Mind of McCabe: Reflecting on 150 Key Historical Dates in Canadian Football History

Pre-Confederation 1861-1866

1861 – Our journey begins with the first ever known game of rugby football between a group of U of T students at University College, which took place on November 9th, 1861. That means that football predates Canadian Confederation by six years, and by some accounts the roots of the game can be traced back even farther to the 1850s, which is pretty insane to think about. At the time the students were playing something resembling modern day rugby, but little did they know their cloud of dust would soon become woven into the fabricate of a country yet to be born.

1862 – The first ever written account of a rugby football game was documented on October 15th, 1864, which took place at the Montreal Cricket Grounds between the First Battalion Grenadier Guards and the Second Battalion Scotts Fusilier Guards. The Grenadier Guards prevailed in a shutout with three goals and two rouges.

1864 – A group of football pioneers met at Trinity College in 1864 to devise a rugby football rulebook, laying the rudimentary groundwork for the game we enjoy today.

Post-Confederation

One of the oldest known photos of the Hamilton Tigers, photo is cited as 1886

1869 – In a room above George Lee’s Fruit Store on November 3rd, 1869, the oldest surviving franchise in Canadian football was formed with the founding of the Hamilton Football Club. The team played it’s first game against the 13th Battalion on December 18th, and would eventually move into the famed AAA Grounds in 1872, which played host to seven Grey Cups. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats can link their history directly to the original club.

1872 – On April 8th, 1872 in a lower room of Mechanics Hall, the Montreal Football Club was formed. The first ever organized game played in the province of Quebec was on October 19th, which was a 0-0 tie between the Montreal Football Club and a Quebec City club at the Esplanade. They played to another 0-0 tie on October 26th, this time at McGill University.

1873 – On October 4th, 1873, the Toronto Argonauts Rowing Club decided to start up their own football club, which makes them one of the oldest franchises in North America that still uses their original name.

They wasted no time getting on the field with their first documented game on October 18th, which was a victory over the Hamilton Football Club, marking the beginning of one of the most heated rivalries in Canadian history. That day also gave birth to the Tigers moniker in Hamilton, which derived from their yellow and black uniforms.

In the same year on March 24th, the first attempt at a governing body for the game was organized named the Football Association of Canada.

1874 – On May 18th, 1874, the Harvard Crimson took on the McGill Redmen at Jarvis Field in Cambridge, which can be considered the first game of rugby football in the United States. The two clubs played their first match under “Boston” rules on May 13th with Harvard winning 3-0, but then used “McGill” rules in the second game which ended in a 0-0 tie. Some will contest that the first game in the United States took place between Princeton and Rutgers in 1869, but the match was played under English Football Association rules, which is better known as soccer. Harvard enjoyed the Canadian version much more than the current form they were playing south of the border, marking the start of rugby football in America.

1876 – On September 20th, 1876, the Ottawa Football Club was formed. They won their first game just three days later versus Aylmer Club at Jacques-Cartier Square.

1879 – Although details are scarce, in 1879 the Winnipeg Rugby Football Club was formed, making them the first documented city out West to take up the game.

Dominion Championship Era 1880-1908

1880 – On June 12th, 1880, the Canadian Rugby Football Union was formed, officially becoming the governing body for the entire country. With that said, the organization originally only consisted of teams from Ontario and Quebec.

1883 – Although the CRFU was in existence, it wasn’t until 1883 when true structure was introduced to the game. On January 6th, the Ontario Football Rugby Union was formed with the three clubs from Hamilton, Toronto and Ottawa, who were joined by the University of Toronto, Queen’s University and Royal Military College.

Just ten days later on January 16th, the Quebec Rugby Football Union was founded. The original four teams were McGill University, Montreal Football Club, Britania Football Club and Quebec City. The Toronto Argonauts were the first ORFU champions, while the Montreal Football Club took home the first QRFU title.

Photo of the Varsity Blues championship team from 1898

1884 – On November 5th, 1884 at the University of Toronto, the Montreal Football Club defeated the Toronto Argonauts 30-0 in the first ever Canadian Dominion Football Championship game, which was essentially the Grey Cup in this time period.

The QRFU played a two game regular season before a round of playoffs, while the ORFU simply played a series of single elimination playoff games. Toronto was given an automatic birth to the finals because the Ottawa Football Club forfeited the ORFU championship game. Amazingly, the Argonauts never won the Dominion Championship with the University of Toronto dominating the city during that time period.

1888 – The Manitoba Rugby Football Union was founded in 1888, and throughout it’s history mostly consisted of teams based out of Winnipeg, with nicknames such as Shamrocks, Tigers and Victorias used at various times.

1890 – The Edmonton Football Club was formed in 1890, initially playing their games at the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds. Although they aren’t directly linked to the current day Eskimos, the team was named after the original club who adopted the nickname.

Over in Ontario, the Hamilton Tigers won their first ORFU title, marking the first championship in the city’s history. They defeated Queen’s University 8-6, but there was no Dominion Championship game that season.

The CRFU also changed their name to the Canadian Rugby Union in the same year, which is representative of how people viewed the sport before the forward pass or unlimited motion were ever dreamed of.

1892 – Although the MRFU was formed in 1888, they didn’t hold an official championship game until 1892. One of the original members was St. John’s College at the University of Manitoba, who actually won the first six out of eight MRFU championships before clubs from Winnipeg began to dominate the province.

