Saskatchewan football fans live and die by the exploits of their beloved Roughriders on the field. Many claim that they bleed green.
There was a lot of bleeding during the club’s first half-century of existence.
Entering league play in 1910, the Regina Rugby Club (renamed the Regina Roughriders in 1924) quickly established itself as the dominant team in Western Canada.
It also had the less envious reputation of always losing the big game.
The Regina Roughriders, wearing red-and-black uniforms, appeared in the Grey Cup six times between 1928 and 1934 – and lost every time to an eastern opponent.
In 1929, the Riders did make history when their quarterback completed the first forward pass in a Grey Cup game.
Another first came the following year, when CKCK Regina treated Saskatchewan fans to the first radio coverage of the big game. The live broadcast made no difference to the outcome: the Riders lost 11-6 in the mud at Toronto’s Varsity Stadium.
Great things were expected in 1936, when Regina upset the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, the defending champions, in the playoffs. But the Roughriders were declared ineligible to play for the Grey Cup that year because of American players on their roster.
In 1951, led by legendary quarterback Glenn Dobbs, or the “Dobber” as he was known, the Roughriders returned to the title game for the first time since 1934.
This time, they sported a new name – they officially became the Saskatchewan Roughriders in 1948.
They had also adopted new colours when a team executive found a set of green-and-white jerseys at a Chicago surplus store.
Despite these changes, the national football championship still eluded them.
The Riders did not make another Grey Cup appearance until 1966. It was widely expected that the team’s futility in the big game would continue.
Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson made no attempt to appear neutral and confidently
put eight bucks on the Ottawa Rough Riders. It seemed a safe bet.
Vancouver organizers decided to break with tradition that year and hold the Grey Cup parade on Friday evening instead of the Saturday morning before the game. An estimated crowd of 150,000 lined the downtown streets under the stars.
Things started badly when the announcers had their parade notes stolen and identified one float as being from the city of Saskatchewan.
Then, it took an ugly turn when several thousand spectators, many of them drunk, refused to disperse after the parade and fought a four hour battle with the local police.
By the time Georgia Street was cleared and order restored, 300 people had been arrested. One 15-year-old girl arrived home wearing handcuffs.
News of the riot filled the Saturday morning papers. But the real story happened at Empire Stadium that afternoon.
With the game deadlocked at 14 going into the second half, Ottawa seemed to have the edge. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Russ Jackson had scorched the Saskatchewan defence twice in the first half with 61-yard and 85-yard touchdown passes to Whit Tucker.
But the Riders made adjustments during halftime and never looked back.
Behind the inspired play making of the little field general, quarterback Ronnie Lancaster, and the punishing running game of George Reed, Saskatchewan scored two unanswered touchdowns en route to a 29-14 victory.
Ironically, the post-game interviews had to be held in the Ottawa dressing room. Convinced that Saskatchewan would lose, the CBC had set up its cameras there before the final whistle.
The Roughrider players ignored the slight and basked in their first Grey Cup victory while the shellshocked pretenders from Ottawa glumly looked on.
Now that the Grey Cup drought was finally over, Rider fans expected more in the coming years. The next one – in 1989 – took only a third of a century.
(Rider trivia: Saskatchewan has never won the Grey Cup when the CCF-NDP has been in power.)
This article originally appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
Photo Credit: Regina Leader-Post
In 1774, the Hudson’s Bay Company established its first inland post, Cumberland House, on the lower Saskatchewan River. It was a momentous step for a company that, up until then, had hugged the shores of Hudson and James bays. The western Canadian fur trade was never the same.
For a century, the rather unimaginative HBC practice of encouraging interior Indians to come to the Bay to trade had resulted in steady returns for its English shareholders.
But that changed in the 1760s, when Montreal-based traders moved up the Saskatchewan River to trade directly with Indian bands. No longer did the Cree and Assiniboine need to travel with fur-laden canoes to the Bay. They now enjoyed the convenience of getting their trade goods from these “door-to-door” pedlars.
The HBC grudgingly concluded that Canadian competition had to be answered by its own settlement on the Saskatchewan River – or it faced probable ruin.
The credit for founding Cumberland House is accorded to company servant Samuel Hearne. That is a generous interpretation.
Fresh from his impressive trip across the barren lands from Fort Churchill to Lake Athabasca, Hearne was asked in August 1773 to head the expedition to establish the company’s first inland post.
But he could not convince any Indians to help undertake the task because of exceedingly low water levels and the lateness of the season.
And when Hearne and a handful of HBC servants finally did set off early the following summer, they travelled as passengers in Indian canoes – but only because they had paid for their transportation with presents. Even then, they could not travel together, but left for the lower Saskatchewan River with separate trading parties on different days. Several expedition members ended up being taken to different interior locations because Cree bands wanted any new HBC post to be sited in their home territory.
The HBC contemplated two possible locations for its inland initiative, both in present-day Manitoba: Grand Rapids at the mouth of the Saskatchewan River, and Basquia near The Pas.
But after consulting with local Indian leaders, Hearne settled on a bay on Pine Island (Cumberland) Lake, just north of the Saskatchewan River delta (in presentday Saskatchewan). Although not a traditional gathering centre, the site was at the nexus of several major Indian trade routes – northeast to the HBC posts on the west side of the bay, northwest to the Churchill River and Athabasca country and west along the Saskatchewan towards the Rocky Mountains. In other words, the location of the HBC’s first inland post in Western Canada was determined by existing Indian social geography.
Hearne began supervising the building of Cumberland House on Sept. 3, 1774. The simple log structure may not have been much, but as Hearne noted, it marked the beginning of a new commercial struggle with its Montreal-based competitors. But until HBC servants learned to build and use canoes, the goods, furs and company personnel going to and from Cumberland House were transported by Indians. Hearne glumly estimated, for example, that it cost more in presents to transport trade goods inland than they were actually worth. Cumberland House was beset with problems. One was the incredible mosquito population during summer, which made working outside miserable, if not impossible at times. Another was the frequent flooding.
Then, there was the scarcity of food. Because of Cumberland House’s precarious game supply, traders were at the mercy of Indian hunters who expected special presents in exchange for supplying meat. If traders refused to co-operate, they faced the prospect of starvation.
No sooner had Cumberland House been established in 1774 than it was challenged by a series of competing posts that pushed the fur trade up the Saskatchewan River.
By the early nineteenth century, Cumberland House had become an inland supply depot and a Metis community. Today, the HBC’s first inland post enjoys the distinction of being Saskatchewan’s oldest continuously occupied settlement.
Questions or comments? Email Bill Waiser: firstname.lastname@example.org
This article originally appeared in the Saskatoon StarPhoenix.
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