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Tim Horton: From Pucks to Donuts

by Legacy Staff

Both of Tim Horton’s careers focused on small round objects: one hard, flat and fast, the other soft, fried and sweet.

Tim Horton (1930 – 1974) had two successful careers, both of which focused on small round objects: one hard, flat and fast, the other soft, fried and sweet.

Horton, who died 40 years ago today, first made a name for himself playing defense in the National Hockey League for 24 seasons, most of them with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also was an entrepreneur who co-founded Tim Hortons, a popular chain of coffee and doughnut shops.

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Today 3,000 Tim Hortons restaurants in Canada and another 600 in the United States are keeping the hockey star’s name alive. Shares of stock bearing his name are traded on the New York Stock Exchange (THI).

The man known as Tim Horton was born Miles Gilbert Horton on Jan. 12, 1930, in Cochrane, Ontario. He began playing hockey as a 5-year-old. After graduating from high school, he played on scholarship for the St. Michael’s College team, part of the farm system for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Horton made the Leafs’ reserve list at 17 and at 19 dropped out of school to play hockey professionally, starting out on the Pittsburgh Hornets, the Leafs’ American League farm club.

In 1952 he began his rookie season with the Maple Leafs, where he would play for the next 17 years. Horton was known for strength and serenity under pressure. He broke his leg and jaw in a March 1955 game but came back to play in 486 consecutive games between 1961 and 1968 — a Leafs club record and an NHL record until 2007.

With his partner Canadian billionaire Ron Joyce, Horton opened his first coffee shop in 1964 at the height of his career. He even created two of the treats the Apple Fritter and the Dutchie, both of which remain popular, according to thecanadianencyclopedia.com. 

In 1970 Horton was traded to the New York Rangers and the following year was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 1972 the 42-year-old was signed by the Buffalo Sabres helping the team to its first playoffs the next year. During his illustrious hockey career, Horton played in six NHL All-Star games and was on four Stanley Cup teams.

He was on his way home to Buffalo from a game in Toronto on Feb. 21, 1974, when he crashed his Italian sports car and died. He was 44.

Horton was allegedly going more than 100 mph when he lost control of the car, according to newspaper reports. The autopsy report, not released until 2005, showed his blood alcohol was twice the legal limit, according to the Ottawa Citizen. He also was found with amphetamine pills on his body, the paper said.

Horton was buried in York Cemetery in Toronto and was posthumously inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1977.

After his death his business partner Joyce bought the Horton family’s shares and set up the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation, which sends underprivileged children to camp. Whether you associate the name Tim Horton with hockey or doughnuts, it’s nice to know that a big part of his legacy his helping children.


Susan Soper is the author of ObitKit®, A Guide to Celebrating Your Life. A lifelong journalist, she has written for Newsday and CNN, and was Features Editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, where she launched a series called “Living with Grief.” 

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