The sporting culture of Canada consists of a variety of games. Although there are many contests that Canadians value, the most common are ice hockey, Canadian football, basketball, soccer, curling and baseball.
Ice hockey, referred to as simply “hockey”, is Canada’s most prevalent winter sport, its most popular spectator sport, and its most successful sport in international competition. It is Canada’s official national winter sport. Lacrosse, a sport with Native American origins, is Canada’s oldest and official summer sport. Canadian football is Canada’s second most popular spectator sport, and the Canadian Football League’s annual championship, the Grey Cup, is the country’s largest annual sports event. While other sports have a larger spectator base, association football, known in Canada as soccer in both English and French, has the most registered players of any team sport in Canada. Professional teams exist in many cities in Canada. Other popular team sports include curling, street hockey, cricket, rugby and softball. Popular individual sports include auto racing, boxing, cycling, golf, hiking, horse racing, ice skating, rodeo, skateboarding, skiing, snowboarding, swimming, tennis, triathlon, track and field, water sports, and wrestling.
As a country with a generally cool climate, Canada has enjoyed greater success at the Winter Olympics than at the Summer Olympics, although significant regional variations in climate allow for a wide variety of both team and individual sports. Major multi-sport events in Canada include the 2010 Winter Olympics. Great achievements in Canadian sport are recognized by Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, while the Lou Marsh Trophy is awarded annually to Canada’s top athlete by a panel of journalists. There are numerous other Sports Halls of Fame in Canada.
The modern form of ice hockey began in Canada in the late 19th century, and is widely considered Canada’s national pastime, with high levels of participation by children, men and women at various levels of competition. The Stanley Cup, considered the premiere trophy in professional ice hockey, originated in Canada in 1893. Prominent trophies for national championships in Canada are the Memorial Cup for the top junior-age men’s team and the Allan Cup for the top men’s senior team. There are national championships in several other divisions of play. Hockey Canada is the sport’s official governing body in Canada and is a member of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). A Canadian national men’s team, composed of professionals, competes in the annual IIHF Men’s World Championship and in the Olympics.
The First Nations began playing the sport more than 500 years ago. Today lacrosse not only remains an integral part of native culture, but is played by tens of thousands of people across Canada and the north eastern United States. From its origin as ‘The Creator’s Game’ to the overwhelming popularity of the Toronto Rock and the modern game, lacrosse has survived the test of time after treading down a long, controversial path that led it to become recognized as Canada’s official national sport. It’s commonly assumed that Lacrosse was named Canada’s National sport by Parliament in 1859. To date, documented evidence has not been uncovered for this claim. In a 1994 controversial and advantageous effort to raise the profile of Canadian hockey in the international arena resulted in lacrosse, through an act of parliament, becoming the official summer sport of Canada.
The world’s first documented baseball game took place in Beachville, Ontario on June 4, 1838. Although more strongly associated with the United States, baseball has existed in Canada from the very beginning. The world’s oldest baseball park still in operation is Labatt Park in London, Ontario. It is home to the London Majors of the semi-pro Intercounty Baseball League.
The Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s only Major League Baseball team, founded in 1977. The Montreal Expos club played in Montreal from 1969 until 2004 when they moved to Washington, D.C. and became the Washington Nationals. The Blue Jays were the first non-American team to host a World Series Game (in 1992) and the only non-American team to win the World Series (back to back in 1992 and 1993). The Blue Jays had the highest attendance in Major League Baseball during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Professional baseball has a long history in Canada, beginning with teams such as the London Tecumsehs, Montreal Royals, and Toronto Maple Leafs in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All three were included on the National Baseball Association’s top 100 minor league teams.
Both the Canadian Football League (CFL), the sport’s only professional league, and Football Canada, the governing body for amateur play, trace their roots to 1884 and the founding of the Canadian Rugby Football Union. Currently active teams such as the Toronto Argonauts and Hamilton Tiger-Cats have similar longevity. The CFL’s championship game, the Grey Cup, is the country’s single largest sporting event and is watched by nearly one third of Canadian television households. The eight Canadian football teams are the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Toronto Argonauts, Hamilton Tiger Cats, and Montreal Alouettes.