This year also marked the first meeting between the Edmonton Football Club and an unknown team from Calgary. Each town’s media took turns taking shots at one another, which laid the groundwork for what would become the Battle of Alberta. Some say this is when Edmonton first got it’s name the “Esquimeaux”, which was a barb at the northern location of the city and famously cold winters.

1895 – The Alberta Rugby Football Union was formed in 1895, but little is known of it’s original structure or teams before the introduction of an official club in Calgary years later.

1897 – The Edmonton Football Club officially adopted the nickname Esquimeaux in 1897.

An early Ottawa Rough Riders program

1898 – On September 9th, 1898, the Ottawa Football Club officially changed their name to the Rough Riders, marking the beginning of a long love affair between a city and their team. They also made the switch to red and black uniforms, which has become the preferred colour palette for anything sports related in Ottawa, including the name of their current team.

In the same year on November 24th, the Rough Riders went on to win their first ever Dominion Championship on the grounds at Ottawa University in an 11-1 victory over Ottawa College. Ottawa College dominated in the early days winning five ORFU titles in a row from 1885-1889, and also won the Dominion Championship six times.

To top off a busy year, the Yates Cup was awarded for the first time to the University of Toronto in 1898, which makes it the oldest trophy in football. This was the first time universities competed in a separate division named the Intercollegiate Rugby Football Union.

1900 – The CRU made a significant rule change at the turn of the century, which made holding or grabbing an opponent while blocking prohibited.

1903 – Possibly the most important day in Canadian football history happened in 1903, when the ORFU decided to adopt the Burnside Rules, which were largely based off an already established set of rules being used in the United States that were created by Walter Camp. This reduced the game to 12 men aside instead of 15, enforced a snap from under centre, permitted 6 men on the line of scrimmage instead of 8, and introduced the three down system. Many key differences such as an extra man on the field and one less down differed from the American rules, which allowed the games to grow organically into two distinct brands. The Burnside Rules were named after Thrift Burnside, who was captain at the University of Toronto where the rules were first adopted in 1901.

1905 – The QRFU made a few more significant changes in 1905, including the introduction of a three yard punt rule, which has now morphed into the famous no yard rules. They also regulated four 15 minute quarters for every game, increased “tries” or touchdowns to five points, and reduced “goals from tries” or PATs to one point. Slowly but surely the game we know today was taking shape with the other leagues making similar moves.

What is documented as the 1906 Hamilton Tigers at the AAA Grounds

1906 – After several spats between 1903-1905 with the CRU and QRFU about their eligibility to compete for the Dominion Championship, the Hamilton Tigers were finally allowed to compete for the title on December 1st, 1906 against McGill University. Despite homefield advantage in McGill’s favour, the Tigers prevailed 29-3 for their first ever Dominion Championship. They would also win the last one a few years later.

All leagues finally adopted the Burnside Rules in 1906, although there were still some differences between points awarded in each union. At the time, the name “football” made a lot more sense with points still awarded for kicks of all kinds, including goal from a try, goal from the field, free kick and penalty kick.

The Calgary City Rugby Football Club was also formed in 1906, making them the first organized team to be documented in the city.

1907 – The seeds of the modern day Eastern Division were planted in 1907 with the formation of the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union, which consisted of the Ottawa Rough Riders, the Hamilton Tigers, the Montreal Football Club and the Toronto Argonauts. The union was known as the “Big Four”, and was formed in an attempt to group the best teams in the country in one division for regular season play. As a result, the QRFU ceased operations.

After a six game schedule and playoffs, the Montreal Football Club were eventually crowned champions in the first season. They then went on to destroy the Peterborough Pets of the ORFU 75-10 in the Dominion Championship.

The CRU implemented another stalwart rule from the intercollegiate game in 1907 as well, which mandated a yard between the opposing sides at the line of scrimmage, and made it illegal to move before the ball was snapped.

In Alberta on November 8th, the Calgary City RFC played their first game at the Edmonton Exhibition Grounds against a newly formed team from their rival city. They left the field that day with a 23-5 victory.

The Saskatchewan Rugby Football League was also formed in 1907, with the first year seeing competition between the Moose Jaw Tigers, Regina Civil Service and Regina City Football Club.

1908 – The Calgary City RFC officially changed their name to the Tigers in 1908, while the Edmonton club would once again adopt the name Esquimeaux on October 16th, and later become the first documented ARFU champions.

The first grandstands were built at Lansdowne Park in Ottawa before the 1908 season, which is still the site for professional football to this day in the city. The Rough Riders moved in the same year, and never left until 1996 when the team eventually folded. The history of the site’s use for sporting events dates back to the 1870s.

Grey Cup Challenge Period 1909-1921

Photo of the first ever Grey Cup champions

1909 – The transition into a new era took place on on December 4th, 1909, when the Grey Cup was contested for the first time between the University of Toronto and the Parkdale Canoe Club. The trophy was donated by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Earl Grey, who initially wanted the trophy to be awarded to the winner of the senior amateur hockey championship, but after the Allan Cup was introduced, he turned his attention to rugby football. The cup didn’t arrive in Canada until two weeks before the game was played, which was a tiny glimpse into the chaotic history that awaited the prized jewel. The University of Toronto were named the first Grey Cup champions after defeating Parkdale 26-6 at Rosedale Field in front of 3807 fans.

A less significant event took place a week later on December 15th when then the Hamilton Tigers took on the Ottawa Rough Riders in front of 15,000 fans at Van Cortland Park in New York.

