Melinda Park

Melinda Park puts her ‘Saskatchewan spirit’ to work

By Lucianna Ciccocioppo / Photography by  Nathan Elson

From the Fall/Winter 2016 issue of Nexus

Melinda Park, LLB 1991, cannot believe it’s been 25 years since she graduated from the Faculty of Law. “I was in Toronto last fall, and met with some of my closest friends from U of T for dinner,” she tells me via Skype from her home in Alberta. “We just looked at each other and said: ‘What the [heck], how did that happen?’” she chuckles.

Today, the Calgary securities and capital markets lawyer is chair of the partnership board at Borden Ladner Gervais, the first woman to be elected to the firm’s highest governing seat. Strategy fills much of her agenda “to ensure the plans don’t become stagnant, or worse, irrelevant because the outside world changes faster than you do.”

Determination is stamped in her upbringing, a mix of Austrian heritage and Saskatchewan spirit. It comes from her mother, who at the age of 12 voluntarily left her parents, siblings and homeland to join childless relatives in Canada in the hopes for a better life post-WWII, says Park.

“Talk about no fear; talk about survival! She gets on a ship, in the middle of winter that sails through a storm and ... every day, for two weeks, [her uncle and aunt] would go to this train station in remote Saskatchewan and wait for this little girl to get off the train from New Brunswick. Every day she did not get off the train. The one day her aunt did not go, is the day he still went.” And she arrived.

Such is the plucky Park background. Engaged at 18, married at 19, Melinda completed her last year of an undergraduate commerce degree from the University of Saskatchewan together with her U of T law degree, to graduate in 1991.

Who writes: “a die-hard Saskatchewan Roughriders fan” on her resume when applying to her first lawyer job—in Calgary? Melinda Park does.

“I became partner there. I had my two children there, and maybe part of it was we didn’t know what the rules were. Or what the protocols were. We just had to get the job done.” With a supportive family and partners, she took leadership opportunities along the way.

In 2002 that firm merged with BLG, and now she’s helping to “steer the ship, to ensure it’s not heading for an iceberg.” For her, that includes keeping a keen eye on the students coming in.

“How are we going to have a legacy that is about more than the current partners at BLG? To me, that’s just so fundamental.”

Thoughtful? Yes. Worried? No. “I’m seeing excitement; I’m seeing a lot of confidence. I think students and associates are much more exacting on where they want to be.”

She puts her strengths to work in the community as well, volunteering on the board of the Sheldon Kennedy Child Advocacy Centre. She hosted a community event at BLG to help raise awareness of preventing abuse in children and youth sports.

“It was moving the conversation from the police, from the social worker, from the hospital and putting it in a business function. For me, it was bringing the two important parts of my life together in one place.”

Did she think a quarter of a century ago that she might one day chair a national, 700-lawyer firm? “Probably not—but I never thought I couldn’t. Sometimes you scare yourself out of doing things instead of taking advantage of opportunities, where you could end up in a really nice place.”