Rugby in Canada - 1864 to the present

 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.


The Canadian RFU states the first game of rugby recorded in Canada took place in Montreal among artillery men in 1864.

Although rugby has flourished on both Canadian coasts, many of the games' firsts have happened in Ontario and Quebec. 

In 1864, 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.

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.