1910 – The Regina Rugby Club was formed at Regina City Hall on September 13th, 1910, which was the basis for a team that would eventually become the heart soul of an entire province. Regina Rugby Club played their first game against the Moose Jaw Tigers on October 1st at Moose Jaw Baseball Grounds, where the Tigers prevailed 16-6. In between those two events, the Saskatchewan Rugby Football Union was also formed at the Flanagan Hotel in Saskatoon.

1911 – The formation of the modern day Western Division took it’s first baby steps in 1911 when the MRFU, ARFU and SRFU joined forces to create the Western Canada Rugby Football Union. The Calgary Tigers won the first championship but were barred from challenging for the Grey Cup because they weren’t full members of the CRU.

The Edmonton Esqimeaux officially changed their names to the Eskimos in 1910, which is where the current team’s name was derived from.

This also marked the first year Hamilton had two teams competing in the city, with the Hamilton Alerts joining the ORFU in 1910.

1912 – The Alerts left their mark before folding at the end of the 1912 season, defeating the Toronto Argonauts in the 4th Grey Cup at the AAA Grounds in Hamilton by a score of 11-4. The victory makes the Alerts the first team from Hamilton to ever hoist the Grey Cup, which is a unique quirk in history considering they have no direct ties to the current team and only lasted two seasons.

1913 – A landmark event took place in 1913, with the first ever documented East versus West games taking place when the Hamilton Tigers travelled out West to take on teams from Regina, Calgary, Moose Jaw and and Winnipeg. The Tigers won every game, but this was the first time the country was truly united by the game of football.

The Hamilton Alerts were denied reinstatement to the ORFU at the beginning of the season, but were then later accepted as the Hamilton Rowing Club instead. Many of the players from the Alerts’ Grey Cup switched over to the IRFU in 1913, which resulted in the Hamilton Tigers taking home their first Grey Cup in a 44-2 win over the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club. The game once again took place at the AAA Grounds, and is widely considered the first Grey Cup victory affiliated with the current franchise in Hamilton.

Possibly the first ever Toronto Argonauts Grey Cup team

1914 – On December 5th, 1914, the Toronto Argonauts defeated the Varsity Blues in the 6th Grey Cup by a score of 14-2 at Varsity Stadium, marking the first Grey Cup in the franchise’s long history.

1915 – With the outbreak of World War One, the CRU was thrown to the side as priorities took precedence over the game. The Hamilton Tigers would win the Grey Cup in 1915 over the Toronto Rowing and Athletic Association, which would be the last time trophy was awarded until 1920.

1919 – Regular season resumed after the war in 1919, but the Grey Cup was not contested mostly due to a lack of interest. One important note is that the Toronto Argonauts at this time had moved into Varsity Stadium, where they would play for the next four decades.

1920 – While the entire country was still struggling to recover, they attempted to function as normally as possible with the Grey Cup once again up for grabs 1920. The Regina Rugby Club wanted to challenge for the trophy after the Winnipeg Victorias forfeited the Western Championship, but they were denied by the CRU. Instead the Varsity Blues took home their fourth Grey Cup in a 16-3 win over the Argonauts at Varsity Stadium, which was the last time they ever hoisted the holy grail.

Some more rule changes were established as well with the ARFU reducing their players down to 12 per side, which ultimately led to cross country play being established just a year later.

Coast to Coast Challenge Era 1921-1935

Toronto Argonauts 1921 Grey Cup championship team (Canadian Football HOF)

1921 – The turning point for Canadian football came in 1921, which featured the first Grey Cup contested between teams from opposite sides of the country. On December 3rd, the Edmonton Eskimos earned the right to travel to Varsity Stadium to take on the Toronto Argonauts in the 9th Grey Cup, but unfortunately they went home empty handed after falling 23-0 in front of 9,995 fans. Still it was a milestone achievement that united both sides of the country for the first time in a championship game. This was made possible due to sweeping rule changes by the CRU that reduced the number of players from 14 to 12 across the board, and also restricted roster sizes to 18 per side. The size of each roster was a much bigger deal back in 1921 due to financial constraints mostly linked to travel cost.

1922 – The Edmonton Eskimos took a left turn in 1922, changing their name to the Elks for one season before immediately switching back to Eskimos a year later. This didn’t impact their play on the field at all, and once again Edmonton represented the West Coast in the 10th annual Grey Cup, this time at Richardson Stadium. They came up short versus Queen’s University who prevailed 13-1 in front of 4,700 fans.

1923 – The Regina Rugby Club finally got their chance to contend for the Grey Cup in 1923, but they would experience the first of many bumps in the road during their journey to Varsity Stadium. Queen’s University showed no mercy in a 54-0 blowout victory, making them the first repeat champions since the Varsity Blues won three in a row from 1909-1911.

The Calgary Tigers also changed their name to the 50th Battalion in 1923, which was the first of a trio of name change throughout the next decade before the team folded. They returned to the Tigers nickname before taking on the more unique monikers of Altomahs and Bronks in their latter years.

Argonauts taking on the Rough Rides in 1924 (William Jame)

1924 – The Regina Rugby Football Club officially changed their name to the Roughriders in 1924, which marked the beginning of Saskatchewan’s obsession with the team they know today. At this point in time however, they wore similar red and black uniforms to their counterparts in Ottawa. The Roughriders are considered the first North American sports franchise to identify with an entire province/state instead of a specific city.

