Paul Wilson: Tim Hortons Oakville HQ on the move? Bring it home

There's talk that the Hortons world headquarters, just off the highway in Oakville since the 1970s, will relocate. Shouldn't it be in the place where the doughnut was born?
There's some serious sprawl at the Tim Hortons/ TDL Group headquarters in Oakville. This view from the lawns of the main building look across to the store/Donut U. complex, with another Hortons office building beyond. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

I heard an interesting rumour the other day. A friend told me he heard from somebody who would know such things that Tim Hortons is looking to leave its headquarters just off the QEW in Oakville, the chain’s command centre since the 1970s.

Nothing against Oakville. I was born there. But it’s not really a Hortons town.

They had a Hortons at Trafalgar and Randall. It had been there since 1970, before Tim Horton died. But they recently knocked it down. In its place, there will be new downtown condos – $1 million to $3 million.

It began here, Ottawa Street North in Hamilton, in 1964. But head office is down the highway. (Tim Hortons)

On the main drag, Oakville has Starbucks, Timothy’s, Second Cup and more. Home of the Hortons world headquarters, and no store east of the creek, the heart of town. Doesn’t seem right.

Back to the rumour. In Oakville, the Hortons head-office needs just grew and grew and now they’re spread out over several buildings. Word is that Horton’s wants to consolidate operations under one roof.

That roof, of course, should be in Hamilton.

Get a donut degree

As it turned out, I was heading to Oakville anyway to visit my parents. Might as well stop by Tim Hortons and check things out.

It’s the Dorval exit, then a quick left at the lights. Across from the main Hortons building, they have a store. It’s attached to Tim Horton’s University, so they use the store for training, and to test new ideas.

I pulled into the lot and watched them putting up a new front on the store, a cafe look with decorative stone and a striped awning. And over it, on a ribbon of brushed steel, is spelled out what you’ll find inside: coffee-donuts-espresso-sandwiches-latte-bagels-smoothies.

At the Hortons test-and-training store in Oakville, the latest look goes up. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

A Hortons guy inside the caution-tape zone watched over this process. I asked him about the new look and he took time to explain it. Courteous fellow.

Then I said I’d heard they’re looking to move the headquarters. Yes, he said. Probably a few years away. But they want to bring everybody under one roof, he said. Better than hiking from one building to another.

I told him the right place to be was where the doughnut was born. Hamilton would make room for them.

New man in CEO's office

"Well, we’re not going into the GTA," the fellow said. He said he’d heard it could well be somewhere along the Oakville-Burlington border. And also that things might get moving now, because after searching since 2011, Tim Hortons (TDL Group) has finally found a new CEO. Marc Caira started this month.

I figured I should try to get official word and trekked over to the main building. The receptionist told me the public relations manager wouldn’t be able to see me without an appointment, but I did leave a detailed message.

I was offered a coffee. Too hot for that, but I did take a look at the display case in the lobby. "No pictures, please," the receptionist said.

Get your diploma in deep-fried dough right here, at the Oakville headquarters. (Paul Wilson/ CBC)

There are some treasures in there. A Hortons glass – Season’s Greetings, Ron & Tim, 1973. An original white doughnut bag, Tim Horton’s picture on it, and just two stores listed – 65 Ottawa North and 770 Concession.

There are now some 4,300 stores. Posters on the lobby wall mark the early milestones. There’s one for the 1000th store, in Ancaster in 1995. "It is just a couple of miles down the road from the very first store we opened 31 years ago," it says. "But the road from Hamilton to Ancaster has taken us right across the country."

Hortons is a vast enterprise. Last year Canadians spent $6 billion at its restaurants.

700 good jobs

So it’s no surprise that there are some 700 good jobs at Hortons headquarters, in operations, research and development, training, real estate, finance, personnel, IT, legal, purchasing, marketing – and public relations, though I didn’t hear back from them.

Oakville will work very hard to keep Hortons inside its borders. Burlington would do some wooing too.

And Hamilton? Well, we haven’t done so well with head offices in the last 40 years or so. Goodbye Westinghouse, Firestone, Hoover, Procter & Gamble, Stelco.

Stelco's gone, and here's the new Tim's Tower, downtown Hamilton. (Rick Cordeiro/ Wikimedia Commons)

Stelco left us for Toronto, then moved head office back here, then slipped into oblivion. Which left our tallest office building half-empty, at King and James.

We could put Hortons up royally, right there. Those employees would love working in the heart of the new Hamilton, under one roof, in the newly-named 26-storey Tim’s Tower.

Next year is the 50th anniversary of Tim Hortons, a fine time to come on home.

Read more CBC Hamilton stories by Paul Wilson here.