It’s Time Canada’s National Identity Evolved Past Tim Hortons

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Photo by Justin Draper

here’s a lot of things that make Canada pretty cool, and it’s not just the temperature.

We have more lakes than any other country. We’re polite to a fault. We can claim ownership of Ryan Reynolds AND Ryan Gosling. Our universal healthcare, though far from perfect, is a whole different league than our neighbours to the south.

Yes, there’s a lot of things that make Canada Canada. But it’s time we take one thing off the list.

Brace yourselves, Canadians, because the words I’m about to say may come as a shock. But hear me out.

Tim Hortons isn’t that great. And it certainly shouldn’t be a defining part of our Canadian identity.

<This line is intentionally left blank to allow time for audible gasps of shock and surprise>

Tim Hortons is known across the world as a staple here in Canada. And this isn’t one of those unfounded stereotypes. Canadians really do love Tim Hortons — and not by accident. A 1996 advertising campaign featuring feel-good caffeinated Canadiana, like a coach rewarding his team with Timmies after practice, helped solidify Tim Hortons as the one and only true-north-strong-and-free branded coffee. It taught Canadians to associate Tim Hortans with hard work, with perseverance, with the feeling of coming in from the cold of a Canadian winter.

But the seamless glaze on the top of the doughnut has begun to crack. Does Tim Hortons really hold the necessary values to be considered Canada’s favourite coffee?

I’ll start with the obvious point — Tim Horton’s isn’t a Canadian owned company. Timmies is owned by Restaurant Brands International, which itself is owned by Brazilian firm 3G Capital. Yes, that’s right… A brand that is so tied to our national identity isn’t even truly Canadian. Should Canada’s defining brand really be an international conglomerate based out of Brazil? With so many local, and even large brands based in Canada to choose from, why do we still subscribe to Tim Hortons? But it doesn’t end there.

In 2018, Tim Hortons received harsh public backlash when an Ontario branch (which happened to be owned by the children of the chain’s founders) cut paid breaks, paid benefits, and other incentives for their employees. Is that really the message we want people to associate with Canada? A place where we don’t support our workers?

Now I know this next point is anecdotal, but it needs to be said anyways. Tim Hortons just really isn’t that tasty.

Now I’ve been known to gorge myself into a sugar high on Timbits as much as the next Canuck, but at the end of the day, the chances of your bagel being stale is about 50/50 (if they even have your preferred bagel in stock, that is). Plus, there is better coffee at most other fast food chains, and at almost every local coffee shop out there.

To be fair, Tim Hortons is certainly not all bad. The Tim Hortons Children’s Foundations “Tim Horton camp experience” has inspired over 275,000 young people, and Timbit Sports helped support 440,000 players in community sports this year. That’s a huge accomplishment, and it’s great to see corporations supporting initiatives that give back to their community. It’s something that more corporations should do, and I commend Tim Hortons for the work they do in this regard.

Plus, Roll-up-the-Rim-to-Win is probably the most exciting annual tradition in Canada (unless the Raptors winning the championship becomes a yearly thing).

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Picture from Justin Trudeau’s Twitter page

The issue of Tim Hortons’ place at the heart of the Canadian cultural identity has recently resurfaced, due to online outcry when our Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, posted a photo of himself purchasing doughnuts from a local Winnipeg doughnut shop. “Why didn’t he just go to Tim Hortons like a REAL Canadian?!” The public cried out.

Some argued that the lavish expense shouldn’t be covered by taxpayers, and Trudeau should have opted for Tim Hortons as a more economic option. Sure, Tim Hortons doughnuts might be cheaper, they are a multinational chain after all. But, as OhDoughnuts, the local Winnipeg doughnut shop, argued on Twitter, they’re worth their price.

“We are locally owned; employ 30+ staff who enjoy breaks and have the option of joining a benefit plan; we use local butter, eggs and flour; our doughnuts are made fresh daily; we do our best to pay a living wage & never pay minimum wage. Our pricing reflects our respect for our employees, the environment and our commitment to quality, local goods. We are a small biz that really appreciated the sale on a cold <January Monday.>”

I’m not here to say that we should board up the doors to every Tim Hortons from Vancouver to St. John’s. I’m not here to say that you’re a bad person for using the warmth of your double double to make it through the winter. Heck, when I win the car in this year’s Roll-up-the-Rim, I’ll probably take this post down and pretend I never wrote it.

But Canada has an image problem when there’s public backlash for choosing quality, local products over mass produced, international Tim Hortons. From coast to coast, we have fabulous local bakeries and cafes that are far superior to Timmies, who also support local jobs, sell fresh products and often buy local ingredients. If you’re in Edmonton, try Ohana Donuterie. In Ottawa? Try SuzyQ. Heck, if you’re looking for a chain, Second Cup is a real Canadian coffee company.

Canada is a quality place, filled with quality people and quality options for coffee and a snack. We don’t need to tie our identity to Tim Hortons any longer.

Justin Draper is a writer, musician, animal lover, political watcher and pun enthusiast from Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

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