Canada ’08: A Canadian Institution (1) Canadian Tire
There are many businesses I have come to associate Canada with, rightly or wrongly, on my numerour visits over the years. Names such as London Drugs, Dairy Queen (yum) Earls and The Keg restaurants trip off the tongue. None however remind me in quite the same way about the country as Canadian Tire, the general merchandise dealer and Tim Hortons, purveyors originally of excellent donuts and fine coffee, now providing an ever increasingly diverse range of food and drinks to a grateful Canadian public. These two businesses in particular, it always seems to me, are bonded into the consciousness of Canadian people and are much loved in their own different ways.
Like Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire is a national institution in Canada. I have always had an affection for the stores since first visiting Canada and gazing wondrously at the infinite amount of goods on display. ‘Crappy Tire.’ as it is often termed by Canadians ‘specialises’ in home products, hardware, tools, auto goods, sports goods, camping gear and lawn and garden products. Yes they do actually serve tyres too, not to mention being the largest independent gasoline supplier in the country.
The very first Canadian Tire store open in Ontario back in 1925 – ancient history by Canadian standards. The chain of stores which is now a publicly traded company now numbers 456 in Canada alone.
Canadian Tire even sports its own currency! These realistic looking ‘banknotes’ are a national cultural institution and are traded as coupons. The Scottish figure on the notes is known as ‘Sandy McTire’. There are tales of Canadian Tire money being spent in bars and other important modern day trading places!
On my most recent visit to the Kelowna store I was at first struck by a sign on the door claiming ‘No shirt, no shoes – no service’. I felt kind of crestfallen as I’d once imagined that this state of dress was almost obligatory at Canadian Tire. Entering through the front doors the aroma of rubber from the tyre section is all-pervading and somehow reassuring. It’s a man thing. All around there are men looking on shelves for new additions to their power tool armoury. Dad’s meanwhile stand over sons squeezing on new pairs of hockey skates whilst older ladies check out the kitchenware section. It’s one heck of a mish-mash of a store and all the better for it. One of those stores you can wander around aimlessly for long periods of time finding all those items that you know you can’t live without for a second longer.
On an early visit to Canada I came out of a Canadian Tire in Ontario with a full socket set and a mini tool kit for a few dollars. So excited was I that I hadn’t even reckoned on the weight in the suitcase in taking these invaluable items home with me. I won’t make that silly (and expensive) mistake again but I will always enjoy an odd hour in good old‘ Crappy Tire’.