1924 also marked the final time the original Edmonton Eskimos competed in regular season play, although by reports the team didn’t seize to exist.

Queen’s went on to win the Grey Cup for a third straight year in a 11-3 victory over the Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers, which was the last time any university hoisted the national prize. In the same year, Queen’s Head Coach, Bill Hughes, introduced the method of film study to the game.

1925 – After deciding to change their name from the Rough Riders to the Senators, Ottawa went on to defeat the Winnipeg Tammany Tigers in the Grey Cup by a score of 24-1 in front of their hometown crowd at Lansdowne Park. The game took place on December 5th, which was first time the citizens of Ottawa would ever call themselves Grey Cup champions.

Another big component of the modern game was also introduced in 1924 by McGill’s Head Coach, Frank Shaughnessy, who implemented the concept of huddling before a play, then referred to as the Conference System.

1926 – After being noticeably absent from the rugby football scene for the better part of 50 years, B.C finally entered the fray on September 1st, 1926 with the formation of the British Columbia Rugby Football Union. The newly formed BCRFU joined the other provinces in the now well established WCRFU, but did not compete in the playoff format until the following year. The Victoria Football Club were the first champions of the league, but then Vancouver based clubs dominated for the remainder of the union’s history.

The Ottawa Senators claimed their second straight Grey Cup in a win over the University of Toronto in front of 8276 fans at Varsity Stadium, which would be their last Grey Cup as the Senators. It would also be the last time any university team competed for the national trophy.

1927 – Not much news happened in 1927, but the Western Canada Intercollegiate Union was formed, which was the birth of what we now know as the modern day Canada West Universities Athletic Association. This was also the first year the BCFRU competed in the WCRFU playoffs, meanwhile the ARFU did not operate in 1927.

1928 – Canadian rugby football hit the airwaves on December 1st, 1928 when the Grey Cup was first broadcasted over the radio from the Hamilton AAA Grounds. The Hamilton Tigers soundly defeated the Regina Roughriders 30-0 in front of 4767 fans.

1929 – The real beginning of the game as we know it began in 1929, when the CRU experimented with the forward pass predominantly in the West Coast, and also enforced the forward pass in the 17th edition of the Grey Cup.

The first ever completed pass was on September 21st by Gerry Seiberling to Ralph Losie of the Calgary Altomah-Tigers in a game versus the Edmonton Eskimos. The first touchdown pass would belong to the Eskimos a week later in a game versus the University of Alberta, where Joe Cook connected with Pal Power to create Canadian history. Later in the game Joe Hess from the University of Alberta would make history of his own, returning the first ever interception for a touchdown.

The big test came in the Grey Cup on November 30th, which was contested between the Hamilton Tigers and Regina Roughriders for the second year in a row. Regina’s Jersey Jack would earn the distinction of being the first player to complete a forward pass in a Grey Cup when he tossed the ball to Jerry Erskine at the AAA Grounds in Hamilton, but the Tigers would have the final laugh walking away with a 14-3 victory. Only 1,906 people showed up that day, which is a surprisingly low number for such a historic event.

Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers 1930 Grey Cup team

1930 – An important amalgamation took place in June 10th, 1930, when the remaining MRFU teams merged to created the Winnipeg Football Club, which was the basis for the current team we know today. This left only Winnipeg St. John’s to compete with in the province.

On September 29th, the Hamilton Tigers traveled out West to take on the University of British Columbia in what would be the first game played under floodlights in Canada. Not long after on October 29th, Oshawa and Toronto Balmy Beach played the first East Coast night game at Ulster Stadium.

The Montreal Football Club, who had been known as Montreal AAA for a while due to name of their grounds, officially changed their nickname to the Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers in 1930, which was the first name ever established in the city.

1931 – The CRU took the final steps in 1931 to implement the forward pass across every league in the country. This led to the first ever touchdown pass in a Grey Cup later that year thrown by Montreal’s Warren Stevens to Kenny Grant, which was a key part in the organization’s first Grey Cup victory. The Winged Wheelers defeated the Regina Roughriders 22-0 at Molson Stadium on December 5th, which was the first and only time the Grey Cup was hosted at the Alouettes’ current venue.

The Ottawa Senators also changed their name back to the Rough Riders in 1931, which would remain untouched until 1996.

1932 – The St. John’s Winnipegs finally gave in and merged with the then called Winnipeg Winnipegs in 1932. They had so many players left over from the merger that they formed another team named the Winnipeg Shamrocks.

On December 3rd, the Hamilton Tigers defeated the Regina Roughriders 25-6 in front of 4806 fans at the AAA Grounds, which was the fifth straight empty trip home for the Roughriders.

1934 – The Winnipegs dawned their customary blue and gold uniforms we know today for the first time in 1934, which ended a period of confusion in Manitoba that followed the merger.

Winnipeg ‘Pegs 1935 Grey Cup team, the first West Coast club to ever win the trophy (Canadian Football HOF)

1935 – A breakthrough on the West Coast took place on December 7th, 1935, with the Winnipegs becoming the first team from the WCRFU to hoist the Grey Cup when the defeated the Hamilton Tigers 18-12. This ended a ten year streak the East held over the West that began in 1921.

