Tim Horton: The legend lives on from Cup to cup

Tim Horton at work. (Photo courtesy Tim Hortons)

Tim Horton at work. (Photo courtesy Tim Hortons)

Lance Hornby, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 3:58 PM ET

TORONTO -- When Dick Duff pays for his coffee and doughnut at Tim Hortons outlets across Ontario, he often points to the logo on the cup or the picture on the wall of the late Maple Leafs defenceman in his No. 7 uniform.

"I played with this guy, he anchored four Stanley Cups," the 78-year-old Duff will tell a surprised cashier. "And let me say, he'd be very happy to know all these years later, he helped high school students get a job, or a part-time worker make extra money to support a family."

Forty years ago this past Friday, after his death in a high-speed car crash, the ox-strong Horton, who played his way out of risky, low-pay drudgery in mining country to Hall of Fame icon, retains his name above a $2-billion uniquely Canadian enterprise.

Recent estimates have the company's 4,000-plus locations controlling 76% of the country's baked goods market (ranked by number of customers) and 62% of all coffee sales. A recent study by global opinion research firm APCO Insight placed Tims 61st of the world's 100 most widely revered brands, using an "emotional linking index." Disney and Google topped the board. Canadian Business magazine ranks Tims No. 1 in the nation on reputation.

Its market success was ensured by Ron Joyce, a one-time beat cop who frequented the first store Horton struggled with on Ottawa St. in Hamilton in 1964. Joyce loaned knowledge from his similar sideline as a Dairy Queen franchisee and took the reins after Horton's death, eventually becoming a billionaire.

But "Always Fresh" had to start with a big name, one that people admired and respected. That was Miles Gilbert Horton (the registered names were for each of his grandfathers), who came from Cochrane. Ont. in the late 1940s with many northerners intent on making the Leafs.

Players such as Horton, Duff, George "Chief" Armstrong, Frank Mahovlich and Dave Keon knew their ticket out of a hardscrabble existence was the NHL, luring them through Foster Hewitt's radio broadcasts from far-off Maple Leaf Gardens.

Horton spent daylight hours on the ponds around Cochrane and Sudbury, and game time as a stay-at-home defenceman with the Copper Cliff Redmen.

"By the time he got to the NHL, he could have skated 40 minutes a night if he wanted," Duff insisted. Recommended to the Leafs and St. Michael's College by scout Bob Wilson and school alumnus Charlie Cerre, Horton was given the green light to jump into the play by the offensively challenged Majors. That's what caught the Leafs' eye.

"What really made Tim a great defenceman was his speed," Leaf captain Armstrong told writer John Iaboni in the book 100 Greatest Leafs. "He was just a premium skater. And his strength. He was born with muscles. We went to high school together in Sudbury and he never lifted weights or anything. It was hereditary."

 


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