Histories of the McCain frozen food empire usually point out that the business began in the small New Brunswick community of Florenceville back in 1956. But the McCain family actually started growing potatoes in the province in 1910.

Company co-founder Harrison McCain, who died late Thursday, once told an interviewer it was only natural that he would end up in the same business.

"That's our background," he said. "Our father was a farmer, a potato dealer and a farmer. Our grandfather was a farmer. Our great-grandfather was a farmer and a land-clearer. He saw a piece of woods, cleared a farm and started growing potatoes."

The McCains, of course, were destined to expand the business well beyond the raw potato.

While they were in their 20s, Harrison and his brother Wallace decided to expand into frozen french fries.

With some help from the New Brunswick government, they built a plant in 1956. In its first year, the company's 30 employees produced about 1500 pounds of packaged frozen french fries an hour and earned sales of $152,678.

By the early-1960s, their company had captured most of the frozen french fry market in Canada, transforming the area around Forenceville into one of the most prosperous parts of the province.

They decided to expand to England in 1965, bypassing the United States because the market there was dominated by established producers.

Steady growth continued, and by October 2003, the company was the world's biggest frozen french fry maker, employing 20,000 people on six continents. The firm had sales of $6.4 billion in everything from pizza to juice to desserts.

Succession problems

But even as the company became a huge success, the brothers' story turned into a cautionary tale about the potential perils of succession planning at a family-owned business.

In the mid-1990s, the two brothers struggled bitterly over who should be picked to lead the company when they were gone.

Wallace wanted his son Michael to take over the reins of power, while Harrison resisted, preferring outside management.

The fight ultimately wound up in a New Brunswick court, which sided with Harrison.

Ousted from the company, Wallace ended up in Toronto, where he took over Maple Leaf Foods with sons Michael and Scott.

In 1995, Harrison McCain went outside his family to hire a CEO, tapping a British food executive named Howard Mann.

Harrison named his nephew Allison, the son of Andrew, as deputy chairman in 1999.

Allison became chairman of the company in December 2002.

While Wallace and Harrison apparently never reconciled, their two families remained linked in the company the brothers founded. Wallace and his family still have about a third of the shares of the privately-held firm.

The McCain bothers gave back millions to the area round Florenceville, making the family one of Canada's biggest philanthropic families.

In the 2004 edition of its annual list of the world's top 1000 richest people, Forbes listed the two brothers among 17 Canadians on the list. Wallace McCain checked in at number 222 with a net worth of $1.8 billion US, while Harrison was 472nd with a net worth of $1.2 billion US.

In a 1995 interview with Dalton Camp, Harrison McCain said he loved working and building the company.

"As far as I'm concerned, business is the only game in town. There is no other game."