McCain Foods’ co-founder and Maple Leaf Foods’ chairman Wallace McCain on Friday ended a long battle with cancer at age 81.
Funeral services will be held Friday afternoon (May 20) in Toronto and in Florenceville, N.B. for McCain, who had suffered from pancreatic cancer for 14 months.
Former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna on Saturday was one of the first to mark the passing of McCain, who he described as “one of this country’s greatest entrepreneurs, one of its most generous philanthropists and a wonderful man.”
McCain and his brother Harrison, who died in 2004, “transformed Florenceville, a small town in New Brunswick, into the head office of one of the world’s most successful food companies. McCain went on to become an iconic Canadian brand around the world,” said McKenna, now deputy chair of TD Bank Group.
McCain’s “second act proved equally successful,” McKenna said, describing Maple Leaf Foods as “a multinational company and home to some of Canada’s best known and trusted brands.”
A descendent of Irish potato farmers, McCain was born in 1930 at Florenceville, where his father, Andrew McCain, ran a potato seed export company.
Wallace and Harrison McCain, backed in part by two other brothers, formed McCain Foods in 1956 and opened their first frozen French fry plant at Florenceville, about 120 km northwest of Fredericton, the following year.
Frozen food at the time was “an emerging convenience food with no major Canadian manufacturer,” the company said.
McCain expanded its frozen potato business internationally in the 1960s, entered the prepared foods and frozen pizza markets in the 1970s and added its juice business, among others, in the 1980s.
McCain Foods now employs 20,000 people at 53 plants worldwide (including 12 in Canada) with annual sales of over $6 billion in over 160 countries. It also owns McCain Produce, a potato production company with a crop nutrition subsidiary, and New Brunswick-based Day + Ross, one of Canada’s biggest transportation companies.
Worldwide, the company said, its potato plants now produce about a million pounds of potato products per hour combined, and are responsible for about a third of the world’s frozen French fry supply.
Wallace McCain served as McCain Foods’ president and co-CEO until 1995, when he was ousted from his management roles in what most Canadian media describe as a bitter family dispute between Wallace and brother Harrison.
Wallace McCain and his sons, under the name McCain Capital Corp., partnered with the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan to buy a controlling interest in Maple Leaf Foods from Hillsdown Holdings in 1995, at which time Wallace McCain was named chairman of Maple Leaf’s board.
“Wallace McCain was an inspiration, as a father, businessman and humanitarian,” Maple Leaf’s current CEO Michael McCain said in a release Saturday. “His incredible success in business was always balanced with the importance of family and community. He had unwavering values that defined him and everything he did.”
Maple Leaf said in its release that the company’s board will name McCain’s successor as chairman at a later date.
“The best way I can think of to honour his memory is to continue building on the legacy he left behind,” McCain CEO Dale Morrison said in a separate release Saturday.
Funeral services will be held May 20 from 1 to 2:30 p.m. ET at St. Paul’s Anglican Church at 227 Bloor St. E. in Toronto, and from 2 to 3:30 p.m. AT in Florenceville at Church of the Good Shepherd at 8772 Main St. and Florenceville Baptist Church, 167 Burnham Rd.
An online memorial to McCain has been set up at which contributions can be made in McCain’s memory to any of five separate charities.