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If you grew up in Canada with a television in your house, you can probably remember brainlessly absorbing Tim Hortons commercials into your soft, impressionable young heads in between segments of Bob Barker’s The Price Is Right, Magic School Bus or even viewings of the Canadian classic House Hippo PSA.
As a handsome young devil, I usually coasted on my looks alone, and my brain was too soft and undeveloped to shout at the TV like I do now when I see a Tim Hortons ad coming up. Besides, Tims (Christ, it hurts to abbreviate) was where I got my double-dipped chocolate donut fix after Sunday morning hockey. Why should I hate them?
But eventually I grew up into the lovably cantankerous curmudgeon I am today. I started going to high school. I started drinking coffee and “experimenting” as they say. Mom’s home-brewed Folgers was a gateway mug down the slippery slope of caffeine abuse. Before long I was just like every other teenager: flinging himself out of bed at first dawn to taste that sweet Colombian grind, straight-up wired throughout every class, even falling asleep with the decaf only to wake with coffee-stained PJs. Eventually mom’s coffee began leaving me craving more and I started turning to other brands to satisfy my needs. Starbucks, Second Cup, Timothy’s: I needed them all inside me. And then I met Tims.
His promise of coffee and a donut for one low price was intriguing. The other brands had similar offers but Tims was the cheapest, and I knew I could trust the donuts. Besides, I had probably seen every Tim Hortons commercial made since 1990 and they all said Tims was the shit. Real fuckin’ Canadians drank Tims.
I stepped in. Ordered. Sipped…
This wasn’t coffee at all!
Maybe it was, once, but now it was a burnt mess, and so much sugar was added to mask the terrible taste of the charred, stagnant hot liquid. I had ordered black coffee with a little sugar but this was a syrup-thick and cloyingly sweet beverage, closer to hot chocolate made with reused coffee grinds than the bittersweet drip coffee, ubiquitous everywhere else in Canada.
Once again, I had been lied to – betrayed just like I had been with the House Hippo – by my supposed friend the TV. I felt crushed and confused. What kind of person enjoys this sludge? How was Tims a successful business when their coffee tastes like it gives you type 2 diabetes? I had one sip and I was revolted. Had some narcotic substance had been added to get the customers back against their better judgement and concern for their health? But most troubling to me were the commercials. How had Tims succeeded in equating their terrible coffee with the Canadian spirit?
It’s a free country. If people so desire double-doubles and the diabetes it comes with, who am I to object? But why must the Canadian national identity be equated with Tim Hortons coffee? It is disgraceful and embarrassing to me that a business that doesn’t even respect itself enough to spell its own god damn name right (it’s Tim Horton’s people! Show me the apostrophe!) should stand in for the maple leaf. People around the world must be tasting Tim Hortons and laughing at the ignorant and provincial taste buds of the Canadian people.
As a kid in the 90s, I saw Tim Hortons commercials selling their coffee with frumpy country-pretty employees to weary northern travellers (as in the above commercial). Trope after trope of recycled Canadiana was used and reused to peddle Tims’ terrible beverage. Since then, their commercials have only grown more dependent on Canadian iconography.
…New-coming immigrant family reunions,
…And the cross-Canada road trip are all motifs for sale, ready to be used in the televised promotion of a terrible sugar-and-cream laden drink that doctors the world over warn against.
It seems to me the maple leaf and the Canadian spirit it represents must be an unwilling participant in its exploitative partnership with the Tim Hortons brand. Quite simply, Tim Hortons deals in idiotic and exploitative jingoism: the aligning of the maple leaf, hockey enthusiasm, cold weather tolerance and the acceptance of multiculturalism with an otherwise unremarkable brand in order to sell their product as the most patriotic of its kind. Tim Hortons is not exceptionally Canadian; they are hardly more Canadian than McDonalds or any other multinational corporation.
I do not like the notion that the soul of Canada can be bought for $1.50 and come with an optional “donut combo”. In their pursuit to sell double-doubles, Tim Hortons cheapens what it truly means to enjoy Canadian freedom, embarrasses the nation on a global scale, and sells diabetes to children in 30 second segments between Saturday morning cartoons.
By Geoff K