Canada's coffee culture
By: Ben Robinson
The news of the Tim Hortons and Burger King merger spread quickly after it was announced two weeks ago. Canadians reacted with both joy and outrage as their beloved Tim Hortons was once again in the hands of an international company, after previously being owned by American company Wendy's from 1995 until 2006.
Since the announcement, media outlets have run wild with speculation about the success of a Tim Hortons’ expansion worldwide and how the merger will affect service domestically. There is no doubt that any time two multinational companies conglomerate it is a story of great economic importance. What is most notable about the coverage of this story, though, is that it has often been reported as a story about Canadian identity rather than the merging of two fast food giants.
For a long time, the lore of Tim Hortons has been integrated into the realm of Canadiana. The company has made a concerted effort to make their products synonymous with what it is to be Canadian in the minds of consumers. Past campaigns have capitalized on "Canadian imagery," including images of parents lovingly watching their child’s six a.m. hockey practice while sipping a double-double, or the more recent image of a husband bringing Tim Hortons to meet his newly immigrated family at the airport.
Is it not still “Canadian” if the onlooking father holds Second Cup while he watches his son run drills? Or if a husband greets his newly arrived family with Starbucks? Early morning hockey practices and welcoming newcomers were "Canadian" long before Tim Hortons was established. Why then have we let a corporation co-opt Canadian identity?
Herein lies the problem: Tim Hortons does not define what it means to be Canadian. It's true that their summer camps and support of minor league sports help many Canadians stay active, but its half-rate coffee and doughnuts are not at the heart of what it means to call this country home. In fact, no product should ever define a person, let alone 35 million people.
Canadian identity becomes corporatized when we associate it with nothing more than which fast-food restaurant our loyalty lies with. And Tim Hortons realizes this. They are taking the pride Canadians have in their country and attaching themselves to it to try and make a profit.
We know this even more intimately in Hamilton, a city that boasts the first ever Tim Hortons store and a newly renamed Tim Hortons field. For decades, the Tiger Cats played out of Ivor Wynne Stadium, named after a local sporting legend, and as with many aging stadiums, the rights to the name were sold when it was time to rebuild (ironically to a company bearing the name of another local sporting legend, except Ivor Wynne isn’t trying to sell you Timbits from the grave.)
Rather than allowing Tim Hortons to define our country, I think it’s important that we define ourselves by the way we as Canadians stand on issues of greater importance than coffee and Timbits. Let's continue to develop great recreational sports programs for our kids so that they can be active and healthy. Let's strive to be a place where newcomers are welcomed, whether or not Tim's coffee is involved. Let's be bigger than a brand.