The City of Edmonton Archives acquired a 35-volume set of scrapbooks from the Edmonton Eskimos football team about 10 years ago. The photographs, team and player profiles, and newspaper clippings provide a fascinating history of football in Edmonton.
The earlier volumes, with material dating from 1880 to 1973, contain many photographs. One of my volunteer assignments at the Archives was to scan the photographs so that they could be made available online.
Fortunately for the Archives, I wasn’t being paid by the hour! While doing the scanning, I had the opportunity to peruse these two volumes and learn more trivia than any football enthusiast could ever dream of. The next several paragraphs highlight just a few of the many things I enjoyed.
One interesting aspect of reviewing the material was to see how the unique game of Canadian football evolved from its roots in the British game of rugby. As late as the 1950s, many Canadian football teams, and even Canadian football leagues, had the word rugby in their title. The various photographs show the corresponding evolution of uniforms and equipment.
Canadian football has nationwide popularity today. It is evident from the early material, that Canadian football was popular in Edmonton even more than 100 years ago. One can also note historical milestones of the game’s continued increase in popularity. For example:
- Early 1890’s – Competition between teams representing Edmonton and Calgary began
- 1908 – The Edmonton Esquimox become Alberta champions by defeating the Calgary Tigers Rugby Team 11-2
- 1910 – The Edmonton team, then playing in the Alberta Rugby Football Union, changed its name to the Edmonton Eskimos
- 1921 – The Eskimos became the first Western Canadian team to challenge for the Grey Cup (losing to the Toronto Argonauts 23-0)
Material on the team’s glory years of the 1950s takes you through the building of a championship dynasty. For example:
- In 1949, the current professional Edmonton Eskimos team was formed and it joined the Western Interprovincial Football Union (now the West Division of the Canadian Football League).
- The team gathered outstanding athletes and outstanding citizens, such as Jackie Parker, Johnny Bright, Normie Kwong, Don Getty and Rollie Miles.
- Detailed newspaper accounts are included in the scrapbooks about the 1954, 1955 and 1956 Grey Cup winning seasons.
Another note of interest to sports fans is that the Archives house an amazing amount of material on the early days of most sports in Edmonton. For example, you can:
- Read about how an Edmonton hockey team (also called the Eskimos) in 1908 became the first Western Canadian team to challenge for the Stanley Cup.
- Look through the collection of material on the Edmonton Grads. From 1923 until 1940, the Grads were generally recognized as the best woman’s basketball team in the world.
I encourage anyone with an interest in Edmonton’s sporting history to visit the City of Edmonton Archives, located in the Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre at 10440-108 Avenue. They are open Monday-Friday from 8:30am-4:30pm and Wednesday from 8:30am to 8:00pm.
MS-396 Edmonton Eskimo Football Club fonds
EA-780 Edmonton Eskimo Football Club