- Football and Rugby
Football & Rugby Timeline
The sport of rugby football emerged in England from the handling and kicking football game played at Rugby School during the early decades of the 1800s. By 1868 the Montreal and Britannia football clubs were playing rugby football in that city. In 1871 the Rugby Football Union (RFU) formed in England to administer the sport in that country. The first institution to adopt the RFU rules in Canada was McGill University and by 1873 students were playing inter-faculty matches under these rules. A hybrid set of rugby football rules devised by McGill students were first used outside of Canada in an 1874 match against Harvard University. The McGill versus Harvard contest likely played a part in the American's creation of their own a distinctive running, kicking, and passing form of football that, over the next century, heavily influenced the development of Canadian football.
1880 - 1899
By 1884 the Canadian Rugby Football Union (CRFU) was formed to administer game primarily in eastern Canada. Evidence of football games played at Calgary Barracks of the North West Mounted Police (NWMP) in 1884 and 1885 suggest the arrival of the British rugby football in the region of the Northwest Territories that would later become Alberta. By the early 1890s reports of rugby football games being played in Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge between local rugby football clubs and members of the NWMP appear in local newspapers. In the final decade of the nineteenth century rugby football games occurred sporadically in the larger urban centres. In Calgary, for example, during the mid-1890s, there were several rugby teams playing at the local Athletics grounds, and on at least one occasion a series of games were played between Calgary and Regina NWMP teams. By the end of the nineteenth century football had become a consistent part of the sporting landscape, however one question that had become increasingly relevant surrounded decisions about which game of football to play, rugby or association football.
1900 - 1919
In 1900, the Calgary Rugby Union Football Club reappeared and specifically resolved to play under rugby union as opposed to association (soccer) rules. Rugby football in Alberta continued to grow particularly in Edmonton and Calgary, and in 1907 the Edmonton Thistles football club won both the Alberta and Saskatchewan championships. It was at this time that debate arose in Edmonton and Calgary over which form of rugby football to adopt for future competition, the old country (British) game or the Canadian rugby football being played in the eastern provinces. The Calgary Rugby Football Club voted to use British rules, however a 'Canadian Rules' branch of the club was created to satisfy members who also wanted to play that version of the game. The following year, however, the Calgary club adopted the Canadian Rugby Union rules used in Ontario and Quebec, and along with the University of Alberta formed the Alberta Rugby Union.
The Calgary Rugby Club became the Tigers in 1909 and won their first of three consecutive Canadian Rugby Championship of Alberta (CRCA) titles. The Alberta Rugby Football Union (ARFU) formed in 1911 at a meeting held in Red Deer where the decision was made to adopt the Canadian Rugby Union rules. One month later, teams from the ARFU joined the Western Canada Rugby Football Union (WCRFU) along with clubs from Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The same year the Calgary Tigers defeat the Winnipeg Rowing Club to capture the Ross cup to become the champions of Western Canada. The WCRFU became honourary members of the Canadian Rugby Football Union with no vote or right to challenge for the Grey Cup. The ARFU delegates became increasingly enthused by the snap-back system of putting the ball back into play and reducing the number of players from 14 to 12. In 1914 these changes were introduced in the intermediate and junior leagues, an indication of the growing influence of American football in the province. At the outset of World War One, the University of Alberta won its first senior provincial football championship. The ARFU subsequently decided that there would be no senior rugby schedule due to the war.
While rugby football teams began to adopt the Canadian rules, British rugby enthusiasts in Strathcona and Edmonton formed the Twin City Rugby League in 1909. Similarly, the Calgary City Rugby Club also emerged to play rugby union rules, and in 1910 rugby football games were played in Calgary between teams representing English and Welsh immigrants. The Alberta British Rugby Union was formed in 1912 by three Calgary teams, the Pirates, Welsh and Wanderers. An All-Calgary XV played against a team from Red Deer the same year. By 1913, a new team, the Barbarians, emerged in Edmonton although they lacked a local rival. The Calgary Football Club played the Edmonton Barbarians in British Rugby Football, however any resurgent interest in the British game was stalled by the start of World War One.
1920 - 1939
After the end of the First World War both forms of rugby football, Canadian and British, resumed play in Alberta. In 1920, the Edmonton British Rugby Club formed, and the club's organizers specifically noted that they were not in competition with Canadian rugby in the city and ultimately sought to support both codes.
The Alberta British Rugby Union formed in Edmonton the following year, and a game between the Edmonton Eskimos and the Edmonton Rugby Club was played to prepare the former for their Grey Cup match in Toronto against the Argonauts. Although the Eskimos lost in Toronto, Canadian rugby continued to gain in popularity, and in 1922 the first high school football championship in Edmonton was won by Victoria Composite High School. Similarly, British rugby union football in Edmonton flourished during the 1920s. The continuing close ties between the two football codes was evident as members of the Edmonton Eskimos played for the Harlequins rugby union team in 1922. During this period some players competed in British rugby in the spring and summer and Canadian rugby in the fall.
