Australian rules football in Canada

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Australian rules football in Canada
2010 ECAFL Grand Final.jpg
Action from the 2010 ECAFL Grand Final
Governing bodyAFL Canada
National team(s)Canada
First playedMay 1989, Toronto
Registered players825 (total)
525 (adult)
300 (junior)
Club competitions
Audience records
Single match32,789 (1987). Melbourne v. Sydney (B.C. Place, Vancouver)

Australian rules football is a rapidly growing sport in Canada. Australian football is currently played in six Canadian provinces - Ontario, Alberta, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, Quebec and British Columbia. Saskatchewan is in the formative stages of development. The Ontario league, centred on Toronto but also including sides from cities as far afield as Guelph, Hamilton and Ottawa, is considered the largest league outside Australia. In western Canada, there are clubs in Edmonton, Calgary and a six-team league in the Vancouver area.

There is also a number of junior and women's clubs across Canada. This has increased dramatically after the introduction of the Aussie x program in Ontario and Vancouver. Also the performance of Canadian Mike Pyke in the 2012 AFL Grand Final has brought added publicity to the game of Australian Football in Canada.


Between 1987 and 1989, the Australian Football League staged several exhibition matches in Canada, attracting large crowds and much interest. The 1987 game holds the record for a VFL/AFL match held outside Australia.

Year Location Stadium Teams Attendance
1987 Vancouver Melbourne v. North Melbourne 7,980
1987 Vancouver BC Place Melbourne v. Sydney 32,789
1987 Vancouver Collingwood v. Hawthorn
1988 Toronto Varsity Stadium Collingwood v. Hawthorn 18,500
1989 Toronto Toronto Skydome Geelong v. Melbourne 24,639


In the late 1980s, regional ESPN broadcasts in Canada showed highlights of the Victorian Football League from Australia.

First league[edit]

The Canadian Australian Football League was established in May 1989 when two clubs, the Mississauga Mustangs and the Toronto Panthers, were formed and played in the inaugural Conacher Cup game in Toronto, Ontario. Since then, the game of Australian football in Canada has expanded considerably nationwide.

In 1990, the Scarborough Rebels, the North York Hawks and the Hamilton Wildcats joined, with the Balmy Beach Saints coming on board in 1992. The North York Hawks later relocated and became known as the Broadview Hawks.

The Brampton Wolverines, the league's seventh team, were formed in 1993. The Scarborough Rebels relocated and became the Lawrence Park Rebels.

International competition[edit]

Northwind's All-International ruckman Manny Matata kicking a drop punt

In 1993, a Canadian representative team, known as the Northwind, beat a British (BARFL) representative team.

In 1994 and 1995, the Canadians again defeated the British at home.

In 1995, several local CAFA games were broadcast on a Hamilton cable television channel.

In July 1995, the Hamilton Wildcats played a Canadian All-Star team in front of 21,000 fans during the half-time break at a Canadian Football League (gridiron) match.

In 1999, the first USA v Canada game was played (49th Parallel Cup, named after the 49th parallel north). The Revolution narrowly defeated Team Canada (Northwind). Later matches enforced strict rules based on player origins. The 49th Parallel Cup is held every two years.

In 2002, Canada participated in the inaugural Australian Football International Cup, with Canada represented by the Northwind team consisting purely of Canadian-born players. The Canadian national team has competed in every International Cup since its inception and now competes with its national women's team named the Northern Lights.


In 2003, the first junior league in Canada, the North Delta Junior Australian Football League, was formed.

AFL Canada was formed as governing body on 30 July 2004, when the Canadian Australian Football League changed its official name. The move corresponded with funding from the Australian Football League, and a junior participation program was put in place. The clubs were split into two regional leagues, the Ontario Australian Football League and the North West Pacific Football League. The remaining Alberta-based clubs participate in AFL Canada organised regional conferences such as the British Columbia Cup.

In 2005, the Northwind participated in the 2005 International Cup.

In early 2006, AFL Canada sent a small delegation to the AFL exhibition match in Los Angeles. London and Windsor folded due to distance but the new OAFL club, the Central Blues, formed and began competing. In Alberta, the Calgary Bears also formed and the Westcoast challenge commenced.

In early 2007, the Ottawa Swans formed, and affiliated with the OAFL, and the Demons relocated from Mississauga to High Park in Toronto.

In late 2007, AFL Canada hosted the Ironbark challenge, including the 49th Parallel Cup between Canada vs United States, including historic first women's and junior (under 17) tests between the two countries. Canada defeated the United States for the first time at both senior and junior level, but were soundly defeated in the women's match. The tournament also included a touring Japanese team and attracted a record attendance of 2,500 at Thunderbird Stadium in Vancouver.[2]

Notable Canadians in Australian Rules[edit]

Andrew McGrath, Canadian born professional at AFL club Essendon

In early 2008, Canadian junior Scott Fleming moved to Australia to play with the Broadbeach Cats semi-professional club in the AFL Queensland State League at 17 years of age.

Later the same year, former Canadian rugby union international Mike Pyke was signed by the Sydney Swans AFL team as an international rookie at 24 years of age.[3]

Andrew McGrath, who was born in Canada,[4] was drafted first overall in the 2016 AFL draft by Essendon.[5]

Kendra Heil has signed with Collingwood of AFL Women's.[6]

Governing Body[edit]

The governing body for Aussie Rules in Canada is AFL Canada.

National team[edit]

Team Canada for men is known as the Northwind. Team Canada for women is known as the Northern Lights.


