Peter Oliver, left, and Michael Bonacini, right, shown in a 2013 file photo. Oliver, the first name in the renowned hospitality duo Oliver & Bonacini, died Wednesday at age 74. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in May 2021.Peter Oliver, left, and Michael Bonacini, right, shown in a 2013 file photo. Oliver, the first name in the renowned hospitality duo Oliver & Bonacini, died Wednesday at age 74. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in May 2021.

Oliver, who also opened a number of high-end restaurants such as Canoe, died Wednesday at age 74.

The man who transformed Toronto’s dining scene, opening high-end restaurants such as Canoe in the downtown financial core to more casual spots like O&B Bayview Village in the suburbs, has died.

Peter Oliver, the first name in the renowned hospitality duo Oliver & Bonacini, died Wednesday at age 74. He had been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer in May 2021.

“Throughout his treatment, he maintained a positive spirit for which he will be forever remembered. He died peacefully and with a grateful heart,” according to a company statement.

Originally making a career as a stockbroker and in commercial real estate, Oliver dipped his toe into the food scene in 1978, opening a small sandwich shop in midtown Toronto called Oliver’s Old Fashioned Bakery. He soon began to build his reputation in the industry, including the opening of Auberge du Pommier, which in 1987 brought fine French dining to an inhospitable stretch of North York.

But it was a fateful coming together of Oliver and Michael Bonacini, then-executive chef at Centro, a venerated Italian restaurant almost directly across Yonge St. from Oliver’s sandwich shop, that marked the birth of the hospitality giant O&B.

Oliver was looking to open a restaurant in Commerce Court, an area largely barren of destination spots for big-spending corporate executives and clients. When plans for his chef fell through, he approached Bonacini. Together, they opened Jump on Wellington St. W. in 1993.

The 30-year partnership is behind 28 restaurants, mostly in Toronto, but also in Collingwood to Calgary, as well numerous event venues, a catering arm and most recently a foray into home-delivery.

“They were a team that worked well together, each bringing synergistic contributions to the company,” the company said in a statement. “A natural leader, Peter’s greatest strength was his ability to inspire and excite others, rallying the team around his vision and goals. As a business leader, he valued people and positive company culture above all else.”

Michael Bonacini, who was flying to Toronto Friday and unable to speak to the Star, posted on Instagram that in the early days of that partnership, “it was Peter who pushed me to set goals, motivating me for all the right reasons. He wanted to make a difference in people’s lives . . . He believed wholeheartedly that it was the people that made O&B. He gave people the opportunity to grow, encouraging them to become the best versions of themselves.”

Local chefs, from Rob Gentile, “what a legend he was,” to Claudio Aprile, “an undeniable impact on our industry” have reacted on social media to Oliver’s passing.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, Oliver moved to Canada in 1967 to attend McGill University. While he spent 45 years in the food hospitality business, he was also an active philanthropist.

In 1986, after his young daughter was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, he founded the Ride to Cure Diabetes, an event that has raised more than $70 million, and he launched the flagpole challenge, living atop a flagpole to raise funds. He also created the Leacock Foundation to support children in historically marginalized communities in Toronto and South Africa and was an advocate and supporter of the Ontario Hostelry Institute and local hospitality educators such as George Brown College.

Oliver, who, according to a family statement, relished time at the family cottage, leaves behind his wife of 48 years Maureen, four children and nine grandchildren.

“His two greatest loves in life were his families — the Oliver family, and the O&B family,” said Bonancini.

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