05/24/2013 01:23 EDT | Updated 07/24/2013 05:12 EDT

Philanthropist, father of Browns Shoes, dies at 85

Montreal retail icon and philanthropist Morton Brownstein has died at the age of 85.

Brownstein was responsible for transforming his father's shoe shop into Browns Shoes, which now has more than 40 outlets across Canada.

The Brownstein family business was founded in Montreal in 1940 and today the company is headed by Morton’s son, Michael.

Brownstein died on Thursday, at his home. He had been suffering from kidney cancer and his health had deteriorated following an operation in December.

Known for his philanthropy, Brownstein helped raise money for Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, whose emergency department is now named for him and his wife, Bernice Greenfeld.

Brownstein was also a staunch defender of English rights in the province, having fought a court battle against the controversial Bill 101 declaration, which mandated French as the only language allowed on commercial signs.

He took his case all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada, and in 1988 the court ruled that English could not be prohibited altogether, although the province could require businesses to use French as the more prominent language.