Quebec History Marianopolis College

Date Published:
July 2005

L’Encyclopédie de l’histoire du Québec / The Quebec History Encyclopedia


Football in Canada


[This article was written in the 1930's and was published in 1948. For the precise citation, see the end of the document.]

Football, Rugby, the type of football in which the players are allowed to use hands and feet in advancing the ball, instead of merely the feet as in Association football. The early history of football in England is obscure; but from the beginning there had been a division between the advocates of the two games. During the middle period of the nineteenth century the Rugby school game gained the most adherents among those in favour of using hands and feet; a number of clubs were organized and in June, 1871, the Rugby union was formed.


The Canadian and American types of Rugby football have both evolved from the English game; although both now differ from it radically. The English Rugby game was first introduced into Canada in 1865 by the officers of the regular troops at Montreal. The growth of the game was much slower in Canada than in the United States; in 1882 the only schools in Ontario playing Rugby were Upper Canada College and Trinity College School. The game was first introduced at the University of Toronto in 1875 by former students of Upper Canada College. In 1881 annual games between the universities of Toronto and McGill were commenced. The Canadian Rugby union, formed in 1880, adopted the rules of the English Rugby union practically unchanged. In the English game, at the beginning of each play the ball was rolled into a circular "scrum" composed of the forwards of both sides. These could not themselves touch the ball, but attempted to dribble it down the field or heel it out to their respective quarters or backs who could kick the ball or run with it. Each team at this time consisted of 15 men: 2 full backs, 2 halves, 2 quarters, and 9 men in the "scrum".


Since 1880 the Canadian game has moved away from the English game, with its "scrum", toward the American game, where each play is commenced with two parallel lines facing each other, one of whom has possession of the ball. (In the original form of the game it was anybody's ball at each successive play.) Soon after 1880, the Canadian game began to evolve toward the system of two parallel lines: it was found that, by removing some of the forwards from the scrum and playing them as "wings", the backs could be better protected and the attack made faster. In 1892 the "scrum" was still retained, but from 4 to 7 wing men were played. Play was no longer commenced by the ball being rolled into the "scrum"; instead, one of the forwards carried the ball in and attempted to heel it out. The game had therefore progressed to the stage where one of the teams was in possession at the beginning of a play. The Ontario Rugby Football union had been formed in 1883 and the Intercollegiate union, consisting of Toronto, McGill, and Queen's Universities, was organized in 1898. Between 1902 and 1905 the Ontario union tried a set of rules proposed by "Thrift" Burnside; these were based on the American system and provided for a reduction of the number of players and the use of a. "snap-back" or centre man to pass the ball to the backs at the beginning of a play. These rules were not generally adopted, but had a considerable influence on. the subsequent development of the game. In 1905 the Intercollegiate union, unlike the Ontario union, had adopted the rule that a -team must advance the ball 10 yards in 3 plays or "downs" or lose possession; the Ontario union had adopted the snap-back; and the Quebec union still played the old type of game. In 1906 the Canadian Rugby union adopted a uniform set of rules, including the 10-yard rule. The English "scrum" system was definitely abandoned by the provision that, during a scrimmage, the opposing players must not come into touch with each other, but must stand clear of the ball. The introduction of that rule was possibly the most important landmark in the evolution of Canadian Rugby. Subsequent changes have involved the reduction of the number on a team from 15 to 12, the adoption of the snap-back system and, finally, of the forward pass. Another indication of the American influence upon Canadian Rugby is the practice of organised cheering. As early as 1891 McGill University had acquired their present "yell" in very much its present form.


Source  : W. Stewart WALLACE, ed., The Encyclopedia of Canada, Vol. II, Toronto, University Associates of Canada, 1948, 411p., p.

© 2005 Claude Bélanger, Marianopolis College