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That time Toronto got its first taste of Tim Hortons

Posted by Chris Bateman / December 11, 2013

toronto tim hortonsOn June 1, 1970, drivers pulled off The Queensway in Etobicoke and did something no-one else in Toronto had (officially) done before - order a Tim Hortons coffee.

According to the official version of events, six years after it was founded in Hamilton, Ont. by former Maple Leafs defenceman Tim Horton, the wildly popular coffee and donuts franchise had opened its first Toronto store at 853 The Queensway, and in doing so created a foothold for an empire in one of Canada's largest cities.

But the Queensway store was not technically the first Tim Hortons in Toronto - an earlier incarnation of the company fled the city amid falling sales and rabid competition in the 1960s before almost dying out entirely.

tim hortonBorn in Cochrane, Ont. in 1930, Miles Gilbert Horton - "Tim" professionally - was the archetypal hockey strongman and a bona fide star for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Over 20 seasons with the team, Horton lifted the Stanley Cup four times (the last time the Leafs won the cup Horton was on the roster) and appeared in the NHL All-Star team three times.

Horton's first attempt to parlay his hockey fame into a successful off-ice business came in the early 1960s. Unlike today, hockey players couldn't count on a regular massive paycheck and short careers led many to seek backup business opportunities for their twilight years.

Tim Horton thought his post-hockey career lay as a BBQ or steakhouse franchisor. His first investment, however, was Tim Horton Motors, a used car dealership in Willowdale that opened in the early 1960s and was run by Horton's brother, Gerry.

At the time, Tim Horton lived with his wife, Lori, in a Warden Ave. bungalow. The hockey star regularly had his hair cut in nearby Colony Plaza, a Lawrence Ave. shopping mall where Jim Charade, a Quebec-born businessman and jazz drummer, was running his doughnut store "Your Do-Nut" - later (briefly) "Royal Do-Nut."

Charade was in the market for a used Pontiac, and mutual friend Jim Griggs connected the pair. What the doughnut store owner needed more than a car, however, was a celebrity endorsement to boost his struggling sales. Sensing a common goal, Horton agreed to form a partnership with Charade with plans to franchise restaurants similar to Swiss Chalet and Harvey's.

Charade renamed Your Do-Nut "Tim Horton Do-Nut" - making it technically the first cafe to use the Horton name - and the pair opened "Tim Horton Drive-In Restaurant" locations at Kingston and McCowan roads, Lawrence Ave., Lake Shore Blvd. in Port Credit, and downtown at Yonge and Dundas in a building that also housed the company offices.

tim hortonThe Yonge Street store excepted, the restaurants were in the mould of 1960s drive-ins: a walk-up counter, few indoor seats, all anchored by a large parking lot. Unlike A&W, there were no carhops - customers ordered and bought food to their vehicles themselves.

Reading the description of the restaurants in Double Double, author Douglas Hunter's insightful history of Tim Hortons, the mix of offerings sounds confused at best. The Lake Shore location specialized in chicken (there was even a "Tim Horton Chicken"-branded VW van that doubled as the Charade family car) while the store Yonge Street flipped steaks and sold doughnuts.

The business quickly failed and the last store, on Lawrence Ave., closed in 1964. Horton didn't like to talk about the disastrous venture in subsequent interviews. "Let's just leave it at that. They flopped," he told Canadian magazine shortly before his death.

At the suggestion of Charade, the pair moved the company out of Toronto. The competition in Scarborough was fierce: There were already more than 30 drive-ins on Lawrence and Eglinton avenues in 1967 and rivals Country Time and Mister Donut were gobbling up the doughnut market.

first tim hortonsJim Charade selected a former Esso station at Ottawa St. and Dunsmure Rd. in Hamilton for the retooled company's first location. It was close to one of the town's major employers and sold coffee and pastries - a coffee and doughnut for a quarter and 12 doughnuts for 69 cents.

The original interior, as recalled by Hunter, was bleached white and purple with a lava rock wall texture. Unlike current stores, the first Tim Hortons had counter seating and a window through which customers could watch the some 40 varieties of doughnut being prepared.

There was peanut crunch, coconut crumble, apple and spice, macaroons, apple fritters and the Dutchie. "It just went gangbusters," recalled the first franchisee and store owner Spencer Brown.

The store was successful but internal strife would force several ownership shuffles: Brown sold the franchise back to Jim Charade and a heavy-drinking Englishman was installed in his place. At the same time, the company was restructured into an equal partnership between Jim Charade and Tim Horton. Charade had previously owned most of the business and Horton had licensed the use of his name to the company.

Accusations of stealing at the English owner forced the partnership to place a call for a new franchise owner, which was eventually answered by local beat cop Ron Joyce.

ron joyce tim hortonJoyce, a father of seven, bought the franchise rights with a borrowed $10,000 and opened a second store on Hamilton's Concession St..

