Professional sports in Canada

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There are professional teams based in Canada in several professional sports leagues. The National Hockey League has seven Canadian franchises and is the most popular professional sports league in Canada. The second most popular sports league in Canada is the Canadian Football League. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer are also popular in Canada, more so in Ontario than the rest of the country.


Professionalism in ice hockey goes back to the start of the 20th century. The hockey world's most important trophy, the Stanley Cup was originally an amateur championship for Canada which began in 1893, but after 1906 professionals were allowed to play for it and quickly came to dominate the most successful teams. After 1908 the Allan Cup became Canada's amateur title and the Stanley Cup become a professional trophy, and after 1914 was opened to teams from the United States.

Several rival leagues competed to dominate the professional hockey market in the early years but the National Hockey Association (1910–1917) was the most successful in Central Canada while the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (1912–1924) was the most successful in British Columbia and the American Northwest, and the champions of the two leagues would face each other for the Stanley Cup each year until 1914 to 1921.

The NHA became the NHL in 1917 when the Montreal Canadiens, Montreal Wanderers, Ottawa Senators and Quebec Bulldogs agreed to form a new league without the Toronto Blueshirts and their hated owner Eddie Livingstone. Quebec sat out the first two seasons, the Blueshirts were replaced by the Toronto Arenas, and the Wanderers folded after the first season in the new league. However the league slowly stabilized and solidified. The NHL began to expand into the United States starting with Boston Bruins in 1924, which helped it financially. However, in trend to be repeated through the NHL's history, many of its Canadian teams in small markets struggled to compete with their richer big-city Canadian and American rivals forcing the Quebec Bulldogs to move and become the Hamilton Tigers in 1920 and to fold in 1925.

The PCHA was founded in 1912 by the New Westminster Royals, Vancouver Millionaires, Victoria Senators. The PCHA was limited in its growth compared to the NHL by Western Canada's much smaller and more disperse population relative to the East, especially at that times, and attempted to expand to the United States to compensate, but hockey was not as successful in cities like Portland and Seattle as in Boston or New York and the PCHA struggled in comparison to the NHL. When it folded in 1921 two of its teams joined the prairie-based Western Canada Hockey League (1921–1926) initially of the Edmonton Eskimos, Calgary Tigers, Regina Capitals, and Saskatoon Sheiks. The WCHL also challenged the NHL for the Stanley Cup, but when the WCHL folded in 1926 the NHL took over the Stanley Cup and became the most prestigious hockey league in the world.

The NHL gradually became more American as expansion franchises appeared and Canadian teams folded or moved. The Ottawa Senators became the St. Louis Eagles in 1934 (and then folded), and the Montreal Maroons (1924–1938) folded as well, the last Stanley Cup winning team to have done so.

Only two serious challenges have come to the NHL's reign of dominance from within Canada since that time. The minor-pro Western Hockey League (1952–1974) had grown in numbers and quality during the 1960s, and seemed ready to become a major league. The NHL effectively crushed this upstart by expanding for the first time in decades beginning in 1967, included the absorption of the Vancouver Canucks in 1970. The World Hockey Association (1972–1979) included in teams in Canadian markets not yet served by the NHL including most successfully the Edmonton Oilers, Quebec Nordiques, and Winnipeg Jets, (less successfully as the Calgary Broncos, Calgary Cowboys, Ottawa Nationals, and Ottawa Civics) and hoped to compete directly with the NHL within their most profitable Canadian markets in the shape of the Toronto Toros and Vancouver Blazers. The WHA was plagued by franchise instability but the Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Quebec teams were considered strong enough that they were invited to join the NHL in 1979. The Atlanta Flames moved to Calgary to become the Calgary Flames in 1980.

Thus in 1980 there were six strong Canadian teams in an NHL of 21 teams: the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, Edmonton Oilers, Winnipeg Jets, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Montreal Canadiens. This situation persisted until began a new round of expansion and relocation in 1991. Several new American teams were created but the only Canadian team added was the Ottawa Senators franchise, which began play in 1992. However a low Canadian dollar and increasing income gap between the US and Canada combined with rising player salaries (denominated in US dollars) and the fact that American teams received subsidies to build new arenas soon squeezed the Canadian franchises, causing the Quebec Nordiques to move to Denver, Colorado in 1995 and the Winnipeg Jets to move to Phoenix, Arizona in 1996. The Edmonton Oilers were also in danger of moving when owner Peter Pocklington put them up for sale[when?]. However they were ultimately saved by having their lease at Northlands Coliseum dropped to practically zero by the City of Edmonton, and were purchased by a group of small business people the Edmonton Investors Group.

