From a young age, Ms. Emily Mak’s parents could already tell that she had the chops to be a lawyer. “I was opinionated, stubborn, and I liked to debate,” she says. “It’s funny now, because I really did become a lawyer, and I married a lawyer, too!”
Born and raised in Vancouver, Ms. Mak studied urban geography at UBC. “I’ve always been interested in why people live where they do, and the influences the built environment can have on the way people live and interact with each other,” she explains. “I also love maps. I’ve collected nautical maps, maps of places that I’ve travelled, maps of mountains that I’ve hiked. I don’t have a great sense of direction, by the way, but once I see a map, the place makes more sense to me.”
When she finished her undergrad, Ms. Mak thought of pursuing a career in urban planning, but she decided to give the LSAT a shot. She bought a few study guides, got lucky on her test score, and was accepted into the Faculty of Law at the University of Toronto. After graduating, Ms. Mak returned to Vancouver and started her legal career in private practice with a focus on real estate and municipal law. Then, she transitioned to in-house counsel for a local government where, in addition to land use regulation, she was involved with environmental prosecutions and regulation.
This past October, Ms. Mak started a new role at Southern Railway of British Columbia as the Director, Corporate Affairs & Legal Services, and she’s very proud to call it her dream job. “It’s a perfect fit,” she says. “Railways are about transportation corridors, how people and goods move, and the land uses that surround them. I couldn’t have mapped this out when I first started my career, but now, looking back, I can see all the stepping stones leading up to this point.”
Goods and commodities such as grain, potash, and gypsum arrive in the Lower Mainland on trains 10,000 feet long, originating from across North America but all with different final destinations. Southern Railway owns 125 miles of track providing rail connections and interchanges with the larger Class 1 railroads: CPR, CN, and BNSF. “We have rail yards in New Westminster and Abbotsford where we ‘cut up’ the unit trains, build new trains, and deliver rail cars to local destinations. We also transport goods produced locally and connect our customers to markets throughout North America,” Ms. Mak explains. “We describe ourselves as being the first and last mile of North American industrial shipping. For example, vehicles manufactured in Japan arrive on large marine vessels and dock on Annacis Island. So when you buy a Subaru in Ontario, we are the ones who would’ve taken it off Annacis Island, into our yard in New Westminster, made up a train, and then sent it along for the long haul out east.”
One of the reasons Ms. Mak is so proud to work with Southern Railway is because of their commitment to safety and the meaningful ways in which they realize those values. “We have an ongoing initiative where, for every quarter in a year that we go without a lost time injury, we make a donation to the Royal Columbian Hospital,” she explains. “It’s important for our workers to know that it’s more about their safety than it is about the company making or saving money.” Over the past six years, Southern Railway has donated over $250,000 to the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation.
Ms. Mak and her husband Mr. Jason Murray, a partner at the boutique litigation firm Eyford Shaw, both joined the Club about 10 years ago. “I worked across the street then, so it was a nobrainer,” she says. “At the time, I was putting in a lot of time at the office, building my practice. I’d come over to the Club for dinner, use the gym, wash up, and then go back to the office. The Club was ideal.”
Ms. Mak also organizes a conference every year for the BC Expropriation Association, which they’ve been hosting at TCC for many years. “We just celebrated the Association’s 25th anniversary here at the Club,” she says. “I moderated a panel discussion with founding members of our Association, which included the Chief Justice of BC. Even though we were in the Metropolitan Ballroom, it was an intimate environment and it still felt like a fireside chat among old friends. I had similar feelings about my wedding. It was the best experience, getting married at the Club. Back then, it was not yet popular to have a longtable-style banquet, so the Club had to figure things out. My mom did the flower arrangements, everything looked absolutely stunning. The Club brought together all of the best things about an intimate wedding, even though there were 150 people.”
“As my life has evolved, the Club has also evolved with me,” she says. “There was a point when I thought, ‘I don’t work downtown anymore; do I give up my membership?’ But TCC has incorporated family into Club life in a way that works for us: family dinners and weekend brunch. We bring our kids as often as we can. They know that when they come here, they have to dress appropriately, and they have to mind their manners. They know Uncle Keith, Uncle Nick, and Jean-Louis (he doesn’t like to be called ‘uncle’). As soon as my youngest turns 5, we are going to sign them up for Movie Night and have a night to ourselves; I can’t wait.”
The advice Ms. Mak will give to her children when they are a little older is the example she hopes she is currently setting for them. “It really does take hard work to succeed in life,” she says. “You can’t enjoy the fruits of what life has to offer without the labour. When you start off, there are going to be long hours and you have to make sacrifices. But now, I feel fortunate. I’m happy – I have my career, my family – we have built a good life and I don’t know how one can achieve that without having earned it. It’s not easy for my kids. They are in daycare and have afterschool care; there are nights when there is only one parent putting them to sleep; and weeknight meals are a bit slapdash sometimes. It can be tough for them, but I hope that I’m instilling values about hard work and persistence.”
Whether nature or nurture prevails, it seems safe to say that their children will also be bright, industrious, tenacious, headstrong, and perhaps a little bit stubborn, too.