Canadian food processing giantMaple Leaf Foods announced Saturday Chairman Wallace McCain, 81, died "after a lengthy  struggle with pancreatic cancer."

"Wallace made an indelible impact on Maple Leaf Foods, our country and the food industry globally," said Purdy Crawford, lead director of the Maple Leaf Foods board of directors. "He had a rare gift for business that was driven by his personal courage, love of people, and sharp insights.  His incredible accomplishments came about because of his perseverance, humility and belief in others.  Wallace's efforts to support his community, and those less fortunate, were tireless. He was an extraordinary man, with a huge heart and we will miss him profoundly."

Chairman of Maple Leaf Foods, and co-founder and vice chairman of McCain Foods, Wallace was a pioneer of the Canadian food industry, the company said.  With his brother Harrison, Wallace co-founded McCain Foods in 1956 and built it into a multi-billion dollar global French fry and frozen foods company.

In 1995, the McCain family, together with a financial partner, acquired a controlling interest in Maple Leaf Foods and transformed it into Canada's largest bakery and prepared meats company.  Maple Leaf Foods has 21,000 employees at operations across Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and in Asia.

Michael McCain, CEO of Maple Leaf Foods said, "Wallace McCain was an inspiration, as a father, businessman and humanitarian.  His incredible success in business was always balanced with the importance of family and community. He had unwavering values that defined him and everything he did. My family and the entire Maple Leaf community deeply mourn his passing, but also celebrate his life and the contribution he made to so many people."

Dale Morrison is president and CEO of McCain Foods Limited, Toronto.

"We hold Wallace close to our hearts," he said. "Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go out to Margaret and her family for their loss. Wallace was a visionary, a philanthropist and an icon of Canadian business, but to many of us here he was our neighbour, friend, colleague and mentor. His contributions to the success of McCain are immeasurable. He created many opportunities for many people. We will miss him. The best way I can think of to honour his memory is to continue building on the legacy he left behind. The spirit of our founders will live in all that we do."

McCain Foods Limited was founded in 1956 by Harrison and Wallace McCain with the support of brothers Andrew and Robert. Harrison McCain passed away in 2004. An international leader in the frozen food industry, McCain now employs 20,000 people and operates 50 production facilities on six continents. A privately-owned company, headquartered in Toronto, McCain generates annual sales in excess of CDN $6 billion. McCain is the world's largest manufacturer of frozen potato specialties and also produces a diverse range of frozen products, including pizza, appetizers, oven meals, juice and desserts.

Maple Leaf said Wallace is survived by his wife Margaret, his four children and nine grandchildren. Maple Leaf Foods said its board will determine a successor as chairman.