Jim Charade, however, was almost broke. He quit the company and was closely followed out the door by Joyce, who sold his franchise locations back to Tim Horton, leaving the company a partnership between the NHL star and his wife.

Joyce returned to the fold following the opening of a third store in Kitchener. He bought Lori's share of the company for $12,000 and the business was restructured again, making it an equal partnership between Joyce and Horton. An arrangement stipulated the controlling share be held in trust and given to either Horton or Joyce in the event of the other's death.

On 1st June, 1970, Tim Hortons, now opening between one and four new locations a year, returned to Toronto with a location on The Queensway in Etobicoke, on the south side of the street between Royal York and Islington. The store is still there, though it's been extensively renovated since it opened to resemble match the universal Tim Hortons bunker style.

tim hortons 1970sRon Joyce became the driving force behind the company in the early hours of February 21, 1974 when Horton - twice over the legal limit after an evening spent drinking vodka and soda - flipped his speeding Pantera sports car on the QEW in St. Catharines.

He was ejected through the passenger door and killed instantly.

Horton became "a ghost in the machine of the chain he founded" in the apt words of Douglas Hunter. A stylized version of his signature is still the company logo but almost no reference is ever made to the hockey star in promotional material.

According to Hunter's research, his image was only ever used briefly in the early Hamilton stores. Joyce survived an acrimonious lawsuit by Lori Horton and guided the company to phenomenal growth and a merger with Wendy's in 1995. He is now largely retired from Tim Hortons and has an estimated net worth of $1.2 billion.

Today, Tim Hortons has 275 restaurants in Toronto, more than 4,000 worldwide.

Images: Tim Hortons. Lead image is a typical 1970s-style Tim Hortons exterior.

Discussion

35 Comments

Skye / December 11, 2013 at 09:38 am
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Another great history piece. Oddly enough, I went into the Queensway Timmy's just last week...who knew it was the first one in Toronto?
nice / December 11, 2013 at 09:41 am
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Met The Joyces in my time as an employee at the Southdown Rd location. Which was one of the original restaurants in Mississauga.

Couple of good guys.
Steve / December 11, 2013 at 09:55 am
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$1.2 billion... and Lori sold her share for 1/100,000th of that. Damn...
Scott Highet / December 11, 2013 at 09:55 am
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This looks like when the 1st Dunkin Donuts open but it is Tim Hortons & it is newer
Jeremy / December 11, 2013 at 09:56 am
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Awesome article. Thanks for posting.
McRib / December 11, 2013 at 10:20 am
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great article.

Regarding Hortons image being used in the restaurant however, I can remember as a kid that the restaurants had a photo (or painting?) of Tim Horton from when he was a Buffalo Sabre up on the wall. this would have been in the early to mid 80's, can't remember when they started remodelling and took it down.

I didn't dream that, did I?

Jim Norton / December 11, 2013 at 10:32 am
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The first image can't be from 1970, the restaurant style probably is, but the cars are all mid 80s vehicles. Notice the Dodge Diplomat at the left (used everywhere for taxis and police cars). Some locations with the old-time signs survived into the mid-2000s when corporate homogeneity finally claimed them.
Skye replying to a comment from McRib / December 11, 2013 at 11:24 am
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I think you're right. I remember seeing them in older Tim Hortons locations (read: the rural ones far from the GTA) until about the early 2000s.
Andrew replying to a comment from Jim Norton / December 11, 2013 at 12:15 pm
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Good catch, the Taurus is a pretty clear indication it's '86 or later.
Friar Canuck replying to a comment from Skye / December 11, 2013 at 12:49 pm
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I'm sure I remember seeing one as a kid in the 80s in Kingston at the Wolfe Island ferry.
Mike / December 11, 2013 at 12:57 pm
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I remember grabbing a donut and chocolate milk when I was a kid at the counter seats with my dad. They were fun to spin on.
Vinnie / December 11, 2013 at 01:08 pm
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worst coffee ever - like brown crayons melted in water, crappy template-based donuts, nothing but mass produced garbage. This place should be closed down.
scottd / December 11, 2013 at 02:03 pm
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it is spelled Dunsmure.
swen / December 11, 2013 at 02:17 pm
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To get your daily dose of diabetes drink and eat at Tim Horton's.Most sugar saturated chocolate in whole world at least 6 spoons of sugar in there...Tim's coffee is pure diluted crap with fat and sugar (double double). Cheapest coffee and tastes good to my taste is Druxies and MacD. Expensive coffee and tastes as double burned coffee bean is Starbucks(it is double burned for that bitter burned taste so you think it is premium coffee)...The best coffee I had recently was at "Rooster" coffee place at Broadview Ave.
Tim Horton's is "Wall Mart" of coffee consumption and that is why is popular with Canadians.
Danno / December 11, 2013 at 02:25 pm
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I remember when Tim's was a place for old men to sit, read the paper and smoke (otherwise known as "the '80s").
Chris Bateman replying to a comment from scottd / December 11, 2013 at 02:30 pm
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Correct. I've just updated.
Jimmy replying to a comment from Vinnie / December 11, 2013 at 03:00 pm
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you got that right Vinnie
Matthew Roberts replying to a comment from McRib / December 11, 2013 at 03:14 pm
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Nope you're not imagining things, they had them at the store when I was a kid. It was a painting of Horton.
Bobo / December 11, 2013 at 03:25 pm
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An interesting read about a piece of Canadian history. Even for one who does not appreciate their fast food, mediocre doughnuts and lousy coffee.
stopitman / December 11, 2013 at 05:55 pm
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The first store is still kicking around at Ottawa & Dunsmure: https://maps.google.ca/maps?ll=43.244449,-79.818958&;spn=0.003544,0.008256&t=m&z=18&layer=c&cbll=43.244449,-79.818958&panoid=rdubL5T7Usn-up33g51s5w&cbp=12,305.67,,0,4.5
stopitman / December 11, 2013 at 05:56 pm
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Ah poop, BlogTO didn't link my link right... Let's try again:

