Today, in Canada, there is no business that is seen as more quintessentially Canadian than Tim Horton’s. While the company has had recent backlash due to its treatment and poor pay of workers, this podcast is not about that.
No, this podcast is taking us back in time to the 1960s and 1970s, when Tim Horton’s was just a small business slowly growing from the name of a hockey player.
This is the story of Tim Horton’s and its beginnings.
Today, Tim Horton’s is found in 14 countries, with 4,646 stores but it all began on May 17, 1964, with one store in Hamilton, Ontario.
The original name of the location was Tim Horton Donuts and it was founded by legendary defenceman Tim Horton, who was playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs at the time. Tim Horton had initially tried several different business ideas including a chain of hamburger restaurants but none had staying power.
That was until he opened that first donut shop.
Soon after opening his new business, Horton met Ron Joyce, who was a former Hamilton police Constable. That year, Joyce took over the Tim Horton Donut Shop in Hamilton and within two years, two more locations were opened and Horton and Joyce became full partners.
This arrangement would continue until 1974, when Horton was killed in a car accident. At that point, Joyce bought the Horton family shares of the company for $1 million and became the sole owner of all 40 stores open at that point.
The expansion of the business went into overdrive at this point and by 1991, 500 stores were open. Due to the expansion of Tim Hortons, many independent donut shops and small chains were put out of business, while Canada would gain the honour of having the highest per-capita ratio of doughnut shops in the world.
Today, whether you enjoy the coffee and donuts or not, Tim Hortons is a Canadian fixture and the company, bought for $1 million, was sold for $11.4 billion to Burger King in 2014.
Like I said though, this isn’t about the donut shop as it is now. This is about those early years, from 1965 to 1990.
First, let’s look at Tim Horton himself.
Horton was born on Jan. 12, 1930 in Cochrane, Ontario and he would first learn to play hockey in Quebec after the family moved there in 1936. The family would move back to Cochrane a few years later and Horton would hone his skills as a hockey player. In his last game in Cochrane, his skill level was evident as he scored eight goals. At 15, the family moved to Sudbury and Horton began to play in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League, where he gained a reputation as a strong defenceman with a scoring touch.
In 1949, he was invited to the Toronto Maple Leafs camp and that would lead to a contract with the team’s farm team in Pittsburgh.
Eventually, Horton would get a three year contract with the Maple Leafs beginning in the 1952-53 season. Between 1961 and 1968, Horton would play in 486 consecutive games with the team, a record that stands to this day in Toronto, and win four Stanley Cups, including three in a row from 1962 to 1964.
He would be traded to the New York Rangers in 1970 after 1,185 in a Maple Leafs uniform. He would then play for the Pittsburgh Penguins until 1972, followed by the Buffalo Sabres.
On Feb. 21, 1974, he would lose control of his sports car while driving near St. Catherine’s, Ontario, and was killed. Several decades later it was revealed his blood alcohol level was twice the legal limit. At that point, at least for a time, all of Tim Horton’s images were removed from restaurants, which all stood had his name.
Today, he is considered one of the greatest players in the history of the game and is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Going back a few years though, most NHL players did not make a lot of money in the 1960s and with a wife and four daughters, Horton needed to find a way to make some extra cash. He would open a hamburger shop in Scarborough, and a car dealership in Toronto but it was that donut shop that has his name that proved to be the golden ticket.
Tim Horton had always wanted to have a restaurant. He would meet a man by the name of Jim Charade, a businessman from Montreal, who owned a donut shop two doors down from Horton’s favourite barber. The two men decided to form Timanjim Ltd. They opened four restaurants that served burgers and chicken, and then another that served something different, donuts.
When he opened that first Tim Hortons donut shop on May 17, 1964, coffee was sold for a quarter and donuts, only two types both created by Horton, the apple fritter and the Dutchie, but that quickly expanded until there were as many as 40 varieties of donuts to choose from. The original promo that appeared in the newspaper on May 15, 1964, advertised the business as the Tim Horton Donut Drive-In, complete with a picture of Horton. Coffee was sold for 10 cents a cup and donuts were 69 cents. While Tim Hortons today offers a wide assortment of items, only two items were sold in that first store, coffee and donuts. There were no timbits (those arrived in 1976), and as for muffins, cakes, cookies and soups and chilli, those would arrive in 1981, 1982, 1984 and 1985 respectively. Sandwiches wouldn’t be served until 1998.
The original bag used at the store featured a picture of Tim Horton, wearing his Leafs uniform, shooting three donuts like hockey pucks.
The fact that Horton was a star NHL player, with friends like Johnny Bower who were also star NHL players, helped a lot with drumming up business. In this clip from Legends of Hockey, his teammate Bower talks about how Horton would convince them to come to his shop.
For Horton, his donut shop was also a way to get a better contract on the ice, as this story from the NHL Network relates.
Charade would leave the company in 1966, thanks to a $10,000 purchase of shares from Joyce. This was perfect for Horton, since he could only spend about one day a week at the business during the hockey season. Joyce was able to come in and manage things. Years later, Joyce would say of Horton,
“He needed somebody who knew a little about the business.”
During one Hockey Night in Canada appearance, Horton would talk to Ward Cornell about his donut restaurant.
By 1967, there were three stores and a year after the death of Tim Horton in 1974, there were 40 stores.
Like the company or hate the company, there is no denying that since its debut in 1964, the company has become one of the greatest Canadian success stories.
As for that first store, today there is a small museum at the store on 65 Ottawa Street in Hamilton, where there is also a replica of the original 1964 sign, as well as a bronze plaque that commemorates the opening. It states, “This site is dedicated to the dream that lived in the hearts of Tim Horton and Ron Joyce to the commitment and dedication of the operators who have built the Tim Hortons chain; and to the people of Hamilton, whose undying loyalty has been the backbone of our chain’s success. This location signifies the history and heritage of Tim Hortons and will serve as a monument to even bigger dreams to come.”
Information for this article comes from Canadian Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, Globe and Mail, CTV, CBC Archives, National Post, Kevin Shea Hockey,