THE ROLE OF TIM HORTON’S IN THE MAKING OF THE CANADIAN IDENTITY
The seemingly simple question “What is a Canadian?” is often answered by blank expressions. The varied geography, regions and ethnicity of Canada, the second largest country in the world, leave its citizens searching for a unifying identity, grasping to things that could potentially help define them as “Canadian.” Canada prides itself on its multicultural society, which, however, raises a question: If what we have in common is diversity, do we really have anything in common? There are popular notions about Canadian characteristics, things recognised internally and externally as uniquely Canadian. The two traditionally considered the root of Canadian identity are the nation‟s love for hockey and its need to be distinct from America.
The fast food restaurant Tim Hortons has adopted these identity markers and itself become part of the answer of what it means to be Canadian. This paper intends to explore how Tim Hortons incorporated the few accepted aspects of the Canadian identity in order to establish itself in the Canadian market. This business strategy was successful because, lacking a national identity, Canadians adopted Tim Hortons as an icon that all Canadians could relate to: rich, poor, educated, blue collar, spanning all regions, ethnicities and even political party lines. The Canadian embrace of Tim Hortons has led to the formation of new “Canadianisms” that Canadians are proud to use and be associated with. Language reflects identity and Canadians‟ embrace of Tim Hortons as part of their identity is reflected in their vocabulary.
From its inception, Tim Hortons made a connection with Canadians. Founded in 1964, Tim Hortons was named after its co-founder, the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Tim Horton. For the millions of Leafs‟ fans, the very name of the restaurant evokes “memories of the Leafs‟ four Stanley Cup wins and the glory days of hockey of the 1960s” (S. Harper, 2009). Thus, the name Tim Horton (we discuss the shift to Tim Hortons below) was crucial to establishing a relationship with its Canadian customers.
This association with hockey, however, goes far beyond merely profiting from one popular sports team‟s (historical) success. Instead, “Tim‟s” evokes Canada‟s national identity. Hockey has long been described as an integral part of the collective Canadian identity. Having emerged in the late nineteenth century as a distinctly Canadian sport, it became one way in which Canadians could distinguish themselves from Americans. For this reason, “anything that appears to infringe on the sport and Canada‟s conception of ownership is highly contested” (Mason, 2002, p. 142). Canadians are defensive about
Strathy Undergraduate Working Papers on Canadian English, Vol. 8, 2010
“their” sport because hockey is the one of the few things that unites the people of Canada and transcends all their differences. Being such a young and diverse nation, Canada faces difficulties when constructing and defining its national identity. To build a national image successfully requires “a shared history and mythologies that best suit the identity imagined,” prerequisites Canada lacks due to its varied histories and patterns of settlements (Robidoux, 2002, p. 209).
Hockey, therefore, is one of the few things Canadians collectively consider expressive of their identity. Unlike the American sports of baseball and football, hockey is Canadian in origin and character: it resembles the First Nation sport of lacrosse in design and manner and was born post Confederation. The sport also incorporates Canada‟s most well known feature: its long, cold winters. Obviously, a game of hockey can occur on any surface, but playing hockey on a “frozen landscape perfectly embodie[s]… the life [of] a Canadian colonist” (Robidoux, 2002, p. 218).
In addition to being known primarily as a winter sport, hockey has always been associated with…