The first store is still around: http://bit.ly/IGbtAl (Google Maps link)
NV / December 11, 2013 at 06:00 pm
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If anyone is interested Tim is buried in York Cemetery. (behind North York city hall) We always do a ''drive by'' when visiting relatives, often you see a coffee cup or a Titbit on his grave.

After reading the book ''Double Double'' I mentioned to the manager at the Yonge/Wedgewood outlet that Timmy had lived on Wedgewood Dr, sad to say she didn't have a clue about Tim, that he had even lived in Toronto. Very sad, you would think an employee would know a bit about the history of the company.
Factoid / December 11, 2013 at 06:00 pm
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Just FYI: in 1970, Toronto wasn't Canada's largest city. Montreal was.
Me / December 11, 2013 at 06:15 pm
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Tim Horton's. the scourge of Canada, a blemish in almost every town.
Steven / December 11, 2013 at 06:27 pm
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Don't mean to be picky but it's St. CathArines, not CathErines.

The story is very informative.
Dean Tudor / December 11, 2013 at 08:21 pm
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I patronized the Yonge and Dundas location. I ate there a lot in the early sixties before and after visiting Sam's and A&A Records. Burgers were a tenth of a pound (1.6 ounces) each and cost a quarter, with all the works, etc. Nice buns.
cathie / December 11, 2013 at 09:55 pm
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I wish they'd go back to the old days when every store had a real doughnut baker on staff and everything was made in-house.
PeterV / December 11, 2013 at 10:45 pm
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They cant do that theyre making sandwiches, soup, chili theyre making more $ off that then doughnuts. There sandwiches and bagels are good.

But yeah in those days, they all had that bar style seating in front of the doughnut wall.
v79 replying to a comment from NV / December 12, 2013 at 12:35 am
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Thanks for the info NV, I never knew that. My dad and grandparents are buried there. Guess I'll have to hunt Tim's last resting place down the next time I'm there.
Wardo44 / December 12, 2013 at 09:04 am
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The Harvey's a few doors down from this Tim's is actually 5-10 years older. It opened in the early 60s.
iSlumdweller replying to a comment from Wardo44 / December 12, 2013 at 09:42 am
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And it actually IS Canadian.
asshat / December 12, 2013 at 09:58 am
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-match
-resemble

pick one
Johnny Cash 2.0 / December 12, 2013 at 10:07 am
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Great post. My dad met Tim Horton at one of their locations back in the 70's, said he was a nice guy.
Edward Gorecki / December 14, 2013 at 09:37 am
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One summer day in the early 1970's, I was standing on the sidewalk outside a Tim Horton's in the West End of Hamilton trying to figure out if I'd been shortchanged on my purchase. As I stood there staring at the change in my hand, a convertible pulled up beside me and the guy in the passenger seat, with a crew cut and huge biceps, asked me if there was anything wrong. When I mumbled that I thought I'd been overcharged by 50 cents, the guy handed me two quarters and wished me a nice day. Yes, it was Tim!
Jeff Foster / February 23, 2014 at 01:15 pm
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Living in Mississauga in the early 70's the Hortons at Woodchester Mall or on Southdown Road were just part of the landscape. It is amazing how much it has grown over the years. The company where I work now was a big supplier to Tim in the 60's and recently I came across several personal letter signed by Tim asking us to extend credit to those early stores in Toronto as well as Ron in Hamilton. They are definitely a part of Canadian business history.

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