St. Cloud, MN – Tim Horton would be proud. Coffee and doughnut entrepreneur Horton who played 24 seasons in the NHL could have never envisioned his single restaurant opened in Hamilton, Ontario in 1964 would eventually grow to become Canada’s largest publicly traded quick-service restaurant chain and grow to almost 5,000 restaurants in 15 countries.
Horton who played for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and Buffalo Sabres died in a tragic auto accident in 1974 and was co-owner of an enterprise that consisted of 40 locations at the time. The succession of the company went to his business partner who ultimately sold the chain to Burger King on behalf of Brazilian Investment firm 3G Capital in 2014. Regardless of ownership, “Tim’s or “Timmy’s” as the chain is affectionately referred to by the Canadians is as iconic and well-known as any business north of the USA border.
Recently, my wife Sue and I took an eight-day journey from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Toronto, Ontario to complete our goal of traversing Canada via the Trans-Canada Highway. The trek began several decades ago on Vancouver Island and has been completed in sections: Vancouver Island to Winnipeg, Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, Thunder Bay to Sault Ste. Marie, Toronto to Sault St. Marie, and finally Halifax to Toronto.
The final leg of this journey from the Atlantic Provinces to Toronto consisted of 2,285 kilometers of driving (1,419 miles) and honestly couldn’t have been completed without the reassuring thought of knowing we’d hit a Tim Horton’s at nearly every pit stop for a jolt of caffeine, a bite to eat and a fill of the gas tank. With nearly 3000 locations from the Atlantic Provinces to Ontario, one was never far from a billboard beckoning you to the next Tim Horton’s location.
The starting point of this road trip was Halifax, Nova Scotia the site of the 2023 IIHF World Junior hockey tournament along with Moncton, New Brunswick. A beautiful province, it began with a side trip to Burntcoat National Park and the Bay of Fundy home to the world’s highest tidal range (difference between the highest and lowest tides). At the Bay of Fundy situated between Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, the tidal range is 52 feet with two high and two low tides each day. If your timing is right, one can literally walk on the ocean floor while the tide is out, a highly unusual experience.
From the Bay of Fundy, it was off to Prince Edward Island via the Confederation Bridge an eight-mile extension of the Trans-Canada Highway across the Abegweit Passage of the Northumberland Straight linking the province of New Brunswick to Prince Edward Island. Once on the island, the smallest of all provinces with a population of about 150,000, I was surprised to learn it’s highly agricultural and home to Cavendish Farms, described as the “French Fry Giant” and one of the largest potato growers and processors in Canada. Its economy also survives off of tourism and fisheries. The popularity of Poutine (potatoes, cheese curds, and gravy) now makes sense.
Prince Edward Island is also known for its spectacular tourist attraction, Cavendish Beach consisting of miles of white gold sand encapsulated by sand dunes, and its literary landmark, the Anne of Green Gables historic farm and gardens.
Next was a drive through possibly the most under-the-radar province in Canada, New Brunswick. Considered an Atlantic Maritime province, it’s the only bi-lingual province in Canada with English and French as its official languages. This province consists of 28,000 square miles but a population of less than 800,000. The province is 83% forested and with the sparse population, one can drive for miles with spectacular views of the Appalachian mountains and beautiful conifer forests as far as the eye can see. New Brunswick is the home of the Irving family, one of the wealthiest in Canada with interests in forestry, oil refining (the largest refinery in Canada), newspapers/broadcasting, construction, and real estate. Their presence is seen throughout New Brunswick with the Irving Big Stop truck stops. They employ one out of twelve of the population of New Brunswick.
Heading west through New Brunswick brings one to a series of tradition-rich hockey cities including Moncton, and Fredricton, and to the north, Saint John, and includes the Bathurst Titans, Moncton Wildcats, and Saint John Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Edmundston, Fredericton and Grand Falls in the Maritime Junior A Hockey League. At one time Fredericton, Moncton, and Saint John all housed American Hockey League teams. Moncton University, St. Thomas University, and the University of New Brunswick all field collegiate hockey teams.
The next stop was Grand Falls, New Brunswick located on the eastern border of Maine and is prominently known for two things, the Grand Falls waterfall that drops 73 feet and the home of Ronnie Turcotte, the rider of Secretariat, the Triple Crown winner in 1973.
