Rugby in Alberta
Rugby has a long history in Southern Alberta, beginning in the late 1800s with a division of the Northwest Mounted Police holding exhibition games in 1884 and 1885. From those humble beginnings, Alberta Rugby has grown, first from additional exhibition matches between the NWMP and teams in Edmonton, Calgary, and Lethbridge, in the 1890s, then to clubs across the province.
The early 1900s were marked by confusion – in 1900 the Calgary Rugby Union Football Club resolved to play under Rugby Union rules, but soon thereafter a debate arose between continuing to play under British rules or to adopt the Canadian Rugby Football rules played in the Eastern provinces. The CRU originally opted for the British rules, but one year later adopted Canadian Rugby Union rules. Ultimately, both forms of rugby were played for the next fifty years, with Canadian Rugby Union rules slowly morphing to become Canadian Football, starting with the adoption of the forward pass in 1931, with many rules from American football being adopted by 1935. The Calgary Bronks became the Calgary Stampeders, and in 1948 won their first Grey Cup.
This period following World War Two was dire for Union rugby – with almost all teams having transitioned to playing Canadian Football rules. An influx of British immigrants in the early 1950s changed this however, with Edmonton forming a new rugby union in 1952 and Calgary following suit in 1954. From there, Rugby expanded quickly, with the Saints and Saracens (1958) being joined by the Rams (1958) and Hornets (1960). 1961 saw the formation of the Alberta Rugby Union, followed by the reformation of the Rugby Union of Canada in 1965. Under the guidance of these organisations, rugby expanded further, with the Canucks joining the CRU in 1969. This expansion continued out of the major cities, with Lethbridge being the first small city in Alberta to form a team – in 1971 the Lethbridge Barbarians joined the CRU (along with the Calgary Irish).
Women’s Rugby made its first appearance in the province around this time, with the Edmonton Rockers forming in 1977 and the Calgary Renegades in 1979. In 1983 the Alberta Women’s Rugby Union was formed and fielded a provincial team that dominated the Western Canadian Women’s Rugby Championships. In 1991 a third Women’s team was added with the formation of the Calgary Stingers, and shortly thereafter the Men’s and Women’s clubs and unions came together, unifying the sport.
Rugby has continued to expand in Alberta since, introducing new teams in Calgary (Calgary Knights), Banff (Banff Bears), Cochrane (Bow Valley Grizzlies), Drumheller (Badlands RFC), Okotoks (Foothills Lions), Red Deer (www.titansrugby.com), and Medicine Hat (Medicine Hat Ogres). Combined with the earlier CRU Teams (Calgary Saints, Calgary Saracens, Calgary Rams, Calgary Hornets, Lethbridge Rugby Club, Calgary Irish, Calgary Canucks) and the 16 clubs of the Edmonton Rugby Union, along with high school and collegiate programs, Alberta Rugby has a bright future.