Since the Canadian dollar rebounded during the 2000s (decade), the Canadian teams are now more profitable than their American rivals, especially since they now all (except the Oilers and Flames) own their own relatively new arenas with many luxury boxes and concessions, including Rogers Arena (opened 1995), Bell Centre (1996), Scotiabank Place (1996), Air Canada Centre (1999). The Flames rent the Saddledome (opened 1983) from the City of Calgary, and the Oilers rent Rexall Place (1974) from Northlands and the City of Edmonton, and are currently planning a new facility. As of 2010 several American teams are in financial trouble leading to speculation that one or more may move to Canada, although the NHL has repeatedly stated it wants to keep of its teams in their current locations if at all possible.

As well as the NHL, minor-pro hockey has existed in Canada in form of various American Hockey League (1936–present) and International Hockey League (1945–2001) franchises over the years. However they also moved to the United States in droves during the 1990s. As of 2015 the only remaining Canadian franchises in the 30-team AHL are the Manitoba Moose, St. John's IceCaps, and Toronto Marlies.


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.[1] The nine Canadian football teams are the B.C. Lions, Calgary Stampeders, Edmonton Eskimos, Saskatchewan Roughriders, Winnipeg Blue Bombers, Toronto Argonauts, Hamilton Tiger-Cats, Montreal Alouettes, and Ottawa Redblacks.

The Canadian Football League is the second most popular professional sports league in Canada. Each of the CFL's 9 teams draw anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000+ spectators per game. Although western teams enjoy consistently higher stadium attendance numbers than their eastern counterparts, the league enjoys strong TV ratings across the board, comparable to other major sports leagues in North America.


A Toronto Blue Jays baseball game at Rogers Centre in Toronto.

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.

A number of Canadians have played in the major leagues, and several have won the highest honours in baseball. Ferguson Jenkins won the National League Cy Young Award in 1971 as the best pitcher in the league, and in 1991 became the first Canadian inducted in the (U.S.) Baseball Hall of Fame. Larry Walker was National League MVP for the 1997 season and was the league's Batting Champion 3 times. Éric Gagné won the National League Cy Young Award in 2003. Jason Bay was the first Canadian to win rookie of the year honours in 2004. More recently, Justin Morneau (American League, 2006) and Joey Votto (National League, 2010) have been named league MVPs.

Canada participated in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, in which it upset Team USA in first-round play,[2] which some people in Canada call the "Miracle on Dirt" (a play on the phrase "Miracle on Ice" for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team). There are a number of minor league, semi-professional and collegiate baseball teams in Canada (see List of baseball teams in Canada). Great achievements in Canadian baseball are recognized by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.


A packed ACC in a Toronto Raptors game against the Milwaukee Bucks

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.[3] 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, Steve Nash, is from British Columbia and has played in international competitions for Canada's national team.


Professional soccer in Canada has gone through many unsuccessful incarnations. As of 2016 things are much more stable with three teams playing within Major League Soccer: Toronto FC (joined 2007), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (joined 2011) and the Montreal Impact (joined 2012). As well, FC Edmonton have joined the North American Soccer League in recent years. The Ottawa Fury FC are an affiliate club to the Montreal Impact of Major League Soccer playing in the United Soccer League.

Rugby league[edit]

Canada's first fully professional rugby team, the Toronto Wolfpack, debuted in the British/French League 1 and Challenge Cup competitions in 2017.



See also[edit]

Major professional sports leagues in the United States and Canada


  1. ^ William Houston (2006-12-20). "Grey Cup moves to TSN in new deal". The Globe And Mail. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2006-12-23.
  2. ^ ESPN - U.S. rallies, but can't overcome 8-0 hole vs. Canada - MLB
  3. ^ Goldpaper, Sam. "The First Game". Retrieved 2009-05-10.