Monday, August 8, 2011

The New Brunswick McCains

(article from the Donegal Democrat Newspaper 2000)
SAINT JOHN (Canada) - Potatoes and the Irish love for farming have established a quiet, riverside New Brunswick town as the centre for one of the greatest food empires in the world. Harrison McCain, board chairman of the international McCain Foods Ltd., says this aspect of the Irish character lies behind the success of this famous New Brunswick family.
Harrison McCain
'Definitely permeating the Irish - and also permeating the McCain family - is a love of the land,' Mr. McCain said from his office in Florenceville. It is an inherited love for 'owning the land, and being in an agricultural environment and trading farm produce and farming and that kind of thing,' he said. 'That's what our ancestors came from, and they definitely had a liking for it.'
McCain Foods and its subsidiaries have more than 50 food-production facilities operating in 10 countries, on four continents. And the McCain Group also includes companies engaged in transportation, seed, animal feed, farming, heavy equipment manufacturing and other areas. It achieved $4.1-billion in sales in the 1996 fiscal year, and employed more than 12,500 people. Worldwide, McCain Foods has the capacity to turn out 346,500 kilograms of potato products every hour, company officials say, making this the world's largest French-fry manufacturer, with over 30% of the world market.
With his company operating several French-fry plants on the British Isles, Mr McCain can't get over the fact that in the early 19th century, when the potato was the staple diet of Irish farm labourers, each man gobbled up to 6.3 kg of spuds per day. 'My God, that's a lot of potatoes,' he said with a laugh, ' I wish they'd get them doing it again!'

The Diamond, Castlefin 2002 - Click to view
The McCain history in New Brunswick began when Mr. McCain's great-grandfather (William Andrew McCain) along with his brother James and sister Jane, arrived here in the 1820s. The two brothers had come from just north of Castlefin and their sister from Ballindrait, Lifford.
There is no record of the three McCains ever owning any property in Ireland. It is the great-grandson's belief that they worked as tenant farmers on someone else's estate. 'They wanted to get hold of some cheap land and own the land for themselves.' Within a few years of working as labourers, all the McCains in New Brunswick had obtained 100-acre land grants in Greenfield, near present-day Florenceville.
'The next progression, I would say, was that they were trading farm produce - you know, hay, grain, sheep, cattle, horses, whatever they could trade.'
The small village of Florenceville, New Brunswick, Canada is the international headquarters of McCain Foods Limited and McCain Foods (Canada)
For nearly a century, hay was the biggest cash crop on farms along the upper St. John River, some of which operated on barely more than a subsistence level. The picture changed in the 1920s, with the introduction here of an Irish tradition - potato farming. Instead of the tiny, spade-cultivated family potato plots which were the hallmark of pre-Famine Ireland, the New Brunswickers applied their farm machinery to grow potatoes on a mass-production scale. 'It certainly was a turning point for the area,' Mr. McCain said. 'Up until that time, farming that was done was chiefly, I would call it, living off the land.

'The original farming vocation was: you had a small farm, and you worked the farm and you kept a cow or two and some chickens and maybe a few sheep. You had pasture land to feed them in the summertime and cut some hay for the wintertime, and you killed some of your animals to eat. And you picked up what spare work you could in the wintertime cutting pulp or whatever for a little cash. But it was living off the land...There were certainly some cash trades, but I'd say the advent of the potato business, after it got to a considerable volume, was the most important cash crop that most farmers had ever had.'

And it was the potato, he said, that eventually launched the McCain family into its national and international trade. 

McCain Foods co-founders, Harrison (left) and Wallace (pointing) during the grand opening of their first McCain plant in Florenceville in 1957
McCain Foods Ltd. became incorporated in 1956 and began making frozen French fries in Florenceville the following year. The company entered the British market in 1965 and Australia in 1968. It made its first entry into the United States in 1969, the same year in which it opened its first English French fry plant.
The company has also gone into frozen vegetables, desserts, frozen pizzas, juices, meats, cheese products. It has food processing and distribution plants in the United States, Argentina, Colombia, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Japan and Spain, with an emphasis in many of these plants in French fries and potato specialties.

Article extract from : The luck, and pluck, of the McCains By Mac Trueman
McCain Photographs: © McCain Foods Ltd.
Castlefin Photographs: © Finn Valley Web Design
The McCain brothers' great-great grandfather was born in Meenahoney just outside Castlefin and emigrated to Canada in 1823. For some years, Mr Wallace McCain has been trying to trace his family tree and during his brief visit to Donegal he was shown the original farmhouse where his ancestors were born.

It is the third time that Mr. McCain and his wife Margaret have visited Donegal, but on this occasion they brought with them their two sons, Scott and Michael, their daughters Martha and Eleanor, seven grandchildren and three in-laws.

'My wife decided we would make this trip as part of my 70th Birthday celebrations but no doubt I'll get the bill,' Mr McCain quipped. He acknowledged that Castlefin had changed much for the better since he first visited Donegal in 1990. 'When we were here last fall we noticed a remarkable change to Castlefin from our first visit. The place is looking really well,' Mr McCain said.

Mrs Margaret McCain, who has enjoyed a successful political career in Canada, serving a term as Lt. Governor of Ontario, said that the local townspeople deserved the utmost credit for the improvement works carried out in recent years. 'Castlefin looks just like New Brunswick where Wallace's ancestors first settled when they arrived in Canada. They started working in the potato business, first as farmers and later as exporters,' she explained.

McCain Foods, founded by Wallace and his brother in 1957, has grown to become a multi-national business which employs almost 14,000 people across the world. On their arrival in the Diamond, the McCain family were taken on a walkabout tour of the village during which they were shown the remnants of the local narrow gauge railway which ran through Castlefin, and a famine pot.

Music was provided by members of the McElhinney family and Sean O'Neill while a dancing display was provided by members of Terry Lafferty's School of Dancing as Mr McCain and his family enjoyed lunch.

Books and flags were exchanged between Mr McCain's grandchildren and local schoolchildren before the McCain family boarded their coach once more, this time bound for Dublin and London before flying back to Toronto. 'We sailed over from Canada on the QE2 and the journey was just perfect. The weather was wonderful, just like it is here today. Do you get weather like this over here all the time?' Mr Scott McCain asked.

Article and photograph © The Donegal Democrat 2000

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