Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Life and Death of Tim Horton

"What Tim did was never important to him.  It was always what the team did, and that was what made Tim a great player.  He was always behind you.  You don't know how much that means to a team.  He was the hub . . . everybody felt, 'Tim's back there.  We're solid.'" 
- Leonard "Red" Kelly, Tim Horton's teammate on the Toronto Maple Leafs

Many of us can only associate the name "Tim Horton" with the ubiquitous Canadian restaurant chain. For Toronto Maple Leaf fans during the 1960s, however, Horton was a genuine hockey hero.  He anchored the Leaf defence at a time when the Leafs actually won Stanley Cups.  During that turbulent decade, the Blue and White captured Lord Stanley's Jug four times - 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.  Ah, those were the days of glory!  There was no Maple Sports and Entertainment and Toronto fans could actually afford to go to a game at Maple Leaf Gardens.

Tim Horton, the hockey player, is on my mind because today is the 39th anniversary of his death. He died in an automobile accident on February 21, 1974 near St. Catharines, Ontario.  At the time of his fatal crash, he was 44 years old and still an active player for the Buffalo Sabres.  The durable Horton played for 20 years in the National Hockey League, the majority of them as a stalwart defenceman for the Maple Leafs.

Miles Gilbert "Tim" Horton was born in Cochrane, a small northern Ontario town, on January 12, 1930.  He was the eldest child of Ethel and Aaron Oakley "Oak" Horton (His brother Gerry Horton was born in 1933).  Oak was a Canadian National Railway mechanic. In 1935, the Hortons moved to the small gold mining town of Duparquet, Quebec.  The family returned to Cochrane in 1938 and then moved to Sudbury, Ontario in 1945 when Tim was 15 years old.

While in Sudbury, Tim played for the Copper Cliff Jr. Redmen of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association from 1946 to 1947. He then went to Toronto after being awarded a scholarship to attend St. Michael's College School.  From 1947 to 1949, he played on the school's junior hockey team, the St. Michael's Majors, a farm team for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

In 1950, Tim turned pro when Leafs owner Conn Smythe offered him a 3-year contract to play for the Pittsburgh Hornets, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Leafs.  In 1952, Horton and the Hornets (doesn't that sound good?) won the Calder Cup, the league championship.   The city of Pittsburgh celebrated its first hockey championship since Lionel Conacher's Yellow Jackets won the United States Amateur Hockey Association championship in 1925.

On April 23, 1952, just two days after his team's Calder Cup victory, Tim married Delores "Lori" Michalek, an Ice Capades skater, in a small ceremony in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania.  Lori, a native of Mount Oliver, Pennsylvania (a borough surrounded by the city of Pittsburgh) met Horton while he was playing for the Hornets.  Francis "King" Clancy, then coach of the Hornets, attended the wedding and the newlyweds drove to Daytona Beach, Florida for their honeymoon.  They settled into married life and raised their four daughters: Jeri-Lynn, Traci, Kim and Kelly.

Tim Horton and family

Tim Horton played his first NHL game and his first game in a Toronto Maple Leaf uniform on March 26, 1950.  During the 1951-52 season, he played four games for the Leafs but  it was not until 1952-1953 that he became a regular on the team.  In total, Horton played 17 full seasons and 3 partial seasons with the club, appearing on four Stanley Cup-winning teams under general manager and coach George "Punch" Imlach.

The Glory Days: Tim and Allan Stanley with Stanley Cup

In the 1960s, hockey players did not receive large salaries and Tim had to hustle to make a living in the off season.  During his career with the Leafs, he went into business with his friend, Jim Charade.  Charade was interested in capitalizing on Horton's celebrity as a hockey hero to establish a doughnut and coffee chain.  Tim was eager to establish a chain of burger joints and the two opened up a string of hamburger restaurants in the North Bay and Toronto areas.  The restaurants did not make a great of money and the enterprise soon fizzled out.

1964 was a banner year for Tim Horton.  The Leafs won their their third successive Stanley Cup and on May 17th of that year, the rugged defenceman opened his fist coffee and doughnut shop at 65 Ottawa Street North in Hamilton, Ontario at the urging of Jim Charade.  Coffee was 25 cents and doughnuts were 69 cents a dozen.  Two of Tim's own creations were featured on the menu: the apple fritter and the dutchie.  The little business flourished and Horton decided to expand it into a full-fledged franchise.  He appointed Nova Scotia-born Ron Joyce to be the store's first franchisee.

