Amazingly, I can see it as though it happened yesterday – rather than 54 years ago. Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens. I’m in goal (I kid you not). The likes of Stanley Cup winners Frank Mahovlich, Davie Keon, Tim Horton, Eddie Shack firing pucks at me. As I left the ice, Tim Horton skated past, tapped me on my rear end with his stick and said, “Great shut-out.” Ahh, memories. I mean, Tim Horton. One of the foremost defencemen in the National Hockey League, one of the greatest 100 NHL players of all time, future member of he Hockey Hall of Fame. Yes, a memorable moment – but, 44 years after his death, who remembers Tim Horton, over the years gradually eroded for commercial purposes to Timmy, Timmy’s, Timbits. If you happen to Google Tim Horton, as I did last week, you will have to go through 16 items extolling the virtues of Timmy’s, its hiring opportunities, its various coffees, Tim cards…. before arriving at a profile of Tim Horton. Tim who?
But I did glean that Tim Hortons the coffee shop – the name variously butchered over the years from Tim Horton’s to Tim Hortons – has conquered the world with over 4,000 outlets worldwide, including Kuwait, Fujairah, Qatar, Oman, Taguig and two, two! in Cobourg, conjuring images of people asking in different languages, who in hell is Tim Horton?; imagining walking to the local Timmy’s in Fujairah and ordering a “syma vj nldoa oer e double-double?” But, with appalling PR, Tim Hortons tripped over a Timbit earlier this year when the new Ontario minimum wage law came into effect that saw its outlets, including Cobourg’s, impose stringent working conditions – no paid lunch breaks with a nine hour shift paid at the rate of 8 hours and 20 minutes. The staff of the Cobourg outlet on Division Street, protested vehemently, supported by customers waving placards and making television’s national news programs. Which surely was not lost on the store owners, Ron Joyce Jr. and his wife Jeri Lyn Joyce – formally Jeri Lyn Horton, daughter of the long forgotten #7. $14 an hour? Let them eat cake!
The Division Street outlet is unique, the only one in the world displaying photographs of Tim Horton, humanizing Coffee Mocha and double-doubles, though I doubt Horton would have approved management’s attitude. Occasionally, parked at Fisher’s supermarket next to the same Tim Hortons, I have watched the drive-thu windows as an endless lineup of cars moves through, wondering how the servers handle the non-stop pressure. Inside the staff are on their feet hour after hour, moving to stay on top of the demand – as, co-incidentally, the Tim Hortons brand dropped over 40 places in an annual corporate reputation-ranking of 100 companies Canadians most admire over the years. But, like a Timbit, the company was swallowed by Burger King for $11.4 billion (not chump change), and double-doubled through the corporate world, variously with Restaurant Brands International, Wendy’s, and a Brazilian investment firm, 3G Capital. The money keeps rolling in and, by god, the hired help better be satisfied.
Who was Tim Horton? Now, just a name over the entrance to a coffee shop. To most Tim Hortons’ customers around the world his name has no meaning. What started as an idea 54 years ago has become simply an ordinary place where we stand in line for a coffee – just like any other franchise coffee shop. The final ignominy? It took the Toronto Maple Leafs until last year to retire Horton’s #7 jersey.
Oh! My so long-ago moment of fame in goal at Maple Leaf Gardens and subsequent shutout? It was in another life as a cinematographer for the CBC. I have to confess I did have a half-inch thick plastic screen in front of me. The Maple Leafs should try it; next season’s Vezina Trophy would be a shoe-in.