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Donald Smith, founder of construction giant EllisDon, dies at 89

The Don in construction giant EllisDon Corp. died early Tuesday morning at age 89.

Donald Smith's seven children and wife Joan, a former Ontario politician, each had a chance to say goodbye to him over the last week as his health deteriorated during a hospital stay.

Mr. Smith, whose mother moved the family from Alberta to Toronto in search of work after Mr. Smith's father died when he was six, created EllisDon with his brother David Ellis Smith in London, Ont., on April Fools' Day in 1951. They took it from a little shop that worked on house additions to a construction behemoth that built the Rogers Centre (originally known as the SkyDome) in the late 1980s, featuring the world's first retractable roof on a stadium. Mr. Smith was also highly active in politics, serving at one point as president of the Ontario Liberal Party.

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"He's a legend," says former Ontario premier David Peterson, under whom Mr. Smith served as chief fundraiser for the party. "Everybody knows about him because he's an absolutely unique cat and he built this great business, but also did it in such a unique way."

EllisDon now operates in at least a dozen cities, working on the construction and upgrades of major buildings including hospitals, schools, airports, office buildings, shopping malls and notable projects such as the Art Gallery of Ontario's transformation.

EllisDon is now owned by Mr. Smith's children, including its CEO Geoff Smith, as well as other employees of the firm, a succession that took place in the 1990s.

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