Happy Anniversary to the First Grey Cup Game

Happy Anniversary to the First Grey Cup Game
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The first Grey Cup game was played 111 years ago today, on the 4th of December 1909. It was a game that saw the University of Toronto Blues defeat Toronto Parkdale 26-6 in front of 3,807 people at Rosdeale Field in Toronto.

Over the last couple of years we have looked at decade anniversary games for the Grey Cup. But this year the furthest we went back was 50 years as that was still in living memory.

Last year we did go a little further back. All the way to the 1919 Grey Cup year. Which was the centenary past game for that year. However, we’ve never been as far back as the first game played – the 1909 championship.

A Canadian Dominion Championship for Rugby Football had been contested since 1884. Teams from Eastern Canada had battled for the national championship since 1892, when Osgoode Hall defeated Montreal 45-5.

But with the creation of the trophy to play for this was the first Grey Cup game, as this was the first time it was awarded.

A hockey trophy?

The First Grey Cup, and indeed in the early years of its existence the trophy was not originally for pro sport. In fact it wasn’t even meant for football. In 1909 the Grey Cup was conceived as an award for the amateur senior hockey championship of Canada. 

However, Sir H. Montagu Allan stepped in and offered a trophy, the Allan Cup, for hockey competition. So the first Grey Cup, donated by Earl Grey, the Governor General of Canada at this time, became an award for the amateur rugby football championship of Canada instead.

The original sterling silver cup, on a wooden base cost $48.00. Which would have been a considerable sum at the time. Had that been US dollars it would equate to $1,373.48 today. But can you really put a price on the Grey Cup? It is a Canadian cultural icon. To the extent that it was even the centrepiece of 150th Canada Day celbrations in the UK.

Who challenged for the First Cup?

In 1909 all football in Canada was amateur and was governed by the Canadian Rugby Union. All of the Unions, or football leagues, who played under them could compete for the trophy. This meant that establishing the champion was an elaborate process because so many organizations were involved and many played by different rules. 

The University of Toronto Blues had won the IRFU, whilst Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club had won the ORFU.

In 1909 there was more interest in the Semi-Final between Toronto Varsity & Ottawa – a game which saw around 12,000 people turn out. Most onlookers expected this first Cup game to be one sided as Varsity were heavily favoured. Despites that Varsity had only a 6-5 lead at the half.

Their dominance was seen in a 20-1 second half score however on the way to the 26-6 result.

Varsity players, who finished the season with a perfect 8-0 record, had to wait until the following March to officially celebrate with the new trophy, as Grey’s staff forgot to have it made before the game.

Two weeks prior to the championship game, an exchange of letters lead to an order placed with the silversmiths to produce a sterling silver cup, on a wooden base. The Varsity players would see their prize in March 1910.

However they would get to celebrate with the trophy again as they won the first three Grey Cup games.

An excellent history of the Grey Cup itself can be found here courtesy of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame.

Banner image: The Grey Cup of the day. Image from nationalpost.com

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