Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Ulster roots of McCain Foods

Harrison McCain
The McCain food company is an international concern but it was founded in Canada by a family with Ulster-Scots ancestry.

In 1823 William Andrew McCain, along with his brother James and their sister Jane, sailed from Ulster to New Brunswick, one of the maritime provinces of Canada, in search of a better life. The two McCain brothers had come from Meenahoney just north of Castlefinn, in county Donegal and their sister was from Ballindrait, which is about a mile from Lifford on the road to Raphoe.

At first they worked as labourers but within a few years all the McCains in New Brunswick had obtained 100-acre land grants in Greenfield, near present-day Florenceville. They became farmers and would have kept animals and grown some crops but at that time hay was the biggest cash crop of farms along the upper Saint John River.

The situation changed in the 1920s with the introduction of potatoes and it was the potato that eventually launched the McCain family into its national and international trade. McCain Foods Ltd was founded by Harrison McCain and his younger brother Wallace, and the company was incorporated in 1956. They began making frozen chips, or French fries as they are known across the Atlantic, in Florenceville in January 1957 and since then they have developed a multi-national business, which employs thousands of people around the world.

In the early 1990s there were problems when Harrison and Wallace started to discuss who would succeed them in running the business. Each owned 33.5% of the shares and they had an equal vote. Wallace wanted his son Michael to take over while Harrison wanted to appoint someone from outside. The matter eventually ended up in court in New Brunswick and the judgment went in favour of Harrison. In 1994 Wallace was ousted from the board and leadership of the company went solely to Harrison. Wallace and his son Michael then moved to Toronto and purchased Maple Leaf Foods, a meat packing giant.

The McCain family are very much aware of their roots in Ulster and when Wallace McCain and his family visited Castlefinn in 2000 they were shown the original farmhouse where his ancestors were born. His wife Margaret McCain, who came with him, had a successful political career in Canada and she served a term as lieutenant governor of Ontario.

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