Always got time for ‘Big Horty’?

Perhaps under ownership of the U.S. fast-food chain Wendy's, Tim Hortons is all business and less hockey romance. At least Tim Horton never shilled a hamburger or a chicken leg.

The Globe and Mail
July 12, 2004

Always got time for ‘Big Horty’?
I’m not sure what the disappearance of Tim Horton from Tim Hortons means to you. It’s been 30 years since his death, and new generations of Leafs fans don’t know much about Horty.
Paul Wieland

Horty, the icon, is no more.

It's more like Horton is a "Who?"

Perhaps it's for the best, as thinking of Tim Horton, the man, as a synonym for coffee and doughnuts seems but a faint glaze on the life of one the finest defencemen in the National Hockey League.

Even so, Tim Horton, the man as coffee-and-doughnut icon, has apparently disappeared from nearly all the Tim Hortons chain of some 2,300 stores in Canada and hundreds more in the United States.

His memory was kept at least a little bit alive in the original stores of Tim Hortons; they were so ubiquitous across Canada, they make cross-country travel comforting for the cruller-inclined.

But a recent trip through part of the U.S. and from the border at Buffalo, N.Y., through Ontario (as far north as Sudbury) left me startled at first, and then a little bit sad.

Tim had vanished from every Tim Hortons I visited. It seems there is no more holographic portrait hanging of him in each store, one that changed from a Maple Leafs to a Rangers and then a Sabres jersey when viewed from different angles.

This happened, according to a public relations staffer at Tim Hortons, at the request of his widow, the late Lori Horton. She was involved in a bitter dispute with Tim's original business partner, and wanted her husband's image removed from the chain after it no longer had Horton family ownership. But some stores still have the portrait.

Intriguingly, the first thing that de-Hortoned Tim Hortons was the loss of the possessive apostrophe years ago. I remember visiting my first Tim Horton's (possessive still there) in the early 1970s at Fort Erie, across the Peace Bridge from Buffalo.

I was the Sabres public relations man at the time, and had a reporter from a Toronto newspaper in tow. He was working on a story about Horton (the man) and his move to Buffalo, coaxed out of retirement to play for the late ex-Leafs coach Punch Imlach.

Tim showed up dressed as hockey player-cum-businessman: in a tan suit, with vest, and wearing boots to boot. The suit fit perfectly, yet it seemed much too constricting on Tim, who had muscle on muscle and, at 44, appeared to be 20 years younger (if you didn't look at his square-jawed, scar-lined handsome face, topped by a 1970's buzz cut).

A truck showed up at the store site, piled with lengths of structural steel, but a half-hour passed and the crew that had been hired to unload the lengthy trusses and support pieces failed to show up.

Horton took matters into his own hands. He persuaded the steel truck's driver to help, and they began unloading the steel together, after Horton had stripped off his tan suit coat, unbuttoned his vest and rolled up his sleeves.

I was in awe as I watched him move the heavy steel as though it were balsa wood.

When Imlach conned Horton into playing for the Sabres, Tim wouldn't trigger the deal until the very end of training camp because he hated the grind of camp, much longer in those days.

The Buffalo media surrounded Tim that first day. One reporter asked: "Tim, how does Imlach treat you?"

"He treats us all the same," Horton replied. "Like dogs."

In his final season of 1973-74, injuries and poor road play had reduced the Sabres' chances to make the playoffs to a long shot when they faced the Leafs in the Gardens late in the regular schedule.

Imlach, usually known to be a stern task master and hard-driving coach, had become a friend and allowed Tim to skip the team bus to Toronto for the game, and drive his racy sports car up the Queen Elizabeth Way. Tim was eager to drive it back to Buffalo.

He never made it.

On the QEW near St. Catharines, Ont., he lost control, crashed and died on the scene.

An Ontario Provincial Police officer phoned me at home about 4 a.m. to report Tim's death. Imlach was inconsolable, moaning that he never should have let Tim drive to Toronto.

I'm not sure what the disappearance of Tim Horton from Tim Hortons means to you. Despite his membership in the Hockey Hall of Fame, it's been 30 years since his death, and new generations of fans, Leafs fans particularly, aren't even very knowledgeable about Horty.

And as far as Tim Hortons employees, don't ask.

I did ask, querying dozens of Tim Hortons workers at stores both in the U.S. and southern Ontario. In this very unscientific survey, only one of those asked even identified Tim as an athlete, but not as a hockey player. The rest were clueless.

The Tim Hortons corporate public relations people couldn't explain why Horton the hockey player is not very evident in Hortons stores.

Perhaps under ownership of the U.S. fast-food chain Wendy's, Tim Hortons is all business and less hockey romance.

At least Tim Horton never shilled a hamburger or a chicken leg. I shudder to think of a "Big Horty."

Paul Wieland was the Sabres' communications director from l970 to 1995 and the team's practice goalie for many years. He is currently a professor of journalism at St. Bonaventure University, south of Buffalo, N.Y.


Brought to you by WikidFranchise.org

Risks: Canada, 20040712 Always got

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License