McCain Foods co-founder dies

Wallace McCain, co-founder of McCain Foods, has died at age 81, his family has confirmed.

Wallace McCain, co-founder of McCain Foods, has died, his family confirmed Saturday. He was 81.

McCain died at his home in Toronto late Friday. He had been battling pancreatic cancer.

In 1956, McCain and his brother, the late Harrison McCain, co-founded McCain Foods Ltd. in their hometown of Florenceville, N.B., turning what was initially a french-fry plant into a multibillion-dollar frozen foods empire.

Wallace McCain is invested into the Order of Canada as Companion, by Gov. Gen. Michaelle Jean in Ottawa in 2009. (Fred Chartrand/CP)

The company now operates in 44 countries and produces more frozen french fries than any other company in the world.

The two were following in the steps of their father, who owned a seed potato exporting business in Florenceville. They hired 30 employees at their new plant and sold $152,000 worth of fries in their first year.

But as consumers craved the convenience of prepared foods, the company grew into more than small potatoes — expanding into the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States in less than 15 years.

Throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, McCain snapped up European and American businesses, expanding into the frozen pizza, vegetable and fish processing markets, and juice business, and ramping up its number of plants around the world.

But after a feud between the brothers in the mid-1990s, Wallace McCain was forced out as co-CEO and moved to meat processor Maple Leaf Foods, where he was chair and his son the chief executive.

More than $20 million in legal fees later, the courts sided with Harrison, who later went on to name his nephew Allison McCain as his successor. Harrison died in 2004.

Wallace's death was announced by the board of directors of Maple Leaf Foods on Saturday.

"Wallace made an indelible impact on Maple Leaf Foods, our country and the food industry globally," said Purdy Crawford, lead director of the board of directors.

N.B. success story

New Brunswick Premier David Alward issued a statement calling McCain one of the most successful entrepreneurs to come from the province. He noted the source of pride New Brunswickers have in the household recognition of the McCain name nationally. 

Maple Leaf Foods Inc. Chairman Wallace McCain speaks during the annual general meeting of shareholders in Toronto on April 29, 2010. (Mike Cassese/Reuters) ((Mike Cassese/Reuters))

"Over the years, the McCains created and maintained good jobs for many people in Carleton County and throughout our province, and they still do today," Alward wrote.

"That is a testament to the McCain family's staunch faith in and loyalty to our home province. It also demonstrates the McCains' unshakeable dedication to the well-being of people of New Brunswick. For that, the McCain family can be assured that all New Brunswickers are deeply grateful to them," the statement reads.

Alward also remembered McCain and his wife Margaret, N.B.'s first woman lieutenant-governor, for their philanthropic work.

The Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation champions effective early childhood programs across Canada. The foundation has made record donations to New Brunswick universities, including McCain's alma mater Mount Allison.

In 1995, McCain was made an Officer of the Order of Canada for being "one of Atlantic Canada's most notable entrepreneurs" and was promoted to Companion in 2008.

With files from The Canadian Press