Ron Joyce

Joyce, a Hamilton police officer from 1956 until 1965, had already established a Dairy Queen franchise in Hamilton, and had become acquainted with Horton while eating at his doughnut shop during his days on the police beat.  In early 1966, after complaints from Joyce that he was not providing enough support, Charade resigned from the venture. according to an August 13, 2009 article in the Globe and Mail by Danny Gallagher.  Since Tim Horton was still in debt. Charade received very little financial compensation for his efforts. By the end of 1967, Tim and Ron Joyce had opened up two more stores and were full partners in a business that would eventually grow into an enormous restaurant chain, although Tim never lived to see the full extent of its success.

In March of 1970, Tim Horton was traded to the New York Rangers. A year year later, he signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Horton spent only one season with the Penguins.  In 1972, former Leafs coach and general manager Punch Imlach signed Tim to a contract with the Buffalo Sabres although he was 42 years old at the time and extremely nearsighted.

On the day of his terrible car crash in 1974, Tim was driving home to Buffalo after a game in Toronto.  Although the  Sabres had been defeated by a  score of 4-2, Horton had been chosen as game's third stars.  After the game, he met up with his business partner, Ron Joyce, at the Tim Donut company office in Oakville. At about 3 a.m., Tim phoned his wife, Lori and his brother, Gerry.  In her 1997 book, In Loving Memory: A Tribute to Tim Horton, Lori writes that "Gerry recognized Tim had been drinking, and he tried to convince him to stay where he was."  Unfortunately, Tim did not heed his brother's advice.  He talked to Ron Joyce until about 4 a.m and left on his own.

Weather conditions were clear as the hockey star zoomed away in his custom built Ford DeTomaso Pantera.  Just after 4:00 a.m., a female motorist warned the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) in Burlington, Ontario about a speeding car on the Queen Elizabeth Way (QEW). Officers were told on the police radio to watch out for the vehicle.  About a half hour later, a St. Catharine's police officer spotted Horton's Italian-built sports car (a contract extension bonus from the Buffalo Sabres).  The officer pulled his cruiser onto the highway and gave chase to the Pantera.  Tim lost control of his vehicle and crashed. He was thrown from his car as it flipped over several times.  His body was found 37.5 metres (123 feet) from the car.  At the time of the accident, he had been driving at a speed of over 160 km per hour (99.4 miles per hour).

Tim Horton was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Catharines General Hospital.  Police denied that Horton had been drunk when he crashed his vehicle.  An autopsy was performed beginning at 10:30 a.m. that same morinng.  The autopsy report was kept secret for many years until a reporter for the Ottawa Citizen, Glen McGregor, obtained it through Ontario's Freedom of Information law.  In 2005, McGregor wrote a story based on what he had discovered.   It wasn't until February of 2011 that he released the full report on his blog.

The report reveals that Tim had been driving with twice the legal limit of alcohol in his blood.and he was found with Dexamyl pills on his body.  According to McGregor, "Horton was likely taking these to stay competitive.  He was still playing at age 44 and probably felt he needed an edge to keep up with players 20 years younger."

After Tim's tragic death, his widow inherited half of her husband's business. She assumed control of the company along with Ron Joyce.  In 1976, however, Joyce offered her $1 million and a Cadillac Eldorado for her shares in the chain, which at that time consisted of 40 stores.  Lori accepted the offer and Joyce became the sole owner.  Years later, she decided that the business transaction had been unfair and that $1 million dollars had not been enough.  She launched a $10 million lawsuit against Joyce and another suit against the lawyer who represented her at the time of the transaction.

During the trial, Tim's widow informed the court of her addiction to alcohol and pills, including painkillers. She told the story of her 20-year struggle with substance abuse, beginning in the 1960s, and she claimed that she wasn't mentally competent when she made her deal with Ron Joyce.  The judge, however, was not convinced.  In 1993, Lori lost her lawsuit and a subsequent request for an appeal was declined in 1995.

