Businessman passes away

Jim Collins
Jim Collins

WELL known businessman Jim Collins former owner of the Niagara Hot Food Bar and founder of the website, died last Thursday November 29, at the age of 77.

A service of thanksgiving was conducted by Rev Brian Gibson in Railway Street Presbyterian Church on Monday with interment afterwards in Lisburn New Cemetery Blaris Extension. Dr Bertha Cowan presided at the organ and led the thanksgiving praise that included, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’ and ‘Abide with me’.

Born on May 1, 1935 Jim, who had been living in Banbridge for the past six years, was the eldest child of Isaac, a well-known businessman himself, and Doreen. He had one sister, Iris. His father, a former Elder of Railway Street Presbyterian Church opened West End Stores in 1932 at 144 Longstone Street.

The business was carried on during the war years with great difficulty and hard work. After the war, in 1945, Isaac applied for a license to sell ice cream, which was unobtainable during the war. An ice cream and confectionery shop was started in Tonagh Drive. In 1948 Isaac applied to start a fish and chip shop and was granted a licence to sell fish and chips, the license was in the possession of his son Jim.

The ice cream shop was then converted to sell fish and chips.

Jim went to Brownlee Primary School, and Methodist College, Belfast during the Second World War. At the age of six, Jim would see bombers fly over Lisburn during the bombing raids in April and May 1941.

In 1953 he emigrated to Canada where he worked for Bell Telephone Company, in Toronto before moving to North West Telephone in Prince George British Columbia in 1956. He lived at Dawson Creek and Fort St John.

In 1957, he married in Prince George and had two sons, Brian James, in 1958, and Darryl William who was born in Northern Ireland. Tragedy struck the family just ten years ago when Brian - then 44 - who lived in Lisburn, a married father-of-two, was killed in a boating accident on New Year’s Eve 2002. He had been working regularly on an oil rig off the coast of Iran and was out swimming with a friend, when the keen sportsman and rugby fanatic was struck and killed by a speed boat driven by two young boys.

Jim returned to Prince George and worked with North West Telephone in Port Alberni, Vancouver Island. He then moved to Canadian Marconi and worked on the mid-Canada early warning line in Northern Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba.

Jim moved frequently with his family to work in Great Whale River and Winisk in Ontario and Schefferville and in Quebec, including a period in Hopedale Labrador and on Bear Island in Hudson Bay.

During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 he was in an early warning station and told family and friends later just how close he felt the world came to an end during the nuclear stand-off between the Americans and the Russians.

Jim returned to Northern Ireland in 1963, to work along with his father Isaac in the family business, a general store and post office on Longstone Street.

Bringing his experiences of the fast-growing Canadian fast food industry, he took over the family business and renamed it Niagara Hot Food Bar (now Mr Thoms) at the corner of Longstone Street and Tonagh Park, where his parents lived. When Isaac retired, the post office was sold, as Jim was more interested in the food business. The business has expanded and contracted over the years and eventually had branches in Lisburn, Dunmurry, Moira, Newcastle and Downpatrick using names such as Speedicooks, Niagara 1, 2, 3, 4.

Jim recalled years later that his father, Isaac, “fed many of the children of Lisburn, often for free when their parents could not afford to put food on the table”. The Niagara, which became a Lisburn landmark, was also the setting for many romantic encounters and late-night revelry for the people of Lisburn.

The name ‘Niagara’ was used because of Jim’s time in Canada and it was decided to give the new shop a Canadian feel. In 1964 it was decided to rebuild again, as the business was very successful

Jim married Elva Patricia Gillian on December 31, 1969 after a romance instigated by his sister Iris, who was dating another local man, Colin McCall. Not long after Colin’s brother married Elva’s sister, Lorraine, and Jim often quipped that if all of them were in a car, “there would be two brothers, two sisters and a brother and sister.”

Jim and Elva had two children, Lisa, born in 1971 and Gail who was born in 1973.

Jim provided a very happy and stable family environment and had to deal with the serious illness of his youngest daughter Gail her recovery and remission. Jim loved golf and was one of the founders of a small club-within-a-club at Lisburn Golf Club known as the Biffing Society where the members, who travelled to play in Scotland and all over Ireland, were referred to as ‘Biffers’.

Having successfully expanded the Niagara Cafe and Speedicooks fast food bars to Dunmurry, Moira, Newcastle and Downpatrick, Jim decided to retire in 2000 and sold each of the branches.

During his business life he was a pioneer of computerisation and even built his own bespoke accounting package to manage the shops. This passion for computers stayed with him long in to his retirement and even set up the website and in particular its Exiles Forum that has brought many people together with an interest and love for Lisburn and Northern Ireland from around the world.

Jim organised and hosted several meetings of overseas exiles when they returned to the town, including walks on the Lagan Towpath and lunch in the Hilden Brewery.

Jim passed away last week following a three week holiday to Lanzarote with Elva. He took ill and was admitted to Craigavon Area Hospital and then was transferred to the Cancer Clinic at City Hospital Belfast, where sadly he passed away following a very sudden change in his condition. Despite the best efforts of the clinic’s doctors and nurses Jim passed away.

Donations in memory of Jim may be sent to Marie Curie Cancer Care (cheques payable to) Ronnie Thompson Donations Account c/o 20 Ballinderry Road, Lisburn, BT28 1UF.