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Brother Tim Horton – A life of success and tragedy…

If a Canadian Brother ever takes you out for a cup of coffee and a doughnut, odds are he won’t take you to a Starbucks, a Dunkin’, a Krispy Kreme, or anywhere other than a Tim Hortons. 

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Founded in 1964, the Tim Hortons chain, has become a popular and iconic Canadian establishment which has expanded worldwide with nearly 5,000 restaurants in Canada, the US, the UK, Mexico, and other countries. It even has over 20 restaurants in Communist China.

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In our neighbor to the north, Tim Horton is a household name, but who was he? There are at least two things many people, especially youth who only know “Timmies,” as a hip place to gather, do not know about Tim Horton. First, he was one of the greatest hockey players ever. Second, he was a Freemason, raised in Kroy Lodge 676 in Toronto.

Born in Cochrane, Ontario on January 12, 1930, Brother Miles Gilbert “Tim” Horton played in various levels of youth hockey as he steadily grew into a mountain of a man.  A young standout, he signed with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1949, where he played for most of his 22 years. At the time there were only six teams in the National Hockey League. It was more popular in Canada, and there were no big million dollar salaries. His first contract paid $9,000 per season – not enough to make him rich, yet enough to provide for a comfortable living. Tim married Delores “Lori” Michalek, an Ice-Capades performer, in 1952.

Scouting reports on Horton claimed with his size and strength, he had the potential to become hockey’s greatest defenseman. The reports were not wrong, as he skated his way into becoming a member of four Stanley Cup teams, an NHL all-star, and eventually a member of its Hall of Fame. In 2016, the Toronto Maple Leafs retired his #7 jersey and the following year he was named as one of the 100 greatest NHL players ever.

Horton’s ability and strength became legendary in the NHL. Hockey great Bobby Orr has said Tim Horton may have been the league’s strongest player ever. Tim’s trademark during a fight was to wrap his arms around an opposing player in a crushing hug. Hockey writer Bob McKenzie remarked, “You didn’t get out of that vice grip until Horton let you out.” 

A player Horton once punched was asked in an interview what it was like to take such a hit from the hockey superman. “I’d rather he hit me,” he said, “than get me in one of his bear hugs.”

Horton’s fairy-tale career and even his life nearly came to an end in 1955. In a game near the end of the season, Chicago defenseman Bill Gadsby slammed into him with a blow so hard it sent Tim to the ice where he sustained a concussion, broken jaw, and broken leg. Gadsby later said it was the hardest hit he ever gave anyone. Back then, a disabled hockey player did not get paid. Horton missed the remainder of the ’55 season and half of the next year as well. In the interim, Constantine “Conn” Smythe, Maple Leafs owner, gave him a job as a truck driver. The job helped, but did not meet his family’s financial needs. This gave Tim incentive to work hard to get back into the game.

In 1964, in order to supplement his hockey income, Tim opened the first of his coffee and doughnut shops in Hamilton Ontario. In 1967, he brought in Ron Joyce, an acquaintance who owned a local Dairy Queen, as a partner.  The chain, known simply as “Tim Hortons,” was an immediate success and, together, Tim and Ron continued to expand the business.

For the next few years the restaurant chain and Tim’s hockey career went well. Lori, alone at home, weary of Tim’s absences and bored, developed problems with alcohol. At the end of the 1973 season, she asked Tim to retire. Tim had fallen into the trap of drinking to celebrate his victories and also to drown the sorrows of his losses. He had been traded to the Buffalo Sabres by then, and he agreed to end his career. However, George “Punch” Imlach, the Buffalo coach offered him $150,000 and a new Ford Pantera if he would play just one more year.

Brother Horton agreed. Near the end of the season, he was injured and taking prescribed painkillers so he could continue to play. After a late season game in Toronto, Tim had a few drinks with his teammates, then called Lori and said he was driving home. She could tell the combination of painkillers and alcohol had affected him and begged him to wait until the next day to drive. Tim insisted he was okay, and in the early morning hours of February 21, 1974, headed out in his new Pantera. In that car, his pride and joy, he only had two speeds: zero and greased lightning. Lori called the Ontario Provencal Police, and they set up roadblocks to stop him. He made it as far as St. Catherines, near the US border when he lost control of his car. It flipped several times and Tim was thrown from the vehicle and killed. He was 44.

After Tim’s death, Lori said, “I went into a daze for about 15 years.” She sold her shares in the restaurant and all rights to use Tim’s name to Ron Joyce for one million dollars. Years later, after she stopped drinking, she realized the sale was a mistake and, in 1993, sued Joyce. She lost the lawsuit, which cost her most of her remaining savings. 

Tim’s life was a cocktail of stellar success and tragedy. Today, his remaining children and grandchildren have no rights to the empire he built or his name; and to them it may be of little consolation that name is so well known in his country that it has become a part of the Canadian culture.

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by Midnight Freemason
Steven L. Harrison, 33°, FMLR

Bro. Steve Harrison, 33°  is Past Master of Liberty Lodge #31, Liberty, Missouri. He is also a Fellow and Past Master of the Missouri Lodge of Research. Among his other Masonic memberships is the St. Joseph Missouri Valley of the Scottish Rite, Liberty York Rite bodies, and Moila Shrine. He is also a member and Past Dean of the DeMolay Legion of Honor. Brother Harrison is a regular contributor to the Midnight Freemasons blog as well as several other Masonic publications. Brother Steve was Editor of the Missouri Freemason magazine for a decade and is a regular contributor to the Whence Came You podcast. Born in Indiana, he has a Master’s Degree from Indiana University and is retired from a 35-year career in information technology. Steve and his wife Carolyn reside in northwest Missouri. He is the author of dozens of magazine articles and three books: Freemasonry Crosses the Mississippi, Freemasons — Tales From the Craft and Freemasons at Oak Island.

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