As both codes of rugby football in Alberta matured, competing outside the province, as in the case of the 1921 Edmonton Eskimos, became increasingly important. In the fall of 1922 a city all-star rugby union team from Edmonton comprised primarily of members of the city rugby champion Welsh team travelled to the west coast to challenge Vancouver city and University of British Columbia teams.
Although both matches were lost this tour resulted in future rugby union contests both in Vancouver and Edmonton through the 1920s. In the case of Canadian rugby, the Edmonton Elks football team lost to Queens University in the Grey Cup in 1922. In 1923, Calgary's Fiftieth Battalion Canadian rugby team formed and the following year lost in the western championship game to Winnipeg. The Edmonton Eskimos switched to British Rugby and ceased to play the Canadian game until 1929. British rugby continue to enjoy popularity particularly in Edmonton, however this did not last into the decade of the 1930s and the final rugby union football game of note took place in June 1930 between Edmonton and Calgary representative teams. Following this, rugby union in Edmonton largely disappeared likely the result of the economic hardships associated with the Great Depression.
In the latter years of the 1920s Canadian rugby persisted, for example in 1927 the Western Canadian Intercollegiate Athletic Union formed to administer university football in the western provinces. Two year later the Edmonton Eskimos disbanded their English rugby team to once again focus on Canadian rugby football. Part of the resurgent interest in Canadian rugby may have resulted from rule changes that suggested greater American influence.
For example, in 1931, the forward pass was formally adopted by the Canadian Rugby Union, a technique that had been widely used by western Canadian teams for a number of years. This and other changes along with the recruitment of American players likely provided western Canadian football teams with an increased motivation to play the Canadian game. The reasons why teams from the Canadian west adopted American rules were quite practical as often the closest teams to play were American and thus out of necessity teams needed to adopt the American rules. In 1935 a new Canadian football team called the Calgary Altomahs formed, changing its name to the Bronks the following year. In 1936 the Calgary Bronks join the newly formed Western Interprovincial Rugby Union (WIRU). Any challenge by Alberta teams for national success however would have to wait until after the Second World War.
Following the end of the Second World War the Calgary Bronks became the Calgary Stampeders Football Club. Three years later, in 1948, the Stampeders won their first Western Championship and Grey Cup. The same year the Edmonton Wildcats became the province's first Alberta Junior Football League team competing against rival city teams the Athletic Club and Maple Leafs. Additionally, a high school football league started in Edmonton. The following year, in 1949, a group of local businessmen resurrected the Edmonton Eskimos Football Club, which rejoined the WIRU.
The increasing competitiveness of senior western Canadian football teams was demonstrated in the mid-1950s when the Edmonton Eskimos won their first Grey Cup in 1954, a feat they achieved two more times in 1955 and 1956. This success coincided with the increasing acceptance of professional players within Canadian football, a reality that led to the creation of the Canadian Football League (CFL) in 1958. Two years later, in 1960, the Western Interprovincial Football League became the Western Football Conference, comprised of teams from Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, and British Columbia (Vancouver). Finally, the same year, the University of Calgary built McMahon Stadium the home of the Stampeders and later the Dinos.
Football 1960 - 1979
Through the 1960s the Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders remained Alberta's representatives in the CFL. Neither team won the Grey Cup during the 1960s. The CFL during this period revised the rules with respect to American import players to improve the quality of play in the league, while still providing opportunities for Canadian players and an incentive for American players who decided to make Canada their home. At the university level, in 1965, the Alberta Golden Bears played in the first Vanier Cup to determine Canada's university champion, losing to the University of Toronto. Two year later the Golden Bears won the Vanier Cup. Alberta would win the cup again in 1972 and 1980. 1967 also saw the formation of Alberta's second university team the University of Calgary Dinos. The Dinos experienced their greatest successes in the 1980s winning Vanier Cup titles in 1983, 1985, and 1988. Although high school football was played in Alberta during the 1960s and 1970s it had not yet been organized at the provincial level. In 1973, the Alberta Amateur Football Association formed; today this body is Football Alberta. 1975 was a highlight year for professional football in Alberta with the Edmonton Eskimos winning the Grey Cup and Calgary hosting the game, the first Grey Cup to be played in a prairie city. Edmonton would also go on to win the Grey Cup consecutively from 1977 to1982 with their home games played at Commonwealth Stadium beginning in 1978.
Football 1980 - 1999
The Edmonton Eskimos enjoyed continued success in the early 1980s winning the Grey Cup in 1980, 1981 and 1982. The Eskimos would win the cup once again in 1987. At the amateur level, the Calgary Cowboys won the first Alberta Football League senior championship over the Calgary Crude in 1984. This league continues to operate as a member of Football Alberta.
It was not until 1990 the first provincial Senior Bowl high school all-star football game was held. In 1993, the initial Football Alberta Bantam Minor Provincial Championship was held, won by the Raymond Junior Comets over the Leduc T-Cats. The first Peewee and Atom championships were held in 1996. In 1994 the Prairie Junior Football Conference become the Prairie Football Conference. Football also became a member sport of the Alberta Schools' Athletic Association in 1995. The Calgary Stampeders won the Grey Cup twice in 1992 and 1998. Edmonton also won the cup in 1993. In this same period the Calgary Dinos won the Vanier Cup in 1995, the most recent Alberta team to have won the university championship.
