Canadian Football League East Division

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CFL East Division
League Canadian Football League
Sport Canadian football
Formerly Interprovincial Rugby Football Union
Eastern Football Conference
Founded 1907
No. of teams 4
Most recent CFL East Division champion(s) Toronto Argonauts (21st title)
Most CFL East Division titles Toronto Argonauts (21 titles)

The Canadian Football League East Division is one of the two regional divisions of the Canadian Football League, their counterpart being the West Division. Although the CFL was not founded until 1958, the East Division and its clubs are descended from earlier leagues.



The first organized football club in Canada was the Hamilton Foot Ball Club, a predecessor of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in 1868. This was followed by the formation of the Montreal Foot Ball Club in 1872, the Toronto Argonaut Football Club in 1873 and the Ottawa Football Club (the future Ottawa Rough Riders) in 1876.[1][2]

The first organized competitions were formed in 1883, when the Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU) and the Quebec Rugby Football Union (QRFU) were founded. At the time the sport was generally called rugby union or rugby football because its rules were similar to rugby union's, although this would change drastically in the coming decades. The following year, the two provincial unions would form the Canadian Rugby Football Union, with Montreal winning the first national championship later that year. The CRFU collapsed before the decade was out, but was re-organized as the Canadian Rugby Union (CRU) in 1891, with Osgoode Hall winning the first CRU championship the following year.

The turn of the 20th century was marked by fundamental changes in the rules of the game. The ORFU was the first competition to adopt the Burnside Rules, which were to revolutionize the Canadian game. The QRFU and CRU initially resisted the changes, but by 1906 the Burnside Rules were in force throughout Ontario and Quebec. Although substantial changes (such as forward passing) were still to come, modern Canadian football would ultimately evolve from John Thrift Meldrum Burnside's code.

Interprovincial Rugby Football Union (1907–1959)[edit]

In 1907, the Hamilton Tigers and Toronto Argonauts of the ORFU joined with the QRFU's Montreal Foot Ball Club and Ottawa Rough Riders (Ottawa had been moving back and forth between the two unions over the past few years) to form an elite competition, the Interprovincial Rugby Football Union. The new competition was soon dubbed the "Big Four". Montreal won the first championship that year. In 1909 Lord Grey, the Governor General of Canada, donated a trophy to be awarded to the CRU champion. The trophy, which became known as the Grey Cup, was not won by an IRFU club until the Hamilton Tigers captured the trophy in 1913. Following the 1915 season, the competition was suspended because of the First World War, and did not fully resume until 1920.

From 1925 until 1953, IRFU teams dominated Canadian football, winning 18 of the 26 Grey Cups its clubs contested in that timespan (the IRFU suspended operations from 1942 through 1944 because of World War II). During this period, the calibre of play in the IRFU was recognized as being on par with any league in North America. The Big Four attracted considerable interest in the United States and even had its games televised by the National Broadcasting Company for a time during the 1950s (in fact, these games were more widely available than their NFL counterparts). This interest eventually declined as the National Football League gained prominence and the American Football League rose in popularity.

By the mid-1950s, it was clear that the IRFU was a far higher calibre competition than the ORFU (the Quebec union had faded from the scene in the early part of the century). Moreover, the Western Interprovincial Football Union had been gaining strength over the last two decades, and its level of play was almost on par with that of the IRFU. The WIFU's champion had faced the Big Four's champion in the Grey Cup final every season since 1945, and it proved capable of winning the Grey Cup on a regular basis during this decade. Following the 1954 season, the ORFU finally stopped challenging for the Grey Cup, thus making the game a contest between the champions of the IRFU in the East and the WIFU in the West. Although it was another four years before the amateurs were formally locked out of Grey Cup play, this marks the start of the modern era of Canadian football.

In 1956, the IRFU and WIFU agreed to form the Canadian Football Council. In 1958, the CFC withdrew from the CRU and renamed itself the Canadian Football League. The new league assumed control of the Grey Cup, though it had been the de facto professional championship for four years before then.

Eastern Football Conference (1960–1980)[edit]

The IRFU changed its name to the "Eastern Football Conference" in 1960. In 1961, the EFC agreed to a partial interlocking schedule with what was known by then as the Western Football Conference. Although the EFC was part of the CFL, its merger with the WFC was only a partial merger for the next two decades. During this time, the conferences maintained considerable autonomy, much like Major League Baseball's two leagues operated during the 20th century. For example, the East had a different playoff format until 1973 and a shorter schedule until 1974. During this time, attendances increased substantially for most clubs and television revenue gained prominence and importance. By the 1980s, however, rising player salaries had caused considerable financial losses for some teams. In an effort to bolster the league's stability, the CFL decided to proceed with a complete merger of the two regional conferences.

East Division (1980–1994, 1996–present)[edit]

In 1980, the CFL's two conferences agreed to a full merger and a full interlocking schedule. Although the EFC has carried on since that time as the CFL's East Division, full authority is now vested within the CFL. The decision to create a full interlocking schedule meant that the teams were playing fewer divisional games, consequently the league decided to add two extra divisional games per team, thus extending the schedule to 18 games per team starting in 1986.

The East Division has undergone major changes since the dissolution of the EFC. Following the 1981 season the Montreal Alouettes folded. They were refounded in time for the 1982 season as the Montreal Concordes. The new owners restored the Alouettes name in 1985, but this franchise folded in 1987. Consequently, the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the easternmost team in the West Division, were transferred to the East Division to keep the divisions equal in size. This led to the first "all-Western" Grey Cup in 1988 when the Blue Bombers won the East Division championship for the first time.