Lori Horton died of a massive coronary on December 23, 2000 after eating a Christmas dinner.  She was 68 years old at the time of her passing.  In 2001, as part of its Life and Times series, the CBC broadcast a documentary entitled Tim Horton: The Perfect Husband by Canadian filmmaker Daniel Gelfant.  At the beginning of the film, Lori says, "I didn't forgive him at first.  As far as I'm concerned, he killed himself - he kind of walked out on me and the girls."

From the late 1970s  until the late 1990s, Tim Hortons began to franchise under the management of Ron Joyce. In 1995, Tim Horton's merged with Wendy's International Inc. and Joyce sold his shares of Tim Hortons to the  hamburger chain.  As part of the agreement, Joyce received shares in Wendy's. In late 2005, Wendy's announced its intention to sell between 15% and 18% of its interests in Tim Hortons.  This was done in ian initial public offering on March 26, 2006.  The company also said it would spin off its remaining interest in Tim Hortons to shareholders.

Ron Joyce is now over 80 years old and a billionaire.  He has sold his stocks in Wendy's and retired from management.  He still remains active in his holding company and serves as Chairman Emeritus of The Tim Horton Children's Foundation, a charity he established in 1974 to honour Tim Horton's love of children. It is a not-profit organization that provides a camp environment for youngsters from disadvantaged and low income homes.


* Tim's younger brother, Gerry, also played hockey.  Although Gerry Horton never made the NHL, he was good enough to play for the Oshawa Generals.  He died in 1994 while playing hockey in North Bay, Ontario.

* Tim's mother, Ethel, had named him "Tim" before his birth but was too ill to attend his christening. His father  had him christened "Miles Gilbert" after his two grandfathers.  Tim's official given names were never used except for formal documents.  To family and friends, he was always "Tim."

* During his many years as a Toronto Maple Leaf, Tim Horton wore number 7.  During his stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins, he wore number 24 and also number 3. With the New York Rangers, Horton wore sweater number 3 and was the first to wear that number for the Rangers after Harry Howell.   He wore number 2 as a Buffalo Sabre because Rick Martin already had the number 7. The Sabres retired Horton's number 2 during the 1995-1996 season.  That same season, the Maples Leafs honoured his number 7.

Tim wearing number 24 for Pittsburgh

Tim as a Buffalo Sabre

* In an ironic twist of fate, Jeri-Lynn Horton, Tim and Lori's eldest daughter, married Ron Joyce's son, Ron Joyce, Jr.

*  Tim played in 1,446 regular season NHL games and scored 115 goals and 403 assists for a total of 518 points.  He was an all-star player six times.

*  Tim had poor eyesight and wore thick glasses off-ice.

* Tim Horton was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

Tim Horton's plaque in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto

* Tim's original store in Hamilton has been rebuilt but it remains in the same location on Ottawa St.

* It wasn't until 1994, 30 years after Horton established his first shop in Hamilton, that a Tim Hortons restaurant opened in Tim's hometown of Cochrane, Ontario.

* As of July 1, 2012, there were 4,071 Tim Hortons restaurants worldwide including 3,355 in Canada, 745 in the United States, 20 in the United Arab Emirates and three in Oman.  There are also some Tim Hortons franchises in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

* Jim Charade died on July 23, 2009, of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases.  He was 74 years old.

* Tim and Lori Horton are buried at the York Cemetery in Toronto.

EDITOR'S UPDATE (February 22, 2014) - Yesterday was the 40th anniversary of the death of Tim Horton.

EDITOR'S UPDATE (January 23, 2016) - The Toronto Maple Leafs have inducted Tim Horton, former captain Dave Keon and goaltender Turk Broda to their Legends Row Monument.  Keon and representatives of the families of Horton and Broda were honoured tonight at the Air Canada Centre prior to the Leafs' game against the Monntreal Canadiens (Tim was represented by his eldest daughter Jeri-Lynn).  Bronze statues of the three players will be unveiled and added to the monument.

EDITOR'S UPDATE (February 3, 2019) - Ron Joyce passed away on January 31, 2019 in Burlington, Ontario.  He was 88 years old at the time of his death. 

-  Joanne


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. His daughter Kim died in 2013. She is buried with her parents.

  3. I had no idea who Tim Horton was, I just know I absolutely love their coffee and since leaving the Buffalo NY area, have to order it online. What an amazing story.