Academic journal article Alberta History

Calgary vs. Edmonton: First Rugby Football Games

Academic journal article Alberta History

Calgary vs. Edmonton: First Rugby Football Games

Article excerpt


When the Canadian Pacific Railway reached Calgary in 1883, there was a rapid increase in population, mostly young men who needed an outlet for their energies. Baseball, foot racing, lacrosse, and hockey quickly became popular, as did rugby football, sometimes called "rugger." (1)

Within days of the CPR's arrival, the Mounted Police at the Calgary detachment issued a challenge to any fifteen men who could form a team. They played by Rugby rules. (2) A few weeks later, the Police team played a civilian team using Association rules. Other games were played on the Police barracks grounds during the 1880s, sometimes following Rugby rules, and at other times Association rules. Late in the decade, the town formed a regular team that was prepared to take on any competition. Games were played mostly with the Police, fire brigade, and country teams from places like Millarville. Sometimes arrangements were made for a team to travel west to Donald on the CPR, east to Medicine Hat, or south to Lethbridge. As Calgarian A.G. Wolley-Dod recalled,

   ... there was a strong detachment of
   Mounted Police quartered at the barracks
   and every favourable Saturday afternoon
   we used to play a good old 'tugger' game
   against them. I think it was in 1889 that
   we organized the Country team, many of
   the players coming from as far out as
   Millarville and although we had some very
   good players on our side, I am afraid we
   were nearly always beaten, as we had not
   the same opportunity of practising as the
   police had. However that did not worry us
   much, as the games were good and clean,
   and generally ended up with a smoker in
   the evening. (2)

In 1891, when the Calgary & Edmonton Railway was completed, a new source of The Edmonton football team that challenged Calgary is seen here in this 1892 photo. Although not identified individually, the team included such players as C. Young, captain, and H. Hope, Rev. Cunningham, Richard Hardisty, A. Adamson, W. Edmiston, F. Adamson, A. Pattison, J.C.C. Bremner, W. Clark, P. McNamara, Filders, Freame, and MacKee. competition was found in the northern town. During the 1880s, Edmonton had been active in rugby, playing mostly against the Mounted Police at Fort Saskatchewan, or against local teams. In spite of its isolation, it had formed a good football team and its club waited with anticipation for the completion of the C&E. That came on August 10, 1891 with the arrival of the first train at Strathcona.

One of the first actions of the Edmonton Football Club was to challenge Calgary to a match, a challenge that the southern team accepted. "The fact that they had expressed themselves willing to play any club between Winnipeg and the Coast for the sum of $3,000," said the Calgary Herald, "seemed to have impressed Calgarians with the idea that Edmonton possessed a club of more than ordinary strength." (3) There was a general feeling that Edmonton was the favourite and Calgary would be lucky to win.

A large crowd gathered at the grounds in Calgary on October 17 for the first football game between the two towns in the post-railway era. The Edmontonians, obviously more organized, had regular uniforms while the Calgarians were dressed in clothing that was "a combination of all colors and patterns." (4)

F. Ritchie was captain of the Calgary team and C. Young of the Edmontonians. (5) Inspector Snyder and C.C. McKenzie were named umpires, and Wrigley, referee.

After the kickoff, the play went up and down the field as each team struggled for supremacy. Said a scribe, "The ball was at last carried safely behind the Edmonton goal by West and touched, securing the first point for Calgary." (6) The convert failed, being carried away by a strong breeze. The following plays were filled, as the reporter said, with plenty of vigour, roll and tumble, but no scoring. Then Wallinger, of the Calgary team, made a drop kick over the bar but as it was touched by a member of the opposing team, it did not count. …

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