The 50-year-old coffee-and-doughnut chain is now an international business, but it’s still Canadian at heart.
1. BEFORE DOUGHNUTS, TIM HORTON SOLD BURGERS.
It was Jim Charade, a man often forgotten in the history of Canada’s favorite fast casual chain, who first convinced four-time Stanley Cup-winning hockey star Tim Horton to get into the restaurant business. Charade had been trying to open a successful coffee and doughnut shop for years with no luck, but he thought that a celebrity name might be just the boost the business needed. Unfortunately, the Maple Leafs star was more interested in burgers than doughnuts. So they formed Timandjim Ltd. and opened a burger and hot dog joint in North Bay, Ontario.
2. THE ORIGINAL DOUGHNUT SHOP MENU WAS SUPER SIMPLE.
Hamburgers didn’t sell as well as Horton had hoped, so in April 1964, he and Charade opened the first of the Tim Hortons that we know today on the site of an old Esso gas station in Hamilton, Ontario. They sold 69-cent doughnuts and 10-cent cups of coffee, and there were only two different doughnut flavors to choose from: Apple Fritter and Dutchie.
3. THE REAL TIM HORTON DIED 10 YEARS INTO THE CHAIN’S EXISTENCE.
Very early in the morning on February 21, 1974, 44-year-old Horton died in a single-vehicle crash, just hours after playing a losing hockey game. Charade had already been replaced in the doughnut chain—which by then was the third largest chain in Canada—by a man named Ron Joyce. The year after Horton’s death, Joyce paid Horton's family $1 million for their share of the company.
4. THE MISSING APOSTROPHE IS PART OF CANADIAN CULTURE.
Tim Hortons was originally Tim Horton’s—as it seemingly should be. After all, the name refers to a doughnut and coffee shop owned (at least formerly) by Tim Horton and not a gathering of many Tim Hortons. But in 1977, after years of tense and sometimes violent demonstrations by pro-French Quebecers, the newly powerful Parti Québecois passed La charte de la langue française, or Bill 101, which made French the sole official language in Quebec. It became illegal for businesses to advertise English names at the risk of facing large fines; the apostrophe in Tim Horton’s is an exclusively English punctuation mark. So rather than adopt separate branding—on everything from signage to napkins—the company changed their name, worldwide, to Tim Hortons.
5. THE CLASSIC ORDER IS NOW IN THE DICTIONARY.
At Tim Hortons, you’re supposed to order a “double-double”—coffee with two creams and two sugars. Although foreigners don’t always get it right (when she visited Canada in 2006, local news outlets noted that then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered her coffee black with sweetener), the specific order has been enshrined in the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. In 2004, “double-double” was among 5000 new words added to the COD.
"We had to determine if it was used only in Tim Hortons doughnut shops or more widely," Katherine Barber, the book's editor-in-chief, said in a statement at the time. "We found evidence in the Globe and Mail, the National Post, the Hamilton Spectator and the book Men with Brooms, based on the curling movie." The dictionary's researchers also eavesdropped on patrons in the coffee shops to see if they used the term when ordering.
6. TIM HORTONS DOMINATES THE COFFEE, PASTRY, AND FAST FOOD MARKET IN CANADA.
It’s easy to see why Tim Hortons is considered such a staple of Canadian culture—the chain represents 76 percent of the baked goods and coffee market in the country and almost a quarter of all fast food.
7. TIM HORTONS HAS PARTNERED WITH WENDY’S, COLD STONE, AND BURGER KING.
For a company that is quintessentially Canadian, Tim Hortons has had a number of high-profile American mergers. In 1995, Wendy’s purchased Tim Hortons for $425 million, with Tim Hortons CEO Joyce actually becoming the majority shareholder in Wendy’s during the two companies' time together. But 11 years later, Tim Hortons went public and eventually spun off on its own again. In 2009, Tim Hortons partnered with Cold Stone to develop a number of “co-branded” stores that would take advantage of the two chains’ opposing schedules and seasons in order to share operations and real estate costs. But in 2014, Tim Hortons announced that would it begin rolling back relations with Cold Stone; later that year, news broke of another major American merger when Burger King announced its intent to purchase Tim Hortons for $11.4 billion. Although critics have complained that Burger King is motivated by tax breaks and Canadians are concerned that the American burger behemoth will compromise their favorite brand, the deal has since moved forward.
8. HOCKEY IS STILL A BIG PART OF TIM HORTONS.
Unfortunately, Tim Horton himself didn’t live to see how big his namesake restaurant would grow to be—that is, well over 4000 locations—but hockey is still a huge part of the brand. When the company celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, former Horton teammates Johnny Bower and Ron Ellis, as well as retired players Darcy Tucker and Wendel Clark, were on hand for the festivities. And current NHL stars like Sidney Crosby and Nathan MacKinnon appear in Tim Hortons promotions.
9. TIM HORTONS ONCE MADE RYAN GOSLING HIS OWN PERSONALIZED MUG.
While promoting Gangster Squad in 2013, everyone's favorite Canadian said that he’d always sort of longed for a movie tie-in similar to Burger King's Dick Tracy soda cups. The interviewer at Tribute.ca suggested (presciently) that Tim Hortons might be a suitable substitute. And so, Tim Hortons went and made Gosling his own mug
But—despite oodles of requests from fans of coffee and boyishly handsome actors—the mug was a one-off.
10. THERE’S A TIM HORTONS MUSEUM.
As part of the chain’s 50th anniversary, the original Tim Hortons location in Hamilton opened a commemorative museum dedicated to the company’s history, featuring retro memorabilia.
11. CANADA CONSIDERS TIM HORTONS TO BE CENTRAL TO ITS NATIONAL IDENTITY.
Plenty has been written about how Tim Hortons has influenced Canadian culture. There’s a book called Timbit Nation, and also a disparaging thinkpiece that adds a question mark to that phrase. There’s a 2014 thesis entitled "Canadian Patriotism and the Timbit: A Rhetorical Analysis of Tim Horton's Inc.'s Canadian Connection through the Application of Semiotics" and two books about how the doughnut is quintessentially Canadian (even though the doughy dessert didn’t originate there) that chalk it all up to Tim Hortons. When Tim Hortons went public in 2006, Adrian Mastracci, president of KCM Wealth Management in Vancouver, described the desire to invest as “a show of patriotism.”