Divisions Take Form 1936-

1936 – Another key point in history came in August of 1936 when the Western Interprovincial Football Union was formed, which consisted of the Calgary Bronks, Regina Roughriders and Winnipeg Winnipegs. There was a ton of resistance to the change, but with the three most dominant teams on the West Coast banding together, there wasn’t much the WCRFU could do. This laid the land for the Western Division we know today. Regina ended up winning the first WIFU championship, but were barred from competing in the Grey Cup because they did not follow the new ratio rules regarding American players that were formed after Winnipeg won the previous year.

The Regina Roughriders also moved to Taylor Field in 1936, which has become the gathering spot for football in the province since that day.

1937 – The QRFU finally begins to compete for the Grey Cup in 1937, although they never find any success with Montreal already moved to the IRFU and drop out a few years later.

Montreal also officially changed their name in 1937 to the Indians for one season. They then cycled through Cubs and Royales the following years.

This may be the first year that Winnipeg was officially named the Blue Bombers as well, with the origins of the name dating back to an exhibition game against North Dakota State in 1935 when Winnipeg Tribune journalist, Vince Leah, coined the nickname the “the Blue Bombers of Western Football”. He derived the nickname from Grantland Rice, who dubbed the team’s quarterback Joe Louis the “Brown Bomber”. If not in 1937, the name was definitely in use by 1938.

1938 – The Edmonton Eskimos joined the WIFU for a few years, although this was still not the same team that can be directly linked to the current franchise.

1940 – With the outbreak of World War Two, teams began to fold but the CRU was still able to pull together a season. 1940 represents a unique year marking the only time the Grey Cup was decided in a two game total point series, with the Ottawa Rough Riders coming out on top 20-7.

This was also the final year before the BCRFU folded.

1941 – Due to the war effort, the Hamilton Tigers seized operations in 1941, which left the Hamilton Wildcats of the ORFU as the only team in the city. The Wildcats were technically a new club after various ORFU franchises folded throughout the years, and were stocked full of leftover players from the Tigers. A key distinction is that the Wildcats adopted red and white as their colours after the Tigers refused to allow the use of black and gold. This team eventually went on to form one half of the Tiger-Cats we know today. This year also marked the first time that Civic Stadium played host to Canadian football, which sat on the same plot of land that Tim Hortons Field is built on today.

The Calgary Bronks left WIFU in 1941, which was the end of an era of football in Calgary that dated back to the Tigers. This however opened up room for the Vancouver Grizzlies to join the WIFU, making them the first team from B.C to compete with the best in the West.

1942 – World War Two really took it’s toll in 1942, with the IRFU and WIFU shutting down operations until 1945, leaving the ORFU as the only established league left standing. The league was littered with temporary teams that filled the void, while makeshift leagues were cobbled together in Ottawa and Winnipeg with mostly military based teams. The Toronto RCAF Hurricanes defeated the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers 8-5 in the Grey Cup, which was played at Varsity Stadium on December 5th in front of 12,455 fans.

Hamilton Flying Wildcats 1943 Grey Cup team

1943 – With the football landscape still tattered in 1943, it was the Hamilton Flying Wildcats who prevailed in the Grey Cup over the Winnipeg RCAF Bombers, which was the final championship won by any team who preceded the current day Tiger-Cats. The game was played on November 27th at Varsity Stadium in front of 16,423 fans.

1944 – The Flying Wildcats returned to the Grey Cup in 1944, but were on the wrong end of a 7-6 defeat to one of the oddest champions in history, the St. Hyacinthe-Donnacona Navy. Although there is conflicting data, this has also been recorded as the first Grey Cup played at Civic Stadium in Hamilton.

1945 – With end of the war imminent, the IRFU resumed play in 1945, which was the first official year that the Tigers and Wildcats coexisted in the CRU. On the other side of the country the WIFU chose not to operate a regular season, but still competed in the Grey Cup playoff format.

This year also marked the return of a team in Calgary to the WIFU, which was finally dubbed the Stampeders. This is noted as the official start of the current franchise that plays today.

1946 – The Montreal Alouettes officially joined the IRFU in 1946, which would stick as the team’s name uninterrupted until 1981.

The Regina Roughriders unofficially changed their name to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1946, with it not being fully recognized until 1950 as their real name.

The Calagry Stampeders 1948 Grey Cup team celebrates their big victory

1948 – Another landmark event took place in 1948, with the first well documented Grey Cup Festival taking place in 1948. After the WIFU increased their schedule from 8 to 12 games, the Calgary Stampeders ran the table going 12-0, and eventually earned their first berth in the Grey Cup. With a trainload of fans making the trip to support the team, the Stampeders would not be denied in a 12-7 victory over the Ottawa Rough Riders. The fans from Calgary who attended that game are widely credited with the creation of the hype machine that now follows the Grey Cup every year. Their festivities included a pancake breakfast, and the infamous horseback ride through the historic Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto.

In an odd side note the same year, the Tigers and Wildcats flipped leagues to try and shake things up in the city, so the Tigers played in the ORFU, and the Wildcats played in the IRFU. The inaugural Labour Day Classic was also played in 1948 between Hamilton and Toronto. This was also the first season that Calgary sported red and white, while Saskatchewan adopted their famous green and white uniforms.

1949 – One of the final pieces of the current CFL landscape was placed in 1949, when the Edmonton Eskimos officially joined the WIFU, now wearing green gold which differed from previous versions of the club. This is marked as the beginning of the current day team.