A map of Canada indicating the provinces in red where Australian rules football is organised in 2007

In 2006, there were over 420 senior (approximately 250 Canadian national) Australian rules football players in Canada out of a total of 484, an increase of 25% from 2005.[7][8]

By the end of 2007, this figure had increased to a total of 825 players in organised competitions, of which 525 were senior and 300 were junior, an increase of over 70% from 2006, and a total of 95% increase over 2 years.[9]

Women's Football[edit]

Canada boasts 9 women's football clubs nationwide. Youth girls development programs operate in Alberta, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec. The national team, formed in 2007, is known as the "Northern Lights". They were formerly known as the "Eagles". They played in the first women's international footy matches during 2007, when they lost twice to the USA Freedom. In 2011 the national women's team competed in the inaugural women's division of the Australian Football International Cup, where they came second to Ireland.[10] In 2014 the Northern lights became world champions when they defeated the Irish Banshees at the AFL International Cup. In 2015 the Northern Lights defeated the USA Freedom to win the annual 49th Parallel Cup.

Leagues & Clubs[edit]


Alberta Footy Men's League[edit]

Club City Province founded Official Website
Calgary Kangaroos Calgary Alberta 2002 Official Site
Calgary Bears Calgary Alberta 2007 Official Site
Calgary Cowboys Calgary Alberta 2008 Official Site
Edmonton Wombats Edmonton Alberta 2009 Official Site
Calgary Wolves Calgary Alberta 2015 Official Site

2016 Banff is under development.

Alberta Footy Women's League[edit]

Club City Province founded Official Website
Calgary Kookaburras Calgary Alberta 2007 Official Site
Edmonton Emus Edmonton Alberta 2009 Official Site
Hillhurst Nighthawks Calgary Alberta 2008 Official Site
Kensington Kingfishers Calgary Alberta 2008 Official Site

British Columbia[edit]

British Columbia Australian Football League[edit]

Club City Province founded Official Website
Burnaby Eagles Burnaby British Columbia 2001 Official Site
Delta BayHawks North Delta British Columbia 2009 Official Site
Vancouver Cougars (Blue) Vancouver British Columbia 2001 Official Site
Vancouver Cougars (White) Vancouver British Columbia 2001 Official Site
West Coast Saints Vancouver British Columbia 2008 Official Site

2016 Victoria Sharks.

North Delta Junior Australian Football League[edit]

Club City Province founded Official Website
North Delta Junior Australian Football League North Delta British Columbia 2003 Official Site


Ontario Australian Football League[edit]

Club City Province founded Official Website
Broadview Hawks Broadview Ontario 1989 Official Site
Ottawa Swans Ottawa Ontario 2007 Official Site
Etobicoke Kangaroos Etobicoke Ontario 2003 Official Site
Grand River Gargoyles Guelph Ontario 2001 Official Site
Hamilton Wildcats Hamilton Ontario 1997 Official Site
High Park Demons Toronto Ontario 1989 Official Site
Toronto Downtown Dingos Toronto Ontario 1996 Official Site
Toronto Eagles Toronto Ontario 1989 Official Site
Toronto Rebels Toronto Ontario 1990 Official Site
Central Blues Toronto Ontario 2006 Official Site


Club City Province founded Official Website
Quebec Saints Montreal Quebec 2008 Official Site

Nova Scotia[edit]

2014 Halifax Dockers founded

Major Tournaments[edit]





TV coverage of the AFL in Canada has historically included the weekly highlights program going back to the 1980s. In the mid 1990s when ESPN briefly reacquired the rights to the AFL in US again (due to lobbying by fans associated with AFANA), the sport first appeared on The Sports Network, better known as TSN. In succeeding years, the sport moved between several networks but was primarily on TSN. Coverage remained limited to highlights programs save for one time each year, where the Grand Final (championship game) was usually live. In 2006, due to growing demand and lobbying by AFANA for regular live coverage, the new Setanta Sports acquired rights in both Canada and the USA. In mid-season that year, live matches began appearing regularly on television in Canada for the first time on Setanta Sports (STS). When Setanta's North American operations failed in August 2010, the sport briefly moved to Rogers Sports. Following ESPN winning the rights once again in the US, the sport returned to TSN, where it remains. TSN now airs one live match and one delayed match each round of the AFL season, both available in HD. For many years, fans in extreme western Canada have been able to see coverage via mid-size or large satellite dishes able to catch signals low on the horizon intended for the Pacific via first Australia TV and now by its successor Australia Plus. AFANA provides listings of Canadian TV schedules on its web site [11] along with information on the coverage.[12]

In 2011, the first televised all-Canadian Aussie Rules match was shown on Rogers TV, and featured the Ottawa Swans hosting the Toronto Rebels.

Attendance Records[edit]

Exhibition Matches[edit]

Canada holds the world record for attendance at a match outside Australia.

International Tests[edit]


  1. ^ IAFC
  2. ^ Northwind blows over Revos from
  3. ^ Swans sign 24-year-old Canadian rugby player from
  4. ^ Twomey, Callum (24 June 2016). "Gun athlete to draft bolter: McGrath's great leap forward". AFL. Retrieved 10 November 2016.
  5. ^ Schmook, Nathan (25 November 2016). "Draft wrap: Bombers take McGrath with No.1 draft pick". Retrieved 25 November 2016.
  6. ^ Prime, Toby (1 November 2016). "Canadian Kendra Heil one of three Eastern Devils recruited to Collingwood as free agents". Herald Sun. Retrieved 20 November 2016.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ World Footy News - World Footy Census 2004 - North America
  9. ^ AFL International Census 2007 Archived 2011-05-24 at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Vancouver Olympics Winter Games 2010 - Our Broadcast - Our Broadcasters Archived 6 July 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  1. AFL Canada
  2. AFANA

External links[edit]