Welcome the arrival of the Canadian coffee chain overlords
This will come as good or bad news depending on your embrace of, or your aversion to, things Canadian: Tim Hortons, the coffee and doughnut chain co-founded in Ontario in 1964 by a hockey player of the same name (fun, perhaps apocryphal fact: he invented the slap shot), is expanding. At least, that’s the stated intention of the company’s head honcho, Daniel Schwartz, the chief executive officer of Canadian fast food conglomerate Restaurant Brands International, which also owns Burger King. “We think the Tim Hortons brand should be everywhere in the U.S.,” Schwartz told Bloomberg in a recent interview, after Restaurant Brands reported disappointing quarterly sales in the United States. “We’re always focused on finding new markets.”
Everywhere presumably means everywhere—though Tim Hortons fans can expect new franchises to pop up in Cincinnati and Minneapolis soon, according to Bloomberg. Naturally, this news was met with snark by at least one blogger. “Tim Hortons Threatens to Expand All Across America,” reads the headline on a Grub Street post, whose condescending tone is characteristic of the way those in the American press horde write about our neighbor to the north, to pinch an oft-used Canada cliché: Canadians have Thanksgiving? Who knew?! Justin Trudeau is cool? What a surprise! Trump is running for president? Run to Canada, where everything must be better! The default style of Canada-related journalism—which vacillates between seemingly benign disdain and aw-look-at-that reflexiveness—is more insidious than it seems (though Spy magazine is excused). When you peel off the sarcastic outer layer, what it’s really doing is dispensing casually xenophobic sentiment.
I think this tone represents a broader anxiety about Canada’s ascension on the global scene, at a time when Americans seem more anxious than usual about their position as a superpower. In the 1960s, the Canadian writer and public intellectual George Grant wrote a slim, devastating book called Lament for a Nation, in which he predicted that Canada would eventually lose its sense of cultural nationalism, to be subsumed by the United States. That didn’t happen, depending on whom you ask. But it isn’t a stretch to believe that the same anxiety that animated Grant’s writing has made its way into the American mind. Perhaps it was fine when Canadians overtook our comedy world, but now they want to control our food? Nu-uh.
For what it’s worth, though, I welcome the arrival of more Tim Hortons. As a former four-year resident of Montreal and a frequent customer of Tim Hortons during that time, I am probably not the most impartial observer here, but I still feel that Timmy’s—as it is sometimes affectionately called—is a valuable addition to the coffee-and-doughnut fast food enterprise. Just from a purely culinary standpoint, its Timbits are no worse than other doughnut holes; its coffee is pleasingly inoffensive; and its sandwiches are actually pretty good.
But my favorite thing about Tim Hortons is the fact that it doesn’t have an apostrophe in its name, an unintended result of Québec’s tangled language laws—Bill 178, to be exact—which forbid English public signage (French, the official language of La Belle Province, doesn’t use possessive apostrophes; Chez Tim Hortons, anyone?). I’ve always found the lack of an apostrophe in Tim Hortons’ signage oddly endearing and infuriating—it certainly carries more weight than the apostrophe in Dunkin' Donuts, or the absence of one in Starbucks. It is, at base, a kind of compromise, however annoying, and it's something Americans could certainly learn a bit about.