The WIFU once again added two more games to the regular season as well, bumping the 1948 regular season up to 14 games, which was two more than the IRFU. This also marked the end of the WRFCU, which could not survive after the formation of the WIFU.

A year after the Labour Day game between Hamilton and Toronto, Saskatchewan played Winnipeg, Edmonton played Calgary, and Montreal played Ottawa, which marked the beginning of one of the greatest traditions in Canadian football.

On November 26th, the Montreal Alouettes won their first Grey Cup in a 28-15 win over the Stampeders at Varsity Stadium. The game was play in front a record crowd of 20,087 fans before the stadium was expanded the following year to house over 27,000.

Toronto Argonaut players sitting on the bench during the 1950 Grey Cup

1950 – One of the first ever Canadian football classics took place on November 25th at Varsity Stadium, a game which is affectionately known as the Mud Bowl. The game was played in front of a new record crowd of 27,101, with the Toronto Argonauts entertaining their hometown fans to a 13-0 victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

1950 also represents the amalgamation of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, which was done because neither the Tigers or Wildcats could function properly with the clubs competing at every level off the field despite playing in different leagues. The team held a contest to choose the colours, which were originally black, gold, red, white and blue, but eventually the other colours fell to the wayside which led to the familiar black and gold uniforms we know today.

1951 – The first ever “Roughrider Cup” took place in 1951, where the Ottawa Rough Riders defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders by a score of 21-14 at Varsity Stadium.

1952 – Canadian football vaulted themselves into the T.V generation in 1952 when they landed a $7,500 contract from the CBC to televise the Grey Cup.

1953 – The first official Grey Cup credited to the Tiger-Cats came in 1953 when they defeated the Blue Bombers 12-6 at Varsity Stadium. The league also broadcasted the Grey Cup on three different networks, which increased their T.V revenue to $20,000 dollars.

In the same year, Edmonton’s Billy Vessels received the first Most Outstanding Play Award, which was named the Schenley Award.

1953 was also the first year the Blue Bombers played at Winnipeg Stadium, which was their home for the next 59 years until it was demolished in 2012. The stadium is probably better known as Candad Inns Stadium now.

B.C Catches Up 1954-1957

1954 – The final piece of the current Canadian football puzzle was put in place when the B.C Lions took to the field for the first time during the 1954 season as members of the WIFU. They played their first game on August 28th at Empire Stadium against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, which they lost 8-6. Orange has been the predominant colour since day one for the franchise.

Later in the year the Edmonton Eskimos would go on to win the franchise’s first Grey Cup, which also happened to be the first championship in the city’s long football history. The Eskimos defeated the Alouettes that day 26-25 at Varsity Stadium, which was the first of many Grey Cups between the two organizations. This was also the first year that the Alouettes played on the grounds at McGill University, which is the same venue they play at today.

The Blue Bombers’ Gerry James was also named the first Most Outstanding Canadian at the end of the year.

Special sign made to welcome fans to the first Grey Cup in Vancouver

1955 – The West Coast was finally treated to their first Grey Cup match in 1955 at Empire Stadium in B.C, where the Eskimos once again defeated the Alouettes 34-19. This was the first time in the Grey Cup’s 43 year history that it was contested outside of Ontario or Quebec. This was also the last season that the ORFU contended for the national prize.

1956 – Things began to pick up pace in 1956, which saw the first real steps taken towards the modern day CFL with the founding of the Canadian Football Council, which was a joint effort between the IRFU and WIFU to unify the entire country under one league. G. Sydney Halter was named the first commissioner, and although it wouldn’t last long under the CFC label, the foundation was laid for the impending future. One of the key rules changes that took place was the increase of touchdowns from five to six points, which had been the norm in America for many years.

1957 – While the Grey Cup was already being recorded on film and broadcasted in local areas, 1957 was the first year that it was beamed from Coast to Coast for all to see. The CFC reportedly earned $125,000 in revenue. The Tiger-Cats came away with an easy 32-7 win over the Blue Bombers, which would be the final Grey Cup played during what can best be known as the pre-modern era

Modern Day CFL is Formed 1958-1980

Russ Jackson with the Most Outsanding Player Trophy in 1966. Jackson is considered the greatest Canadian quarterback of all time, spending his entire career with the Ottawa Rough Riders winning three Grey Cups

VANCOUVER, November 24–Russ Jackson with Schenley Trophy. (CP PHOTO) 1966 (Stan Mulcahy) …Widely considered the best Canadian quarterback of all time, Jackson began his career in Ottawa in 1958, and went on to win the Grey Cup three times

1958 – Finally we arrive at 1958, which is the year the Canadian Football League that we have all grown accustomed to was officially formed. After slowly severing ties with the CRU over the the course or two years, the CFC took ownership of the Grey Cup and changed their name to the CFL. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers eventually became the first Grey Cup champions under the new model after defeating the Hamilton Tiger-Cats at Empire Stadium by score of 35-28.

1959 – The Toronto Argonauts officially moved to CNE Stadium before the 1959 season, which marked the end of their storied history at Varsity Stadium where the Grey Cup was hosted a record 30 times. The Blue Bombers once again defeated the Tiger-Cats in the 47th Grey Cup by a score of 21-7, which was the first championship game held at CNE Stadium.

1960 – Another big transition took place before the 1960 season, which saw the IRFU switch it’s name to the more recognizable Eastern Football Conference, which still consisted of the original “Big Four” members in some sort of iteration.

