Today would have been Tim Horton’s 90th birthday. We celebrate the man, his career with the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the legacy he left behind.
His name is one of the most widely spoken in Canada, though many don’t really know who he was. Tim Horton wasn’t just the donut king, but also a hockey legend. He was also one the best Toronto Maple Leafs of all time.
Born on this day in Cochrane, Ontario in 1930, Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton was a beloved player with incredible talent. Research for this article was conducted using wikipedia and other sources which I’ve linked to throughout.
Before he was tragically killed in at age 44 in an automobile accident in 1974, he not only had 30 donut shops in operation using his name, but had already completed a Hall of Fame career. We look back and celebrate his life on what would be his 90th birthday.
Horton’s status among the best to ever pull an NHL sweater over their heads is well deserved. Incredibly, he spent part of 20 seasons patrolling the blueline for the Maple Leafs. He also played for the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres.
The 5’10” defenseman was known throughout the league for his grit and strength on the ice. He wouldn’t be pushed around and had no fear of standing toe-to-toe with any opposition.
Horton often drove the best players in the league into the boards as they attempted to get past him. Bobby Orr described his play as being “a great defensive defenseman” adding “I enjoyed the way he played. He could shoot the puck.”
With the Leafs, Horton was an integral part of winning four Stanley Cups. He was also a six-time All-Star and finished in the top four in voting for the Norris Trophy, an award given to the top defenseman of the season.
While Horton was named the runner-up twice, he never actually won the award. To say that he was a star in the hockey world would be an understatement. He was even the first autograph a young Wayne Gretzky sought out (as seen in a recent Tim Hortons campaign).
Before Horton’s time in Toronto was through, he opened his first donut shop with Jim Charade. Horton did this while in the midst of the NHL’s longest ironman streak where he didn’t miss any of the 486 games played in a row including six complete seasons.
Horton’s consecutive streak ended in 1968. It held up as the longest ever in the league until it was finally broken in 2007 by Kārlis Skrastiņš. Horton still holds the ironman record as a member of the Maple Leafs.
The now-ubiquitous coffee vendor in Canada, Tim Hortons, began when a partnership was formed between Horton and Charade.
They teamed up to sling burgers and hot dogs in North Bay, Ontario under the umbrella name Timandjim Ltd. When that didn’t work they changed directions and opened their more recognized restaurant under Horton’s name in Hamilton, Ontario.
The menu consisted of two types of donuts, apple fritters and dutchies at 69-cents each. Coffee was also available for 10-cents a cup.
When Horton tragically passed away, the franchise was only ten years into operation, but was already incredibly successful. It was the third-largest chain in Canada. By then, Charade had resigned, walking away with almost no compensation and had been replaced by a new partner, Ron Joyce.
Upon Horton’s death, the company’s control was assumed by Joyce and Horton’s widow, Lori. In 1975, the Horton family was bought out of their share of the company for a sum of $1-million. This payout was fought in court in the 90s, with Lori eventually losing her $10-million suit against Joyce.
It was three years after Horton’s death that the apostrophe in the company’s name was dropped.
This was as a result of Parti Québecois in Quebec passing Bill 101, known as “La charte de la langue française”, which protected the French language and made it illegal to display English signs. Though the restaurant shared a name with the Maple Leafs player, the apostrophe made it English. By dropping it, Tim Hortons was able to display their signage without worry.
After the Toronto Maple Leafs
Horton’s time with the Toronto Maple Leafs ended when he was traded to the Rangers for ‘future considerations’.
At the time of the trade, in 1970, Horton led the Toronto Maple Leafs all-time in games played. The player the Leafs received was eventually revealed to be Denis Dupere. He turned out to be a good hand for Toronto, lasting four seasons with the club.
After the trade, Horton played one more season in New York before going to Pittsburgh. He played a single year with the Penguins and then retired, kind of. It was reported in Montreal newspapers that Horton said he was finished playing hockey and would be dedicating his time to his donut chain.
As described in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – Jun 6, 1972, the Sabres took a gamble on Horton. Despite his proclamation to hang up his skates, the man who was given the nickname “Superman”, was taken in the summer’s intra-league draft by the Sabres because the Penguins failed to place him on their “protected players” list. That decision may have been a result of his comments in the media.
By drafting Horton, Buffalo had to pay the Pens $40,000. They did so in hopes that the defenseman would be swayed to join them. Sabres general manager, Punch Imlach, must have been persuasive because Horton came onboard to play at age 42. This reunited the defenseman with the coach whom he played under when they won their Stanley Cups.
The following year Imlach was at it again, negotiating with Horton to sign a one-year deal. He did and received a Pantera sportscar as a bonus.
On February 20, 1974, Though Horton played well enough to be named the third star, Buffalo lost their contest at Maple Leaf Gardens, 4-2. Imlach remembered that fateful night.
He explained, “[Horton] was hurting too bad to play a regular shift in the third period. We faded without him and lost the game to the Leafs. After the game, he and I took a little walk up Church Street and had what was our last talk. He was down in the dumps because he didn’t like to miss a shift and he felt he had cost us the game. I got on the bus with the team. Tim drove the cursed car back to Buffalo. He didn’t make it.”
The following morning, while driving back to Buffalo at 4:30 the morning, Horton only made it as far as St. Catharines. Traveling at high speed, he lost control of his car and rolled it multiple times, killing him instantly. Horton left behind a wife and four daughters.
Horton’s career was strong enough to earn him entry to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He was posthumously inducted in 1977 with Alex Delvecchio, Harold Ballard, and Bunny Ahearne.
In 1995 under general manager Cliff Fletcher, Horton’s number seven sweater was honoured by the Maple Leafs. That same season, the Sabres retired his jersey. No one in Buffalo can now wear the number.
Horton was an amazing player and person. He will forever be remembered fondly in Toronto and in the hockey community.