The National Basketball Association (NBA) recognizes its first ever game as being a contest between the New York Knickerbockers and Toronto Huskies at Toronto’s Maple Leaf Gardens on November 1, 1946. The NBA expanded into Canada in 1995 with the addition of the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies. The Grizzlies moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 2001, but the Raptors continue to draw healthy crowds at the Air Canada Centre. The 2005 and 2006 NBA MVP, Phoenix Suns point guard Steve Nash, is from Victoria, British Columbia and has played in international competitions for Canada’s national team.
Five Canadians—two born in the country, two naturalized, and one U.S.-born dual citizen—are currently on NBA rosters. The Canadian-born players are Joel Anthony and Jamaal Magloire, respectively natives of Montreal and Toronto and both with the Miami Heat. The naturalized Canadians are the South Africa-born Nash and Samuel Dalembert of the Sacramento Kings, born in Haiti and raised in Montreal. The other Canadian is Andy Rautins of the New York Knicks, born in New York as a citizen of both countries, and son of former Canadian NBA player and current men’s national team head coach Leo Rautins.
There are over 40,000 cricketers in the country. While Canada is not sanctioned to play Test matches, the team does take part in One Day International (ODI) matches (there are a few grounds in Canada that are sanctioned to host ODI’s by the International Cricket Council or ICC) and also in first-class games (in the ICC Intercontinental Cup) against other non-Test-playing opposition, with the rivalry against the United States being as strong in cricket as it is in other team sports. The match between these two nations is in fact the oldest international fixture in cricket, having first been played in 1844. This international fixture even predates the Olympics by over 50 years.
Soccer’s governing body in Canada is the Canadian Soccer Association, which traces its roots to the 1880s. While Canada’s women’s teams, both at senior level and age-grade, are competitive internationally (finishing fourth place at the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and 2nd place at the 2002 FIFA U-19 Women’s World Championship), the national men’s team struggles (appeared at one World Cup in 1986 and did not score a goal). At the professional level, the sport has never had major sustained success, with teams coming and going in leagues such as the North American Soccer League in the 1970s and 1980s. As of 2010, there are a number of teams in minor leagues such as the CSL and USL. As well, Toronto FC is growing in popularity as a team in Major League Soccer. The second-level USSF Division 2 has two Canadian teams—the Vancouver Whitecaps and Montreal Impact. The Whitecaps also scheduled two friendlies with the L.A. Galaxy, drawing 0–0 in November 2007 at B.C. Place and winning 2–1 in May 2008 at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton. In 2011, the Whitecaps will join MLS as Vancouver Whitecaps FC. The following year, a Montreal team that shares ownership with the Impact will make its MLS debut, most likely under the Impact name.
The Canadian Grand Prix Formula One auto race had been conducted every year since 1967, and since 1978 had been held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, apart from 2009 when the race was not on the FIA calendar for one year. The track was named for Canada’s first Grand Prix driver, the late Gilles Villeneuve, whose son, Jacques, won the Formula One World championship in 1997.
The Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s ambassadors to all the excitement of Major League Baseball. From international stars to towering home runs, the Jays, as they are known in the area, deliver a full entertainment package. Rain or shine, fans can enjoy the game at the newly-renovated Rogers Centre, as the Jays take on their American League East rivals and the rest of the Majors.
The Toronto Argonauts Football Club is one of the oldest and most storied sports franchises in North America. Football fans in Toronto have had a long list of gridiron legends to cheer on as they’ve watched Toronto bring home a total of 22 Grey Cup Championships (14 earned by the Argonauts), the most of any city in Canadian Football history.
Toronto is considered by many to be the centre of the hockey universe, and the Maple Leafs are a cultural institution in the city, dating back to the 1920s. The city’s love affair with the fast-paced, hard-hitting game is perhaps stronger today than ever before. Pubs and restaurants across the city fill up on game nights as the ‘Leafs,’ as they are affectionately known, take on their National Hockey League opponents.
Attending a Raptors game is one of the most exciting things to do in the city. On game nights, the atmosphere in the Air Canada Centre is electric as fans take in the high-flying action and showmanship that only the NBA can provide. Get ready for a spectacle of the highest-calibre basketball, along with halftime shows, music, dancers and a crazy mascot to keep you entertained.
The National Lacrosse League (NLL) has burst upon the North American sports scene to become one of the fastest growing games in town. The Toronto Rock bring the hard-hitting action to their Toronto fans every game night from the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto. The Rock have achieved tremendous success in their short history, and fans have responded with great support. Come see what all the excitement is about!