The Calgary Stampeders also officially moved into McMahon Stadium in 1960, which is the same venue they play in today. They originally played their games at the Mewata Stadium.

1961 – Following in the footsteps of their Eastern counterparts, the WIFU changed their name to the Western Football Conference in 1961, which is where our view of the modern CFL starts to really take shape. With that said, each league still held very distinct identities for the better part of two decades before a full merger took place. During this time the two conferences played a series of interlocking games during the regular season.

B.C Lions first Grey Cup team

1964 – Late to the party as always, the B.C Lions captured their first Grey Cup title in 1964 when they defeated the Hamilton Tiger-Cats 34-24 at CNE Stadium.

1966 – While the Lions were simply late to the show, it’s amazing to think it took until 1966 for the Saskatchewan Roughriders to hoist the Grey Cup. It was a rematch of the “Roughrider Cup” between them and Ottawa, but this time the green and white prevailed 29-14 in front of 32,344 fans at Empire Stadium. It would sadly be the last time they tasted glory until 1989, which is considered one of the greatest Grey Cup games ever played between the Roughriders and Tiger-Cats. 1966 was also the first year the Alouettes played at the Autostade.

1967 – As a tribute to the county’s centennial birthday, Lansdowne Park played host to the Grey Cup for the fourth time in it’s storied history. There was much fan fare surrounding the event, much like we see today in 2017 with the 150th celebration. The Hamilton Tiger-Cats prevailed as the champions with a 24-1 victory in front of 31,407 fans.

The CRU also officially changed to the Canadian Amateur Football Association, which is the same organization we know as Football Canada today.

1970 – Civic Stadium in Hamilton was renamed to the now famous Ivor Wynne Stadium before the 1970 season, which would remain laregly untouched until 2012 when it was demolished in order to build Tim Hortons Field.

Angelo Mosca raises the Grey Cup in his final game in Hamilton (Hamilton Spectator)

1972 – The Canadian Football Hall of Fame officially opened in Hamilton on November 28th, 1972, and has been housed in the city since it’s inception. The building was originally awarded to the city in 1963, but experienced a ton of delays before it was ever opened. Ivor Wynne Stadium also played host to the Grey Cup in 1972, where the hometown Tiger-Cats defeated the Saskatchewan Roughriders 13-10 in front of 35,950 fans. It was the last time the city would host the game until 1996, which is better known as the Snow Bowl where their rivals the Toronto Argonauts prevailed on enemy soil.

1974 – The ORFU officially folded before the 1974 season, which brought upon a quiet end to the union that was first formed in 1883. This however gave way to the formation of the modern day Canadian Junior Football League on May 8th, which still operates under the same banner to this day.

1975 – The CFL adopted the two point conversion prior to the 1975 season, which makes them the first pro league to implement the rule. Many college leagues were already experimenting with two point conversions long before the CFL ever did.

Tony Gabriel’s famous catch in the 1976 Grey Cup (CP)

1976 – The Montreal Alouettes relocated to state of the art Olympic Stadium in the middle of the 1976 season, which soon led to some of the biggest crowds in CFL history.

This year was also the last time the original Ottawa Rough Riders hoisted the Grey Cup after defeating their twins from Saskatchewan in the “Rider Cup”rubber match 23-20. At the time, it stood as the highest attended game in CFL history with 53,389 packing CNE Stadium to take in the action. Tony Gabriel made one of the most iconic catches in CFL history during this game, a play that still lives on in Ottawa football folklore.

1977 – Soon after the record setting crowd in Toronto, Olympic Stadium played host to a regular season game between the Toronto Argonauts and Montreal Alouettes, which shattered the record with 69,093 people attending the event. This game remains the highest attended in Canadian football history.

1978 – The Edmonton Eskimos finally moved into Commonwealth Stadium before the 1978 season, which is still where they play their games. The original capacity of the stadium was just over 40,000 seats, which seems small compared to the size today.

Major Merger Between the Coasts 1981-1992

1981 – Essentially the final transition to the modern CFL took place prior to the 1981 season, when the ECF and WCF decided to do an official merger, which meant that their schedules would be fully interlocked. This also gave full control to the CFL, who were now free to govern over both divisions unilaterally. This was the first time the two sides were known as the East Division and West Division.

1982 – The original Montreal Alouettes organization closed operations at the end of the 1981 season, and a day later were replaced by the Montreal Concordes who joined the league in 1982. The history of the Alouettes belonged to the Concordes at the time.

1983 – The Lions officially moved into B.C Place in 1883, which has been their only home since except for when renovations were done for the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games. The Lions returned to their original home Empire Stadium for that brief time period.

1986 – The first interlocking 18 game schedule was introduced in 1986, which has become the standard in the CFL. This was also the first year that the crossover rule was introduced, which was in direct response to multiple Western teams getting snubbed in the playoffs by Eastern teams with weaker records.

1987 – Just a day before the 1987 season started, Montreal folded for good. They made an attempt to win back fans by changing their name to the Alouettes the year before, but it was too late for a franchise who set the attendance record just 10 years earlier. As a result, the Blue Bombers made their first move to the Eastern Division, which would happen on three separate occasions in the next 20 years.

1989 – The Toronto Argonauts moved into the SkyDome in 1989, which would be their official home until 2015 before moving into BMO Field for the 2016 season.

