> Tim Hortons: Strangely Enough, a Canadian Ritual

Tim Hortons: Strangely Enough, a Canadian Ritual

Greg Smith


Screen shot 2022-02-10 at 6.08.37 PM.pngTim Hortons coffee is as Canadian as it gets. The Constitution Act of 1867 declaring our country as being "one dominion under the name of Canada" was drafted into the wee hours of the night on that first of July, and Tim Hortons coffee was there throughout the night to keep the patriots awake. Even before then, when the bison roamed the great plains of what eventually would become Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the natives galloped around bareback wearing huge feathered headdresses, our ancestors always stopped by a Tummies' least a couple of times a day for a double double. And then the great Tim Horton himself took to the ice, sometime around that period, single handedly scoring thousands of coffee powered goals. Up to ten or twenty every game in fact.

In the present day, all true Canadian children grow up playing pond hockey to the cheers of their coffee-toting parents, scoring goals to the majestic backdrop of the Canadian Rockies.    


Let's try and sum up the Tim Hortons experience the way it has trickled down into the present day and age. You walk into a Tim Hortons store, take a passing look at the fresh looking calorie bombs and decide that no, you are here for your Tummies', and no doughnut has yet been baked that will get in the way of this truly Canadian ritual.  You order your double double from the knowledgeable looking old lady at the cash, exchanging a fervently patriotic glance with everyone within eye contact distance. Then you go to the end of the counter and wait for the teenager to mix your coffee into the iconic red cup, call out 'double double' and your hand shoots out just a fraction of a second quicker than the other true Canadians who are waiting for their own double double. And then it's yours. Are you feeling proud to be Canadian yet? You should be. What you are holding in your hand is a veritable piece of Canadiana. And as you are consuming it, you are becoming more Canadian with every scalding sip. 


If you believe any of this, or even a watered down version of it, it might be best to stay away from any sort of corporate history of Tim Hortons. It would simply destroy the beautiful illusion that we Canadians actually do have something iconic to call our own. For those of you who don't mind becoming disillusioned, or who are so already, it might interest you to know that Tim Hortons was actually founded in 1964 and only expanded into the current ubiquitous version after 1974 when Tim Horton, the hockey player who founded the franchise, died in a car accident. It was actually owned by the American corporation Wendy's (of hamburger fame) for a while in the 90s, before being spun off and going public in Canada in 2006. This unremarkable corporate history is considerably less romantic than the version which may still be embedded in the psyche of the less cynical amongst us, and gives rise to the burning question: how on Earth did Tim Hortons, the smaller Canadian version of Dunkin Donuts, manage to embed itself so deeply into the collective Canadian consciousness as a Canadian icon? 


My answer to this question may shock even the most cynical Canadian. I am quite sure that we grab onto the rare piece of fabricated Canadian pop culture (such as a cheap donut store) like a drowning man clutching a twig because we simply have nothing else to define us. More than any other developed country on Earth, our culture, popular and otherwise, is devoid of anything we can truly call our own. Our food is generic, our languages are borrowed, and our music is unremarkable. We have never had a revolution, never placed people on a guillotine in the name of 'Liberte, Egalite and Fraternite', and never had a president or prime minister assassinated. We have a lot of snow and a lot of empty space, but neither of these things can we claim as Canadian phenomena. Our country is essentially a patchwork of people who, for some reason or another, were forced to leave their home country at some point in time, and found themselves a decent place to live, work and procreate in Canada. We are not a country of immigrants; rather we are a country of expats, each community clinging to their original identity because it's simply so much more interesting than being identified as Canadian.


So when something like Tim Hortons comes along, claiming to be a long lost piece of your own identity, you and most other people living in this country will jump on the opportunity to satisfy you inner longing to belong to a proud nation. The fourth generation Indian and the eighth generation Scot will sit down with the second generation Vietnamese for a coffee, call themselves Canadian for a few minutes, and find some camaraderie in the truly Canadian act of drinking lousy coffee out of a red paper cup.

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