Get set for the CFL Labour Day Classics

Get set for the CFL Labour Day Classics
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Get set for the CFL Labour Day Classics

It is that time of year. Time for CFL fans to get set for the Labour Day Classics. A series of games with a storied history. This year will see the Ottawa RedBlacks hosting the Montreal Alouttes on Saturday (UK time). And the Saskatchewan Roughriders hosting the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on the Sunday. In what is a precursor to their traditional Banjo Bowl contest next week.

On the Monday, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats will host the Toronto Argonauts. Whilst the Calgary Stampeders will host the Edmonton Elks in a Battle of Alberta contest. But what are these ‘traditional rivalry games’ all about?

The Labour Day Classics

Labour Day has been a statutory public holiday in Canada on the first Monday in September since 1894. Having some football to watch on such a holiday has become something of a tradition too. Because of that the CFL has a history of playing traditional rivalry games on this date.

Each year the contests are supposed to be unchanging. Although with shifts in the league structure down the years there have been a few variations along the way. Because of this some of the contests have a little more history than the others.  Typically this slate of games would fall on the tenth or eleventh week in the season. But this year, due to the shortened season it is being played in week 5.

The Labour Day Classics began in 1949 pre-dating the inaugural CFL season by nine years. The matchups have remained mostly the same throughout the games’ history. However, as noted there have been some changes. Most changes or interruptions to the traditional games have been due to periods of ‘hiatus’ for the franchises in Montreal and Ottawa. Or alternatively due to scheduling conflicts.

The Labour Day contests

The very first Labour Day games saw Edmonton host Calgary. Saskatchewan host Winnipeg, and the Ottawa Rough Riders host the Montreal Alouettes. The Argos Ti-Cats contest officially started in 1950, but is a little more complicated than that. Because Hamilton represented by the Wildcats pre-merger played Toronto in this fixture in 1948 and 1949.

Because Ottawa had no active team from 1997–2001 and 2006–2013, the Alouettes usually played the Lions during those seasons. In what was dubbed as a “coast-to-coast” rivalry.

Prior to that, in the early 1980s, the Montreal Concordes played the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the remaining three teams (Toronto, Ottawa and BC) rotated each year. Mostly the BC Lions skip these games. But Ottawa and BC faced each other during the late 1980s and early 1990s while the league had no team in Montreal.

The less storied Labour Day rivalries

BC and the Rough Riders faced off eleven times between 1981 and 1993. The Lions dominated those contests producing a 9-2 record. They also faced the Renegades in 2002. Winning that game too giving BC a 10-2 record against Ottawa teams in Labour Day contests.

BC has also faced a Montreal team in these fixtures thirteen times. They faced the Alouettes in 1980, and during the absences of an Ottawa team played Montreal on a further 12 occasions between 1997 and 2015. This is a series BC was leading 7-6 when the RedBlacks arrived in 2016. Which led to a return of the traditional Ottawa/Montreal rivalry.

Finally Hamilton has played and hosted the Labour Day Classic against Montreal nine times in CFL history. A game they marketed as the Labour Day Classique as a nod to the Francophone population in Quebec. This was an intermittent and highly one-sided rivalry running over a 25 year period. The first game was played in 1962, (a 25-25 tie), and then sporadically eight more times up to 2011. With the Ti-Cats winning all of the remaining games to post an 8-0-1 record in these matches.

As we can see then some series have a little more history than others. Let’s take a closer look at the Labour Day games with the most storied histories.

Calgary versus Edmonton

This is the most regularly played contest of these traditional rivalry games. This year will mark the 60th time the game has been contested. Because this Labour Day matchup has been played 59 times between 1949 and 2019. Calgary won the first contest 20-6 in Edmonton in 1949. Calgary won the latest iteration of the game 25-9 in Calgary in 2019.

In the nascent years (1949-1953) of this game the match was played three times in Edmonton and twice in Calgary. Since 1959 however this Labour Day classic has always been played in Calgary.

The contest was not played 1954–1958, 1964–1968, 1973, 1981, and during the cancelled 2020 season. Prior to that it had been played continusoulsy since 1982 and the Stampeders are currently on a seven game winning streak going back to a 31-30 win in 2012.

It has been a back and forth affair down the years. Even though both teams have had dominant periods the overall record is 29-29-1 between the two Alberta based teams.

Saskatchewan versus Winnipeg

This Labour Day matchup has been played since 1949. Saskatchewan has always been the host for this one. This year will mark the 56th time the game has been played. Because this Labour Day matchup has been played 55 times between 1949 and 2019. Saskatchewan won the first contest 20-9 in 1949 and the most recent game 19-17 in 2019.

The contest was not played in 1955–1960, 1964–1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1981 and during the cancelled 2020 season. Prior to that it had been played continusoulsy since 1982. The Roughriders are currently on a three game winning streak dating back to a 38-24 win in 2017. In fact Saskatchewan have won 14 of the last 15 times this game has been played. An 11 game winning streak running from 2005-15 is their longest in the history of the matchup.

Overall Saskatchewan holds a 37-18 edge in this game over the Blue Bombers.

Hamilton versus Toronto

The 2021 Labour Day Classic at Tim Horton’s Field will mark the 49th matchup between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Toronto Argonauts on Labour Day. That is since the Tabbies were introduced as a merged team. You could argue it is a rivalry that goes back further. Because the Argonauts faced the Hamilton Wildcats in 1948 & 1949 before they merged with the Hamilton Tigers to form the Tiger-Cats.

But taking things from 1950 with the merged Hamilton team, the tabbies won the first game 13-6 in 1950, and the latest game 38-27 in 2019.

The contest was not played in 1962, 1965–1966, 1969–1970, 1972–1974, 1976–1977, 1979, 1981–1986, 1990, 1995, 2011, 2013 and during the cancelled 2020 season. It is a series that has been played without interruption on Labour Day since 2014 (cancelled season aside), and Hamilton are on a six game winning streak in the fixture dating back to a 13-12 win in 2014.

Overall Hamilton leads this series 35-13-1 against the Argonauts.

Ottawa versus Montreal

This is the tradtional rivalry game that has suffered the most down the years. Because of the intermittent absences of a franchise in either city at varing times. That said however, since 1949 contests have taken place between the Montreal Alouettes and the Ottawa Rough Riders (1949-1996), Renegades (2003-2005), and RedBlacks (2014-2018).

The opening game of the Labour day weekend this year will see the Redblacks host the Als as the two face off for the fifth time since football returned to Ottawa. It will also be the 25th time this rivalry game has been contested. Between all of the franchise models these two have faced each other 24 times since 1949.

The contest was not played in 1950–1951, 1962, 1964–1966, 1968–1970, 1972–1974, 1976–1977, 1979–1986, 2002, 2015, 2019 and during the cancelled 2020 season.

The Ottawa Rough Riders won the first game 22-21 in 1949, and the Montreal Alouettes won the latest of these games 21-11 in 2018.

Overall the RedBlacks (when compiling the Ottawa franchises as one entity as the CFL does) lead the Alouettes by 13 games to 11.

It will be fun to see the latest chapter in the story of these games play out on the CFL fields across the upcoming Labour Day weekend. If you get the chance to watch one of these games I hope you are able to soak up all the atmosphere they bring.

Featured Image: One of the classic Labour Day rivalries in action. Image from

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