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Timmies is God: A Look at Tim Hortons Within Canadian Culture
Tims is the home away from home for the lumpen proletariat on life’s hard highway […] some saint of the double double and honey dip.
Ron James, Canadian Comedian
In a country populated heavily by immigrants, it is difficult sometimes to find a national symbol which might represent all citizens. For Canada, this symbol is a coffee chain. Tim Hortons, the first location opening on Ottawa Street in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964 – the Mecca of Tim Hortons culture – has grown to become a point of national pride. Pass by any Tim Hortons during breakfast, lunch, or supper time and the lines you will spot often will be out the door. How? Tim Hortons, affectionately referred to as “Tims” or “Timmies” by many Canadians, has indoctrinated itself into Canadian culture to such a point that it has grown to encase much of what it means to be Canadian. The love of hockey, the infamously harsh winters, family values, and journeys from distant lands to become Canadian: all have been adopted into Timmies’ narrative to ensure Canadians know that Tim Hortons is not simply a coffee chain. Through its commercials, it has established itself as a quintessentially Canadian phenomenon which understands what it means to be Canadian in every sense. It has become canonised into Canadian culture, and its presence in the lives of those residing in the Great White North has become almost essential to survival.
Tim Hortons as a franchise has done well through their commercials to tailor their image towards many types of Canadian. They offer a narrative towards what it is to be Canadian, unifying a country full of people who are not natural-born Canadians. Most important in this narrative is the presence of family Canadians hold dear combined with the remembering of immigrant experiences of arrival into Canada. This, combined with the use of reminiscing on experiences of cultural difference for those who were or are new arrivals in Canada has created for Tim Hortons an almost religious following of Canadians. One commercial, “Welcome Home”, narrates the story of an immigrant father awaiting the arrival of his family. He begins his journey by buying them warm winter coats and then awaking the day of their arrival to a snowy winter night. On his way, he orders coffee from Tim Hortons. Upon seeing his wife and children, after an emotional embrace, he tells his wife, “welcome home” after handing her a Tim Hortons coffee. Instances like this which happen so often in Canada relate to the population in a way most coffee chains do not. This distinct mark of Canadian-ness – the first Tim Hortons experience – is a key event in the life of a Canadian or visitor to Canada. While this author does not remember her own first Timmies, for example, she recalls many scenes in air ports just like the “Welcome Home” commercial, her arrival from foreign lands greeted with family, hugs and Timmies. As well, she recalls a notable date when both family from England and later a visitor from New York City arrived, completely naïve to Tim Hortons. Their visits to Canada were not complete without a visit to Timmies. This sacred induction into Canadian culture is a reminder to the almost religious presence of Tim Hortons to Canadians, as one is not fully Canadian without the Timmies experience. An almost communion-like event, the first Timmies intake marks a distinct moment for any new arrival: it marks you as part of a wider community of Canadians, working to create a nation of hockey lovers, snow-survivors, and finally, people working to support families, both abroad and in Canada.
Sitting in class in England, a young man walked into our English class. The room went silent. Why? He was carrying a Tim Hortons cup. Not travel mug, not ceramic mug, no: the brown paper cup the Canadians in the room knew to be that of the sacred Timmies. Professor Smith, recovering, commented, “Sorry… I forgot which continent we were on for a minute there.” As we looked on in envy, he assured us, “It’s not Timmies’ coffee. My parents just sent me the cups.” Even so, we all looked on with longing. This brings to life a popular theme in Tim Hortons’ commercials: the Canadian abroad. While the red and white flag is an obvious sign of citizenship, a Timmies mug can be just as clear in identifying a person as Canadian. In another commercial, a young student from Canada studies abroad in Glasgow and, with his fellow Canadian students, sets up a “little piece of Canada”, decorated with a moose head, snowshoes, and the Canadian flag hung on a hockey stick. With all these Canadian symbols, however, it is not complete until it is stocked with a Tim Hortons coffee machine and coffee. This indoctrination into the Canadian notion of “home” has made for the Canadian an international mark for recognizing fellow Canadians abroad. Like a cross on a Christian, an image of Shiva for a Hindu, or a cap on a Jew, the Tim Hortons mug is a marking for Canadians which makes for the creation of a community within or outside Canada. A Timmies mug on a fellow traveller creates an instant camaraderie which Robin Cohen describes as “a sense of solidarity between co-ethnic members in other countries”. A distinctly Canadian phenomenon, a Tim Hortons travel mug can define a certain type of Canadian and speaks to a common notion of what it is to be Canadian.
Timmies’ existence in Canadian culture has grown to become one of impressive dedication. From the first ice cap of summer to the first hot chocolate of winter and every coffee in between, Canadians have come to see Timmies as a symbol of their togetherness as a culture and of what it means to be Canadian. By adopting the notions of family, hockey, immigration, and travel, Timmies has grown to mean more than just a coffee shop to the Canadian lifestyle: it is a place of worship to the great Timbit, a shrine to the cold winter days and nights, and a testament to the struggles of those people who have left their homeland to begin anew in a strange country. The plain brown mug which marks Canadians creates a community nationally and internationally, reminding Canadians what is important to their “home and native land”, and that somewhere, there is a Timbit with their name on it.
CBC Air Farce. (2008, March 4). T – Ho’s Rules of Engagement – Tim Horton’s . Retrieved April 2, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7nZ36rmAJBc
Cohen, R. (1987). Global Diaspora: an Introduction. Florence: Routledge.
Ferguson, I., & Ferguson, W. (2001). How to be a Canadian. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre Ltd.
James, R. (2006, October 27). Ron James on Tim Hortons. Retrieved April 1, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iv_qssv1Q1w&NR=1
Tim Hortons. (1008, June 3). proud fathers. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QINv6rebyTU
Tim Hortons. (2010, January 16). Tim Horton’s – In His Own Words. Retrieved March 16, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MfjstSTy9wo&feature=related
Tim Hortons. (2009). Tim Hortons. Retrieved March 10, 2010, from http://www.timhortons.com
Tim Hortons. (2010, February 28). Tim Hortons Coffee Commercial – Welcome Home. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BzmHwF2G4Vk&NR=1
Tim Hortons. (2008, January 14). Tim Hortons Commercial [Caribou House]. Retrieved March 15, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NuFLon26nMw
Tim Hortons. (2007, February 2). Tim Hortons Cross Canada Road Trip . Retrieved March 15, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q4cPKqC8ojA
Tim Hortons. (2010, January 8). Tim Hortons Sidney Crosby Commercial. Retrieved March 30, 2010, from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSlMIuOEenE
 (James, 2006)
 (Tim Hortons, 2009)
 (Tim Hortons, 2010)
 (Tim Hortons, 2008)
 (Cohen, 1987)
 Until very recently, Tim Hortons existed in only Canada. As of 2008, however, 500 stores have cropped up in the United States, eleven being opened in New York City alone. Here, I am referring to the phenomenon of not only its widespread existence, but its importance within the Canadian culture.