Canadian coffee chain Tim Hortons has been in the headlines of late due to the proposed merger/takeover by the Burger King conglomerate 3G for a whopping 12.5 billion dollars. In reality the merger means very little to the average Canadian wanting their morning double-double hit (double sugar, double cream). the acquisition is a simple change of business practices to intricate and dull to ponder here. Originally a small coffee chain founded by Canadian ice hockey player Tim Horton in 1964, the chain has since expanded to 4,592 coffee shops within Canada and 807 in the US. The majority of the US side of the chain hugs the US/Canadian border, offering travelling Canadians a homely place to rest.
The brand, for good or ill, has become almost symbiotic with Canadian culture, and lampooned in television shows like How I Met Your Mother. Being an expat of the UK, now living in Canada, Tim Hortons seems to me like the Canadian equivalent to a Costa Coffee, or a Greggs Bakery on a UK high Street. I have come to appreciate the subtle and homely architecture of their red brick buildings, and signature style red logo, which feels as familiar as the white on burgundy of the Costa Coffee logo, the white on blue of Greggs, and the white on green of Starbucks. They offer the same comforting aromas of burned coffee granules and baking cinnamon bread, miniature utopias of comfort and welcoming. And much like the Greggs wrappers that litter and flap in the wind of UK high streets, discarded Tim Hortons cardboard cups, and doughnut bags are everywhere. Hanging in shrubs and rock faces by the side of large and busy highways, crammed into a grates of suburban streets, and lodged under doorways of posh hotels and restaurants in downtown areas of major cities.
The Tim Horton debris has become an almost common feature of the landscape, as normal as seeing lilacs bloom in spring and snow on the ground in winter. The little Tim Hortons buildings are dotted throughout even the most desolate of Canadian geography, and clustered together in the denser metropolitan of Toronto, Ottawa, Calgary and Vancouver. Serving coffee and doughnuts to remote pockets of society and giving the early morning city commuter an extra skip to their step as they walk steadfast with a burning flask in hand. A Google Maps search of “Tim Hortons Coffee Shops” gives results that look like a strategic analysis of proposed bomb targets if a Coffee War ever broke out. In the harsh winters they offer a fake fire place, and a hot beverage, a mounted HD television with a constant news feed, and free WiFi.
In the snowy wastelands, the wide windows and warm glow that emanate from within looks deeply inviting and enchanting. In the humid and sticky summers Tim Hortons offers air-conditioned coolness and a sweet chilled lemonade with crushed ice. They become places of sanctuary in the horrid heat, and places of warmth in the frigid winter. Ultimately Tim Hotons is a quintessential Canadian experience, and a paradigm of the Canadian psyche.
Steven Lee Naish
Stephen Lee Naish is author of U.ESS.AY: Politics and Humanity in American Film (Zer0 Books, 2014)