full of water. Alice made the best use of school and graduated from High School at the age of 15. She succeeded to combine school work with her farm chores.

DL’s sister Marjorie was a great support and comfort, she helped with the family, mending clothes and having them around on Sunday mornings after church, a treat enjoyed by all the family.

Although not keen on academic learning, Hector had an inquisitive mind, he would take things apart only to rebuild them, like a watch he purchased from Eaton’s Mail Order Store for $2.50. Unfortunately, his remodelling was not always successful. The resourceful Hector returned the watch to the store saying it was unsatisfactory and requested a pair of roller skates instead. He enclosed an extra 50 cents to cover the extra expense. Hector then tried to roller skate from home to town in two minutes, a feat he never managed to achieve.

When given a guitar, Hector taught himself to play and annotated a hymn book with all the chords he would need.

He loved carpentry and making things. The family recall how he made a device to open the gate for the cows. Among other things DL maintained a herd of cows and shipped his milk to Montreal by train. Each evening, Hector had to drive the old horse, Minnie down to the station to collect the milk churns and his friends would join him for the trip home on the cart.

His cousin Howard McMillan recalls:

“He took an 8-day clock and fixed it somehow so it would ring every 35 minutes.”

This ensured his teachers ended class on time.

The young Hector was also a good shot with a rifle, the story goes that his father, DL, planted a four acre field with corn, but no sooner had the field been planted then the crows descended. Hector borrowed a rifle and leaning out from a small upstairs window proceeded to shoot at the crows. To his amazement, he was successful. He rushed out across the field, retrieved the dead crow and strung it up on a post so everyone could see.

As a teen-ager, Hector had access to the “Essex,” the family car. Sometimes his home-coming at night was late, much to his father’s consternation. Hector got around the problem by a little experiment. He was able to establish his travelling speed in the Essex to the point that he could cut off the motor a safe distance down the road and drive in the laneway and into the garage adjoining the home without detection.

Cousins from western Canada visited the McMillan farm from time to time, many of them either proceeding to the foreign mission fields or returning therefrom. In the year of Hector’s graduation in 1936 from Avonmore High School, Rev. and Mrs Elmer V. Thompson stopped on the way from Cuba. A seed was planted in Hector’s heart, and he soon decided to enroll as a student of the Prairie Bible Institute of Three Hills, Alberta, and institute born out of the religious zeal of his own relatives in western Canada.

Having felt all along that a God of love would surely take him to heaven, he was surprised as a new student in that western school on the prairies to learn that, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). Two days before school commenced Hector took Christ as his Substitute and was thus set free from the wrath of God. Later he recalled, “I was filled with joy to realize the answer to my mother’s prayer.”

Hector knew that simply being brought up in a Christian environment was not sufficient to truly be a Christian himself and his aim was to be sure all his family had this understanding. One day, visiting his father’s farm on a break from the Bible Institute, his father handed him the bible to read for the morning Scripture reading session. He read a passage from Proverbs, chapter 14 in such a way that his sister, Florence, found herself suddenly taking notice of what was being said about a man’s own opinion of what was good enough in life was not in fact enough. This thought stayed with her for several months until one day, back in Montreal where she lived with her family, Hector arrived for a visit and after some discussion, bible reading and prayer, she too committed her life the Lord. Hector later writes to her about his conviction that having surrendered his will to the Lord he will find perfect happiness, even though that would mean

“Misunderstanding, being called a fool and untold persecution and shame. But this is the road my Saviour trod for me so I must take up my cross and follow Him”.

Whilst at the Prairie Bible Institute, Hector writes to his sister Florence, February 1940:

“I’ll be reading Acts tonight. What a sermon Stephen preached just before his death! In fact, it caused his death. I trust I shall also be faithful even unto death, and I shall have a crown of life. I know you are joining in prayer that the rest of the family might be saved.”

He knows his father really would like him to join him on the farm and writes:

I cannot content myself with anything less than preaching the unsearchable riches of Christ. The task before me is mountainous and many have turned back. No earthly syndicate pays dividends like the Lord and Master who sends us into this spiritual warfare. He equips us, protects us, encourages and corrects us and finally, rewards us with a crown of Glory just for being faithful for a few short years.

Hector washing clothes at PBI.

Oh, Florence, I love Him and want to be His bond slave, even though my heart and flesh cringe and tug the other way. Do pray that I may fit God’s uniform of righteousness.

At the end of his four years of training at the Bible Institute he is convinced that his mission in life is to work in Brazil. The Unevangelized Fields Mission consider him as a candidate for missionary service and he then spends a year at the Mission Medical Institute in Toronto where he gains valuable experience in the care of the sick. He is invited to join a handful of other candidates, who also wanted to work in Brazil, at the mission headquarters in Toronto and there he is asked to go to the railway station to meet another of the candidates, Ione Reed, and bring her back to the headquarters.

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