Football 2000 - Present
Over the past decade Canadian Football has maintained its popularity at the professional and amateur levels. In the 2000s the Stampeders won the Grey Cup twice in 2001 and 2008. The Eskimos also won the Grey Cup in 2005. The first women's tackle football team, the Calgary Rockies, was formed in the early 2000s. In 2011, the Western Women's Canadian Football League (WWCFL) formed including Alberta teams the Edmonton Storm, Calgary Rage, and Lethbridge Steel. Three Alberta teams, the Calgary Colts, Edmonton Wildcats and Edmonton Huskies compete in the Prairie Football Conference of the Canadian Junior Football League. Boy's high school and minor football continue as part of the Alberta Schools Athletics Association and Football Alberta.
Rugby 1940 - 1959
The immediate post-World War Two period in Alberta resulted in an almost complete absence of British rugby football in Alberta. As had been the case prior to the war, the driving force in reestablishing the sport in the province was immigration from the British Isles. In 1953 an Edmonton rugby union club formed, the first such post-war team in Edmonton. This club renamed itself the Pirates in 1958 with the formation of the Tigers club that same year. In 1954 a rugby union game took place between the Edmonton club and the Calgary Rugby Club that had been formed that year. By 1958, rugby union in Calgary had begun to expand with the splitting of the Calgary Barbarians Rugby Club into two new teams, the Saints and the Saracens. The same year a new club, the Calgary Rams began play followed by the Calgary Hornets in 1960. Thus, by 1960, viable men's rugby union leagues operated in Alberta's two largest cities, setting the stage for the reemergence of the sport throughout the province.
Rugby 1960 - 1979
In 1961 the Alberta Rugby Union (ARU) was formed to coordinate games between Calgary and Edmonton teams. In Calgary, there were four teams, the Saints, Rams, Saracens, and Hornets. In Edmonton, rugby union teams included the Pirates, Tigers, Druids, and Barbarians. University rugby also existed at this time with the Alberta Golden Bears Rugby Football Club (1961) playing against the newly formed Calgary University Stags RFC in 1963.
At the national level, the Rugby Union of Canada was reformed in 1965 after having ceased operations in 1939. This body was incorporated as the Canadian Rugby Union in 1974 and is presently known as Rugby Canada. The latter years of the 1960s included the appearance of high school rugby at four Calgary high schools in 1968, and a year later the formation of the Calgary Canucks.
Rugby union teams began to appear outside Edmonton and Calgary by the early 1970s. For example, in 1971, the Lethbridge Barbarians rugby club formed. This club later became simply the Lethbridge Rugby Club.
With the growth of rugby came the need to build permanent rugby union facilities. To this end, the Edmonton Rugby Union purchased land for the construction of Ellerslie Rugby Park, with play on the new fields beginning in 1975. Women's rugby appeared in Edmonton in 1977 with the formation of the provinces first team, the Edmonton Rockers. Two year later the Calgary Renegades women's rugby club formed. Neither of these women's clubs affiliated with the men's clubs or unions as few men at this time were interested in allowing female players to join their clubs.
Rugby 1980 - 1999
Rugby union continued to attract both male and female players in the 1980s. In 1983 the Alberta Women's Rugby Union formed and fielded a provincial representative team that dominated at the Western Canadian Women's Rugby Football Championships. A decade later in 1991 the Calgary Stingers women's rugby club formed. Men's rugby became increasingly stable during the 1980s and 1990s, and in 1999 the Calgary Rugby Union (CRU) moved to Calgary Rugby Park where three rugby specific fields provided a home for the city's rugby clubs. The acceptance of women rugby players and teams by established men's clubs became a reality in the 1990s, a coming together that provided the sport greater access to the public funds required to continue building the sport in Alberta.
In Alberta, rugby union continues to expand in the new millennium particularly at the junior level and for women. In 2006 the first Alberta Schools' Athletic Association Rugby championship was held for girls and boys. At the university level for women, the University of Alberta Pandas won the Monilex Trophy awarded to the Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) national champions between 1999 and 2003. In 2007, 2008 and 2009 the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns won the CIS championship. In 2003 the Calgary Mavericks representing the CRU in the Rugby Canada Super League won the MacTier Cup as the champion senior rugby union team in Canada. Currently, at the top level of men's rugby, Alberta players comprise the bulk of the Prairie Wolfpack of the Canadian Rugby Championship.
Cosentino, Frank, A History of Canadian Football, 1909-1968 (M.A. Thesis, University of Alberta, 1969)
Lamb, Patrick A History of Rugby Football in Edmonton (MA Thesis, University of Alberta, 1990).
McLennan, William, Football, Soccer and Rugby, In Sport in Early Calgary (Calgary, Fort Brisebois Publishing, 1983), 136-169.
Sturrock, Douglas Norman, A History of Rugby Football in Canada (MA Thesis, University of Alberta, 1971).
Football Alberta http://www.footballalberta.ab.ca/web/