We lost 'a great Canadian': Hamilton's Ron Joyce, co-founder of Tim Hortons dead at 88

Ron Joyce, the man who helped start up the first Tim Hortons in Hamilton and built the donut shop into a Canadian icon, has died.

Joyce 'considered himself Canadian above all else,' according to his son Steven

Ron Joyce, co-founder of Tim Hortons, is shown in an Oct. 20, 2006 file photo. Joyce has died at age 88. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Aaron Harris)

Ron Joyce, the man who helped start up, in Hamilton, the country's first Tim Hortons and built the donut shop into a Canadian icon, has died.

He was 88.

"My father had a big vision and a big heart," wrote Steven Joyce in a statement on behalf of the family. "Through hard work, determination and drive, he built one of the most successful restaurant chains in Canada."

 From police officer to billionaire

The future billionaire was born in Tatamagouche, N.S., in 1930,  according to the Joyce Family Foundation website. He left home at 15 and moved to Hamilton before serving in the navy and as a police officer.

Tim Horton, who was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the time, opened his first restaurant in Hamilton in 1964. When the NHL player decided to expand, he chose Joyce as the first franchisee.

The co-founder of Tim Hortons talks about the early days of the chain, the death of his partner Tim Horton, and his controversial dealings with the Horton family. 6:36

After the coffee chain's namesake died in a car crash in 1974, Joyce took full control of the business and oversaw its growth into a billion-dollar business.

There are now more than 4,500 Tim Hortons locations worldwide, including 3,600 in Canada.

Stopped outside that first Tim Hortons location on Ottawa Street in Hamilton Friday afternoon, a customer named Nicole said news of Joyce's death left her feeling sad.

"[Tim Hortons] is such a staple in Hamilton and nationally and internationally, so he really paved the way for this type of cafe and restaurant. It's sad news to hear," she explained, adding her boyfriend is a loyal customer and can't start his day without a steeped tea.

The first-ever Tim Hortons donut shop is still operating on Ottawa Street in Hamilton. (Jasmine Kabatay/CBC)

"We're pretty avid Tim Horton's customers and just naturally with him being so in love with the brand I've kind of stuck on to that as well."

'Canadian above all else'

Joyce's family says he died peacefully at his home in Burlington Thursday with his loved ones by his side.

Steven said his father's work with Tim Hortons took him across the country and he "considered himself Canadian above all else.

"He lived large and enjoyed the great journey of life," he added. "He will be greatly missed."

Hamilton mayor Fred Eisenberger said Joyce was affectionately known as "The Donut King."

Eisenberger added the Joyce family name has been celebrated throughout the community because of his philanthropic work and contributions to local post-secondary institutions including McMaster University's Ron Joyce Children's Health Centre and the Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation at Mohawk College.

"Ron Joyce impacted the lives of many Hamiltonians and Canadians alike with his passion for the community and philanthropy," wrote the mayor.

A book of condolences will be available at city hall until Feb. 14 for Hamiltonians who want to pay their respects to Joyce and his family.

Passionate about giving back

The "entire Tim Hortons family," including restaurant owners, guests and staff are also joining the Joyce family in mourning, according to the company.

"Ron was a larger than life friend who not only helped create one of Canada's most iconic brands but was passionate about ensuring Tim Hortons always gave back to the community," it added in a statement that pointed to his work with the Tim Hortons Children's Foundation.

Burlington's Joseph Brant Hospital also shared its "profound sadness" at Joyce's death. Joyce donated $7.5 million to support the hospital's redevelopment and expansion.

"We have lost a great Canadian and he will be missed," it read.

"We would like to extend our heartfelt condolences to Mr. Joyce's family and the many people whose lives were made better by Mr. Joyce's philanthropic support."

Joyce's generosity was "felt across the country," according to the hospital, with donations in support of education, healthcare and children's charities.

Joyce was named a member of the Order of Canada in 1992 for his work with youth. He also formed the Joyce Family Foundation, which is aimed at making education more accessible through scholarships and bursaries.

In 1996, Joyce sold the business to Wendy's International in a deal worth $400 million. In 2014, Tim Hortons was bought by another U.S. fast food giant, Burger King, for $12 billion.

with files from the Canadian Press and CBC Nova Scotia


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