In 1994, the CFL decided to add more teams in the United States. This led to the addition of the two American-based teams in the East, the Shreveport Pirates and a team in Baltimore that would eventually be called the Stallions after the NFL successfully prevented the team from using the name "Colts". Baltimore would go on to win the East Division championship in 1994. For the 1995 season, all eight Canadian teams competed in the North Division, while the five American teams formed the South Division.

Prior to the 1996 season however, all of the American clubs disbanded. The owner of one, the Grey Cup champion Stallions, moved his organization to Montreal as the third incarnation of the Alouettes. However, while the Alouettes are now officially reckoned as having suspended operations from 1987 to 1995, they do not acknowledge their past as the Stallions. The pre-1987 divisional alignment was restored, only to see Winnipeg return to the East after one season when the Ottawa Rough Riders folded. The Blue Bombers returned to the West in 2002 after the Ottawa Renegades commenced play in the nation's capital. With the suspension of the Renegades in 2006, the Blue Bombers again were transferred to the East Division. With the East Division Ottawa Redblacks beginning play in 2014, the Blue Bombers moved back to the West Division.

Grey Cup record[edit]

Prior to 1954, Eastern clubs dominated the Grey Cup games. Since 1954 however, the West has generally been on an equal footing and in recent decades has often dominated the East in the regular season. From 1954 to 2016, the East has won 27 Grey Cups and lost 35. This is not counting the 1995 season. It should also be noted that two of the East's Grey Cup wins were by the Blue Bombers, who have played in the West for most of their history.

Playoff format[edit]

Since 1955, three teams have competed in the Eastern playoffs in most seasons. Only the top two teams qualified for the post-season in 1985 when an earlier form of the cross-over rule was in force, while four teams qualified in 1994 when there were six teams. In 1997, the present cross-over rule was implemented, allowing the fourth place team from one division to take the play-off place of the third place team in the other division, should the fourth place team earn a better record. From 1997 to 2016, the fourth place team in the West has taken advantage of the cross-over rule nine times, including four times when there were equal teams in the divisions. However, it was not until 2008 that a Western team (Edmonton) advanced to the Eastern Final, and only two other teams (the 2009 BC Lions and 2016 Eskimos) have won a game since. Neither crossover team won more than one playoff game.

Since implementation of the crossover rule, the closest an Eastern team has come to earning a cross-over berth in the Western playoffs has come in 2001 when fourth place Toronto finished one point behind third place BC.

Current teams[edit]

Former teams[edit]

List of Eastern champions[edit]

IRFU champions[edit]

Year Champion[3]
1907 Montreal Football Club
1908 Hamilton Tigers
1909 Ottawa Rough Riders
1910 Hamilton Tigers
1911 Toronto Argonauts
1912 Toronto Argonauts
1913 Hamilton Tigers
1914 Toronto Argonauts
1915 Hamilton Tigers
1916 No season: World War I
1919 Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers
1920 Toronto Argonauts
1921 Toronto Argonauts
1922 Toronto Argonauts
1923 Hamilton Tigers
1924 Hamilton Tigers
1925 Ottawa Senators
1926 Ottawa Senators
1927 Hamilton Tigers
1928 Hamilton Tigers
1929 Hamilton Tigers
1930 Hamilton Tigers
1931 Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers
1932 Hamilton Tigers
1933 Toronto Argonauts
1934 Hamilton Tigers
1935 Hamilton Tigers
1936 Ottawa Rough Riders
1937 Toronto Argonauts
1938 Toronto Argonauts
1939 Ottawa Rough Riders
1940 Ottawa Rough Riders
1941 Ottawa Rough Riders
1942 No season: World War II
1945 Toronto Argonauts
1946 Toronto Argonauts
1947 Toronto Argonauts
1948 Ottawa Rough Riders
1949 Montreal Alouettes
1950 Toronto Argonauts
1951 Ottawa Rough Riders
1952 Toronto Argonauts
1953 Hamilton Tiger-Cats
1954 Montreal Alouettes
1955 Montreal Alouettes
1956 Montreal Alouettes
1957 Hamilton Tiger-Cats
1958 Hamilton Tiger-Cats
1959 Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Total playoff berths while in the CFL East[edit]

This reflects Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Baltimore Football Club, and Shreveport Pirates results only while in the East Division.

Team Division
East Division
Grey Cup/Dominion
Toronto Argonauts 21 53 22 16
Hamilton Tiger-Cats 19 52 20 8
Montreal Alouettes 15 48 18 7
Ottawa Rough Riders 19 48 9 6
Hamilton Tigers1 14 16 14 6
Winnipeg Blue Bombers2 7 14 7 2
Montreal AAA Winged Wheelers 3 2 2 1
Ottawa Redblacks 2 2 2 1
Montreal Football Club 1 1 1 1
Baltimore Football Club 0 1 0 0
Montreal Indians 0 0 0 0
Montreal Cubs 0 0 0 0
Montreal Royals 0 0 0 0
Hamilton Wildcats3 0 0 0 0
Shreveport Pirates 0 0 0 0
Ottawa Renegades 0 0 0 0

1 Played in the IRFU from 1907 to 1947.
2 Played in the East Division from 1987 to 1994, 1997 to 2001, and 2006 to 2013.
3 Played in the IRFU from 1948 to 1949.


  1. ^ CFL History 1860s
  2. ^ CFL History 1870s
  3. ^ Currie, Gordon (1968). 100 Years of Canadian Football. Toronto: Pagurian Press Limited. pp. 164–165.