Tim Hortons was sold to Wendys or Burger King or some other notable American fast-food corporation a few months ago, and though the news triggered panic, fear, grief and outrage in some corners North of the 49th, I think we’ll actually be better off for it.
First of all, Tim Hortons, believe it or not, is just a company that sells coffee. (Pretty shitty coffee, I might add.) That, I guess, and some donuts, a strange panini sandwich with painted on grill marks and a whole range of bland and oddly divergent food items that it seems to roll out at random every few months.
But that’s not what it really sells. Nope, its biggest asset is how it’s been able to associate itself so closely with our national identity – or that esoteric notion of ‘what it means to be Canadian.’ (If we’re being completely honest, it probably ranks up there with hockey and the CBC in importance, right?) Tim Hortons has shamelessly self-promoted the lie that, all across this immense country of ours, anyone can walk into – or ‘drive-thru’ – a Tim Hortons, grab a cup full of hot, 20-minutes-or-less fresh Canadiana, breathe in that familiar smell and suddenly feel at one with the hockey dads, zamboni drivers and, umm, CBC radio hosts between Victoria, B.C. and Saint John’s, Newfoundland. (Especially the hockey dads, zamboni drivers and CBC radio hosts living in the funny-named places like Flin Flon, Moose Jaw, etc.)
I hate to break it to you, but it’s so obviously total horse hooey. And to remind you of just how flimsy and contrived this idea is, have a look at a TV ad Tim Hortons recently broadcast to an American audience. (WARNING: You might feel shafted. You might feel betrayed. I bet you it will even break your heart a little.)
Weren’t you waiting for the narrator to reveal that the secret to the Tim Hortons magic is… Canada? Didn’t it feel like a parallel universe, like Canada no longer existed in a Back to the Future 2 alternate reality? Do you see now how they’re just selling us this idea: that their coffee, their honey crullers, their weird panini sandwiches with the painted on grill marks, their company, their entire brand relies on this shameless, hackneyed association to our shared experience. Without that messaging, Tim Hortons is just a boring, uncreative company that sells bland coffee, honey crullers and weird panini sandwiches with painted on grill marks.
There’s nothing intrinsically Canadian about Tim Hortons. We’re not losing part of our national identity. Canada isn’t somehow diminished because an American conglomerate bought up a coffee chain that couldn’t sell its products on its own merits but had to cash in on our own collective insecurities by purporting to be a symbol of our nation. Because, really, if our national identity hangs on a coffee chain, then that’s a real problem.