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McDonald's Canada founder George Cohon, who brought Big Macs to the Soviet Union, dead at 86

George Cohon, founder and senior chairman of McDonald's Canada, poses for a portrait in McDonald's Toronto headquarters on Tuesday, October 11, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov George Cohon, founder and senior chairman of McDonald's Canada, poses for a portrait in McDonald's Toronto headquarters on Tuesday, October 11, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
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George Cohon, the founder of McDonald's Canada whose efforts helped expand the fast food giant into the Soviet Union, died Friday night according to his son.

Mark Cohon announced the passing of his father in a post on X, formerly Twitter, Saturday morning.

"Last night we said farewell to my Dad. Our family, Canada and the world lost a remarkable man," Mark said in the post, in which he also shared a picture of his father.

Tributes poured in from Canadian political and business leaders following the announcement.

In a statement posted to X, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called George Cohon "remarkable."

"He was an accomplished businessman who never stopped giving back, and who dedicated himself to lifting others up. Our families' paths crossed multiple times over the years, and his passion for serving – and supporting – others was always evident," Trudeau said on X.

"Canada is better off because of George, and his passing is an extraordinary loss. To his family, to his friends, and to all those across the country and around the world who he so selflessly served: I'm sending you my deepest condolences and keeping you in my thoughts."

"A remarkable Canadian with a legacy the family can be proud of. Condolences," former Conservative leader Erin O'Toole said on X.

“Devoted to his family, devoted to his business, devoted to his country,” Labour Minister Seamus O’Regan tweeted. “His eyes always gleamed, his smile always broad. Time with him was time well-spent, and a time you’d remember for the rest of your life. He was that kind of guy. Our thoughts are with his family.”

"I read to Russia With Fries as a kid and always loved your dad’s story. So, it was a thrill to meet him one day in line at McDonald's. He was so kind to my 8 year old son, chatting about his favourite items and menu tips. And of course, with his biz card he bought us lunch. Such a mensch! He was a truly great Canadian. Very sorry for your loss," Daniel Debow, vice-president of product at Shopify, said on X.

As senior chairperson and founder of the Canadian branch of McDonald's, Cohon brought the fast food empire to the Soviet Union in a new era of optimism and political openness after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On opening day of the first McDonald’s location in Moscow, around 38,000 people had lined up for hours outside the store. However, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, McDonald’s pulled out of the Russian market last year.

Cohon became a Member of the Order of Canada in 1987, was promoted to Officer of the Order of Canada in 1992 and most recently was awarded Companion of the Order of Canada in 2019. . He was also awarded Russia's Order of Friendship in 1998 for his efforts in fast food diplomacy between Russia and the West.

"Perhaps if his name was 'Mr. McDonald,' he would be as well-known as the product he markets, but there are countless charitable organizations and community groups that have benefitted from his whole-hearted support, time and energy," his page on the Governor General's website states.

He was also a founder of Ronald McDonald House, was chairman of the board of the Ontario Science Centre and was awarded the key to the City of Toronto in 2012. 

With files from The Associated Press

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