Perhaps my favorite city on the road trip was Fredricton, the capital city of the province. Located on the Saint John River, it’s a city of 63,000 and is the cultural, artistic, and educational center of the province. It hosts the annual Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival which was taking place at the time of our visit. Originally built in a grid pattern, the city contains hundreds of historic homes. I wish we had more time there.
After a stay in Riviere-du-Loup, Quebec on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and the border of New Brunswick it was off to trekking through the province of Quebec steeped in rich hockey tradition foremost of course, the Montreal Canadiens. However, it had me wishing I had accepted the opportunity to take French in high school as the official language of Quebec is French and it is the dominant language of the province of Quebec, used in everyday communication, education, the media, and government.
A stop in Drummondville gave us a glimpse of another historic city and the host of the Festival de la Poutine, where visitors are invited to attend concerts and sample varieties of poutine. Taking a break in the historic downtown of Drummondville allowed perhaps one of my best cups of Americano on the trip. The city is also home to the Drummondville Voltigeurs, a long-running team in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Other renowned hockey towns by-passed were Victoriaville, Sherbrooke, and Trois-Rivieres before reaching Montreal. Having been to Montreal several times before, we blew by the city fighting the traffic and zeroing in on the province of Ontario and a visit to Ottawa.
Honestly, heading into the province of Ontario, there was a sense of relief being able to see road signs (and communicate) in English. No offense to the Quebecois but it was nice to once again understand fully what you were reading and to be in familiar territory. As Minnesotans, we have much more in common with Ontario, our neighbor to the north.
The timing couldn’t have been better as we hit Ottawa on a Sunday and it was clear sailing in this city of one million to Ottawa Centre and Parliament Hill and all the government buildings. With liberal public access to the grounds, it’s an impressive visitor-friendly area on the banks of the Ottawa River and the Rideau Canal.
Lunch at the famed Fairmont Chateau Laurier Hotel which overlooks the Ottawa River was a welcome respite after driving over 900 miles and even the half-hour wait for my crab mafaldine was worth it at this ultra-luxury hotel that for years has hosted government dignitaries, celebrities and royalty and was owned by the Canadian National Railway from 1928 to 1988.
With the final destination of Toronto in sight, a layover in Peterborough another renowned hockey community was next. Home of the Peterborough Petes, the team was established in 1956 and is the oldest continuously operating team in the Ontario Hockey League. Located on the Otonabee River, it was also known as the “Electric City”, the first town in Canada to use electric lights.
The final leg of the road trip to Toronto gave us one last opportunity to sample some authentic poutine from a “chip truck”. It also afforded some good-natured ribbing from some local Maple Leaf fans who questioned my wisdom of wearing a shirt with a Montreal Canadiens logo in Ontario considering they have little reverence towards their competitors to the east. I had to explain it was in fact the St. Cloud State University “ST-C” which they found amusing.
Reaching our final destination of Toronto meant negotiating the gauntlet of the worst traffic of the trip. It’s to be expected with nearly 2.8 million people and the fourth most populist city in North America.
Technically, we may not have finished the Trans-Canada Highway trip considering it continues via ferry through New Foundland and Labrador. However, a year from now we’ll complete that on a cruise through the Maritimes.
We could probably learn a few things from our neighbors to the north. Having completed the Trans-Canada trip reinforced my opinion that they are good neighbors – polite, proud of their country, courteous drivers, and welcoming to visitors, always wanting to know how you are enjoying your visit to Canada.
To Tim Horton’s I want to say thank you for the sustenance during this long road trip. To its owner, 3G Capital, I’m all for converting every Burger King in the USA to a Timmy’s. That goes for A&W as well who still serve coffee in a ceramic cup, offer breakfast all day, serve grass-fed beef, and still store their mugs in a cooler chilling the glass mugs to -15 degrees centigrade prior to serving. There is no comparison to their USA counterparts, a separate entity. Finally, how about a few Swiss Chalet restaurants south of the border. Absolutely the best rotisserie chicken I’ve had in ages.
And, one last thing. Keep sending those hockey players south.