American Expansion Debacle 1993-1995

Elfrid Payton drinking from the Grey Cup in 1995

1993 – Probably the darkest days in the CFL’s long history, in 1993 the San Antonio Gold Miners were introduced in an attempt to generate more money and interest in the league. It wasn’t a complete failure the first year, which led the CFL down the path of mass U.S expansion.

1994 – The Las Vegas Posse, Shreveport Pirates and Baltimore Stallions would be the next three experimental teams, with the Stallions actually having a ton of success drawing crowds of 38,000 for most games. They also were the first team outside of Canada to compete for the Grey Cup, but were defeated by the B.C Lions 26-23 at B.C Place.

Note that the Baltimore hat says Colts, which was going to be the franchises name until the NFL blocked them from using it. In their first year, Baltimore didn’t have an official nickname, they were simply referred to as the Baltimore CFLers

1995 – In what would be the final year of U.S exploration for the CFL, they implemented a North and South Division system, which split the two countries into separate conferences. The Gold Miners relocated to San Antonio and became the Texans, while franchises were awarded to the Memphis Mad Dogs and Birmingham Barracudas, which brought the number to five with Baltimore and Shreveport. The Baltimore Stallions would go on to make CFL history by becoming the only American team to ever hoist the Grey Cup. They defeated the Calgary Stampeders 37-20 in the first Grey Cup played at Taylor Field, and were largely aided by future hall of famers such as Mike Pringle, Tracy Ham and Don Matthews as their coach. They also benefited from American laws that prohibited the ratio rule to be enforced for U.S based teams.

The Return of the Alouettes/Loss of the Rough Riders 1996-2001

Tracy Ham Montreal Alouettes. Photo F. Scott Grant … Montreal inherited a well oiled machine from Baltimore who was led by Ham under centre

1996 – It was another whirlwind year in the CFL after the U.S experiment failed, with Baltimore finally moving their franchise to Montreal in 1996 to become the modern day Alouettes, which also brought back the standard East Division and West Division format. Although the CFL was wildly popular in Baltimore, when the Cleveland Browns announced they were moving to the city to become the Ravens, fan interest basically disappeared overnight. There still is somewhat of a hardcore following for the CFL in Baltimore.

This was also the final season for the original Ottawa Rough Riders, who folded at the end of the season after 120 years of football history in the city. This marked the second time the Blue Bombers were forced into the East Divison.

Ottawa Failure Part Two 2002-2006

2002 – Five years after the Rough Riders closed up shop, football was back in Ottawa in the form of the Renegades. Fan excitement was soon tempered in 2005 when the infamous Glieberman father/son duo took control of the organization, who were the same duo that ran the Rough Riders into the ground.

Kerry Joseph became the face of the Renegades during their brief stint, and eventually went on to win the Grey Cup with the Roughriders in 2007

2006 – After bleeding millions the previous year, the Gliebermans pulled their money out of the Renegades which ultimately led to a dispersal draft before the 2006 season, and once again a proud city was left without a team.

2013 – The Blue Bombers played their first official game at IGF Stadium during the 2013 season, marking the first time they played anywhere but Winnipeg Stadium since 1953.

Ottawa Success Part 2/Stadium Boom 2014-2017

Henry Burris celebrating with the fans in Ottawa after winning the 2016 Grey Cup (Ottawa Citizen)

2014 – With the initial idea shopped to the public in 2008, it took six years before Ottawa had a team again, but this time they were determined to get it right. The Ottawa RedBlacks joined the CFL in 2014, playing their games at the newly renovated TD Place Stadium, which was built alongside the remaining structure of Lansdowne Park.

In the same year after a long line of chaotic delays, the Tiger-Cats officially moved into Tim Hortons Field halfway through the season, which marked the beginning of a new era on sacred ground in the city.

2016 – Which brings us to the second last stop of our journey, where the Ottawa RedBlacks won their first Grey Cup in an overtime thriller versus the Calgary Stampeders, and more importantly the first title for a city who had be deprived since Tony Gabriel in 1976.

2017 – The Saskatchewan Roughriders officially move into “New” Mosaic Stadium, which should usher in a new generation of green and white pride in the football crazed province.

(Alliance Energy)

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2 Comments

  1. Blain W. Moore says:

    Canadian Football League (CFL)

    East Division
    Atlantic Schooners – Halifax
    Moncton Blue Angels
    Montreal Alouettes
    Quebec City Nordiques or Citaadelles

    Central Division
    Hamilton Tiger-Cats
    London Lords
    Ottawa Redblacks
    Toronto Argonauts
    Windsor Royals

    West Division
    British Columbia Lions
    Calgary Stampeders
    Edmonton Eskimos
    Saskatchewan Roughriders
    Winnipeg Blue Bombers

    Expansion: Saskatoon Huskies and Victoria Cougars!

  2. Blain W. Moore says:

    Canadian Football League (CFL)
    Northern Conference

    East Division
    Atlantic Schooners – Halifax
    Hamilton Tiger-Cats
    Montreal Alouettes
    Ottawa Redblacks
    Toronto Argonauts

    West Division
    British Columbia Lions
    Calgary Stampeders
    Edmonton Eskimos
    Saskatchewan Roughriders
    Winnipeg Blue Bombers

    Southern Conference

    East Division
    Birmingham Barracudas
    Memphis Mad Dogs
    Miami Manatees
    Shreveport Pirates

    West Division
    Las Vegas Posse
    Portland Rosebuds
    Sacramento Gold Miners
    San Antonio Texans
    British Columbia Lions

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