Rugby football has a long history in Canada dating back to its initial appearance in the 1860's. Introduction of the game and its early growth is generally credited to immigrants, members of the regimental armies, and to the Royal Navy in Halifax, NS and Esquimalt, BC.
Although rugby has flourished on both Canadian coasts, many of the games' firsts have happened in Ontario and Quebec. The first game of rugby recorded in Canada took place in Montreal among artillery men in 1864. That same year, Trinity College in Toronto, published the first set of rules for the game of rugby in Canada. In 1868, the first club, the Montreal Football Club was formed.
It was six years later, in 1874 when the first North American international game took place in Cambridge, MA between McGill and Harvard Universities. Later that year, Ontario and Quebec played the first interprovincial match in Canada.
The first game in British Columbia was played in 1876, between members of the Royal Navy and the land forces on Vancouver Island. It was another ten years before the game was played on the mainland and in 1889; the British Columbia Rugby Union was formed.
On the East Coast, the game began with the formation of the Halifax Football Club in 1870. Many clubs were formed in the 1880's and in 1890; the Maritime Provinces Rugby Union was formed.
The Prairies' rugby was restricted to Winnipeg until the 1880's when the North West Mounted Police and the Moosomin clubs formed to challenge St. John's College and Winnipeg. In 1892, the Manitoba Rugby Football Union was formed. Alberta and Saskatchewan received the game thanks to the North West Mounted Police in the 1890's.
Across Canada, there was a brief pre-war resurgence of rugby, but that was soon dissolved with the advent of war. From 1914 to 1919, only in British Columbia and Nova Scotia, were there sufficient numbers of teams to arrange matches on a semi-regular basis. Elsewhere, most rugby was disbanded in favour of a more concerted war effort. There is evidence to support an active effort to keep rugby alive during the war years, to help keep morale up amongst servicemen and civilians.
After World War I, there was a marked increase in rugby across Canada, as returning servicemen rejoined their old clubs. In 1919, a Canadian Services Team played overseas against representatives from England, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. The formation of the Rugby Union of Canada took place in 1929 and this was followed by a tour of Japan by a Canadian representatives side in 1932 (W5, L2).
During World War II, Rugby participation followed a similar pattern all across Canada. It was played on a limited basis as most rugby players became too involved with the war effort to continue playing the game. The games that were played, mainly involved members of the Commonwealth Forces. In 1949, there were only three active Provincial Unions: British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec.
Since its humble beginnings, the game of rugby has battled a number of major constraints in its development. Canada is blessed with a harsh climate, an immense geographical size, and a relatively low population. Since 1945, Provincial Rugby Unions have experienced marked growth and the Rugby Union of Canada, which functioned for ten years before 1939, was reformed in 1965. The present administrative body, the Canadian Rugby Union, know as Rugby Canada, was incorporated in 1974.
Since then, Rugby Canada has been a permanent fixture on the global rugby scene, including trips to each of the five IRB Rugby World Cups (1987 - Australia/New Zealand, 1991 – United Kingdom, 1995 – South Africa, 1999 –Wales, and 2003 Australia). As a regular on the IRB Sevens Circuit, Canada continues to climb the world rankings and challenge the dominant rugby nations in both versions of the game.
To provide the opportunity for Canadians to compete internationally has always been a priority of Rugby Canada. The fall of 1982 saw for the first time, the formation of Canada’s National Junior Team. Their first international test was against the touring Japanese Junior Side. Canada was successful in the test, defeating the Japanese 18- 6. The Welsh Schools toured Canada in 1983, followed by the England Colts in 1985. For 1986, a planned tour of Canada by the Welsh Schools, culminated in a test match played in Vancouver in the month of September. Since then Canada has met Wales three times at the Under 19 level, England Colts at Under 20 in 1995 and in 1997 Scotland at Under 19. Canada's Under 17 team toured England in 1996 and Germany 1997. In 1998, Rugby Canada entered the FIRA/IRFB World Youth Championship for the first time and finished fourth.
To support the growth of rugby at the grass-roots level and to ensure there are elite programs for prospering young rugby players to become involved with, Rugby Canada has put an emphasis on developing its junior programs. Currently, Rugby Canada offers Men’s and Women’s National Programs at various age levels including Under 19, Under 21 and Under 23. Providing the opportunity for Canada’s players to compete on the international stage, in various age categories and for both men and women, has allowed Rugby Canada to become a world leader in the development of Junior Rugby.
Another area where Rugby Canada has been a world leader is in the development and promotion of women’s rugby. In the late 1970's women began to play rugby in Canada. By 1983 provincial championships were being contested, and in 1987 the first official National Championship was held. Rugby Canada's first women's international was played in Victoria, BC against the USA on November 14th in 1987. Since then, Canadian women have proudly represented their country in over 30 international matches, including appearances at the 1991, 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups. As their results suggest, the Canadian Women are consistently amongst the top five women’s rugby nations in the world.
Currently, women’s teams at the national, club, highschool and mini levels are flourishing all across the country. There are over 125 clubs in Canada that have women's teams, 20 universities, and approximately 250 highschool teams in Canada.
Today, the game of rugby in Canada is well represented in all ten provincial unions and is played by Canadian girls and boys, men and women. Although Canadian Rugby still benefits from the occasional player from overseas, the majority of new players to the game are young Canadian athletes. These young Canadians are the game's future.
Text Above Courtesy of Rugby Canada