Class of 1991
Ray D. Wolfe was an innovative food industry wholesaler-retailer who transformed The Oshawa Group Limited into one of Canada’s largest distributors of food and pharmaceuticals.
Ray was born in 1917 and was introduced to the wholesale food business by his father and uncle, founders of Ontario Produce. In 1940 he joined the family operation and worked as General Manager before entering military service.
The post war years were difficult for Ontario Produce as larger grocery chains bypassed the wholesalers. In 1949 Ray offered his independent dealers a broader product line through the acquisition of distributor, Oshawa Wholesale Ltd. Two years later came a partnership with Chicago-based Independent Grocers Alliance (IGA). This alliance introduced to Canada the revolutionary idea of franchising. The move gave Oshawa’s independent owner-managers an IGA franchise that had all the advantages of the larger chains.
In 1961 Oshawa expanded further, introducing Canada’s first discount supermarket, Food City. It was the beginning of a growth period that brought acquisitions in Atlantic Canada, Quebec and west to Saskatchewan. Ray’s inventive approach to Oshawa’s ongoing challenges included entry into merchandise retailing. He introduced the Towers department stores and acquired the pharmaceutical Boots Drugmarts, now called Pharma Plus.
Ray presided over The Oshawa Group for 40 years. His sound, conservative management never lost sight of Oshawa’s central core, the wholesaler-retailer alliance. His entrepreneurial spirit was the ideal partner for independent grocers willing to carve their own niche. The Oshawa Group continues to be one of Canada’s most successful companies, with revenues in the billions.