Born on October 19, 1930 and raised in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, Joyce moved to Hamilton Ontario at age 16 to find better living conditions than those of post-war Nova Scotia. He worked a number of odd jobs until eventually enlisting in the Royal Canadian Navy in 1951 where he was trained as a wireless operator. In 1956, Joyce joined the Hamilton Police force and served as a police officer until 1965. Once, while on patrol with Colin Millar (who would later become Chief Constable of the Hamilton Police Force), he responded to a distress call and delivered a baby. Joyce decided to get involved in the newly-emerging food-service industry and in 1963 purchased a Dairy Queen franchise in Hamilton.
Joyce entered a franchise partnership with Horton in 1967, and Joyce reportedly wrote "You must be kidding!" in reference to the clause of the one-page franchise agreement requiring rent in advance. After Horton's death in an auto accident in 1974, Joyce purchased Horton's share for about $1 million and assumed control of the full Tim Horton franchise.
Joyce hired a management team and began to franchise the company throughout the late 1970s until the 1990s. During the early 1990s, Danny Murphy, a franchise owner of both Tim Hortons coffee shops and Wendy's fast food restaurants in Prince Edward Island wanted to combine both franchises under one roof in a new development in Montague. Murphy asked Joyce and Wendy's founder, Dave Thomas (1932–2002), to be present for the opening.
Motivated by his own adversity in childhood and youth, Joyce's philanthropic work has always focused on the well-being of Canada's youth, especially those who face financial disadvantage. He founded the Tim Horton Children's Foundation, which sends underprivileged kids to camp each year. Joyce's efforts on behalf of the Foundation earned him the Gary Wright Humanitarian Award in 1991, in recognition of the outstanding contributions to the betterment of community life throughout Canada. Largely for his work with the Tim Horton Children's Camps, he received an appointment to the Order of Canada on October 21, 1992 in Ottawa. After selling his ownership of Tim Hortons, Joyce turned his sights to his own foundation, The Joyce Family Foundation, to administer his personal philanthropic work. The mandate of the Foundation is to support the social, economic and emotional well-being of children. Ron Joyce was honoured at a celebration in May 2017 for his combined gifts to Atlantic Canada colleges and universities amounting to over $52 million. The Joyce Family Foundation has also made significant donations throughout Canada and Ron Joyce has been honoured with several philanthropist awards.
Joyce has accepted honorary degrees from seven Canadian universities, including Mount Allison University, McMaster University, Cape Breton University, University of Calgary, Queen's University, Saint Mary's University, and University of New Brunswick. In 1994, he received McGill University's Management Achievement Award. In November 1996, Ron Joyce became only the second person to ever receive the Canadian Franchise Association's Lifetime Achievement Award. In April 1999, Ron Joyce was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and in October of the same year, he was named Entrepreneur of the Year for Ontario and Canada. In November 2005, Joyce was the 2005 Humanitarian Award Recipient by the Canadian Red Cross, Nova Scotia Region for his work with the Tim Horton Children's Foundation and for his continued support of education and health organizations across the world.
In 2000, Joyce opened Fox Harb'r Golf Resort & Spa, a five star, four Diamond resort/gated community. An airport was built as part of the new resort, replacing the nearby Tatamagouche Airport located at the Tim Hortons Tatamagouche Children's Camp.
In 2006, Joyce published his memoirs of his time with Tim Hortons titled Always Fresh: The Untold Story of Tim Hortons by the Man Who Created a Canadian Empire.
On 11 November 2007, the Bombardier Global 5000 Business jet in which Joyce was travelling crashed short of the runway at his Fox Harbour Resort's airport. Joyce suffered two fractured vertebrae as a result.
In May 2011, an unnamed woman in her mid-30s alleged that the Billionaire co-founder of Tim Hortons sexually assaulted her at his home. The alleged incident occurred when the woman, who is representing herself in court, spent the night at Joyce’s home in Burlington, Ont., so she could drive him to a medical appointment the following day. A $50,000 out-of-court settlement was reached between the two parties. In January 2017, the sexual assault lawsuit resurfaced as the two parties had different opinions on which the settlement was reached. Joyce's lawyers attempted to throw out the case, but was ultimately forced to face trial.
As of 2017, he is worth an estimated US$1.4 billion.