G. Wallace F. McCain’s destiny was to be in the food business. The youngest son of Laura and A.D. McCain, a potato seed exporter and founder of McCain Produce, Wallace descended from a long line of Irish potato farmers who came to Canada in 1825 to seek a better life in the new world.
Just over a hundred years later, Wallace McCain was born in Florenceville, New Brunswick, a farming community with a population of fewer than 1,000 residents. With five older siblings, Wallace learned quickly how to compete and make a place for himself. He had a quick wit, ambition and an eye for detail – traits which would serve him well as a businessman and as an entrepreneur.
Upon graduation from Mount Allison University with a Bachelor of Arts in 1951, Wallace joined Green Grass Insecticides as a Salesman. He soon moved on to Thorne’s Hardware, an Irving company, where he quickly rose to the rank of General Manager. Harrison McCain was also working for Irving Oil as Sales Manager. They had learned a lot and were looking to start a company of their own.
During this time, Wallace met Margaret Norrie, the daughter of Maritimers. Her father was the founder of the Malartic Gold Mines. Wallace was immediately taken with Margaret’s grace and intelligence and they were married in 1955.
Wallace and Harrison explored a variety of ideas for their start-up business. Then Robert, one of their older brothers, suggested they consider frozen food, which was an emerging convenience food with no major Canadian manufacturer.
The technology that made frozen food possible was in its infancy but both Wallace and Harrison quickly envisioned the possibilities and embraced the idea. In 1956, McCain Foods Limited was born. They initially focused on French fries.
The first McCain Foods frozen French fry plant was built in Florenceville and began operating in 1957. In that first year, the plant employed 30 people and produced 1,500 lbs of product per hour. McCain Foods earned sales of $152,678 that year.
Today, McCain Foods is a true Canadian success story and a proud global brand with annual sales around $6 billion. It has operations in 15 countries and its products are marketed in more than 160 countries worldwide. Today, one in every three French fries worldwide comes from McCain.
Wallace, a straight talker with a self-deprecating manner, often attributed the success of McCain Foods to a “team of truly great people…who cared a lot…and wanted to make a difference.”
And that desire to make a difference was evident in every strategic decision Wallace and Harrison made.
In the 1960s, the brothers began exporting their frozen potato products to the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States. In the 1970s, they diversified into prepared foods, such as frozen pizza, and opened a new production plant in Florenceville. In the 1980s, they expanded production into international markets with additional plants in the Netherlands, Germany, Australia, the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. This decade also saw the Company’s growth into juice as well as fish, vegetable and potato-based animal foods. Acquisitions defined the 1990s, along with millions of dollars in facility upgrades and expansions, including the purchase of the Ore-Ida Food Service frozen French fry and appetizer business in 1997.
These were busy times for Wallace McCain. He would often work 18-hour days. But unless he was travelling abroad, he made a point of eating breakfast and dinner with his family every day, and scheduled his travel to bring him home on the weekends. Both Wallace and Margaret believed that devotion to family and a strong work ethic were essential, as was dedication to church and community. This family bond endured through the years. All four of Wallace’s children live within 10 minutes of their parents.
In 1995, the McCain family, together with a financial partner, acquired a controlling interest in Maple Leaf Foods. Wallace was appointed Chairman of the Board.
In the 16 years since assuming control, Maple Leaf Foods has transformed from a commodity-based flour and pork business into a value-added consumer packaged goods company with more than 21,000 employees worldwide and sales of over $5 billion in 2010.
Wallace continued to serve as Vice-Chairman at McCain Foods and was also a director of Canada Bread and Brookfield Asset Management until his passing.
Wallace McCain’s many contributions as a businessman and humanitarian have been recognized with numerous honorary degrees and awards. Among these:
• Mount Allison University (LL.D. in 1973)
• University of King’s College (D.C.L. in 1987)
• University of New Brunswick (D.Litt. in 2002)
• Dalhousie University (LL.D. in 2007)
• Trent University (B.Ed. in 2007)
• University of Toronto (LL.D. in 2007)
• St. Francis Xavier University (LL.D. in 2011)
• Knights of the Golden Pencil Award, Toronto, 1988
• Gary Wright Humanitarian Award from Friends of We Care Inc., 1992
• Honorary Life Member, Potato Association of America, 1992
• Canadian Business Hall of Fame, 1993
• Officer of the Order of Canada, 1995
• New Brunswick Business Hall of Fame, 1997
• B’nai Brith Award of Merit, 1999
• Honorary Life Member, Association of Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of
New Brunswick, 2003
• Order of New Brunswick, 2003
• Canadian International Executive of the Year, 2003
• Canadian Manufacturing Hall of Fame, 2006
• Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2007 Ontario Lifetime Achievement Award
• International Horatio Alger Award, 2008
• Companion of the Order of Canada, 2008
Despite the accolades, Wallace remained loyal, humble and a compassionate man to those in need. He credits Harrison’s and his visionary leadership to always looking forward. “No matter how good Harrison and I, and our people were in our day, it should never be the same. Great companies renew themselves.”
As successful as Wallace was in business, he will also be remembered for making a real difference in the lives of many Canadians through the many causes and charities he supported.
Wallace was famously known for saying, “I liked making money, but I love giving it away even more.”
With his wife Margaret, the first female Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick, the McCains have contributed millions of dollars and countless hours to philanthropic causes throughout their lives.
They founded and annually fund the Margaret and Wallace McCain Family Foundation which champions and researches early childhood programs and policies across Canada.
Other charitable organizations that have benefitted from Wallace McCain’s involvement and the McCain’s generosity include, among others:
• Canada’s National Ballet School
• Wallace McCain Student Centre (Mount Allison University)
• McCain Chair in Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (St. Michael’s Hospital)
• Wallace McCain Centre for Pancreatic Cancer (Princess Margaret Hospital)
• Wallace McCain Institute (University of New Brunswick)
• The Metropolitan Community Church (Toronto)
• Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Toronto)
> Learn more
Wallace McCain - Entrepreneur. Visionary. Leader. Brother. Husband. Father.
Grandfather. Humanitarian. Philanthropist. Maritimer.
To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.