How the Labour Day Classic Began

It’s all about football on September long. Here’s how the biggest rivalry weekend in sports got its start.

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To many Canadians, Labour Day marks the unofficial end of summer. It’s the last weekend to go to the cottage, or the final few days to laze around stress free. For sports fans, though, it’s the weekend where domestic football reigns supreme.

Since 1949 families across the country have banded together to watch the many Labour Day Classic games either in person or on TV. While there are games every weekend through the summer, these matches have a different air about them – there’s more of a playoff-like atmosphere than on other days.

“In some years, the Labour Day Classic has become like the Grey Cup,” says Steve Daniel, director of game information and statistics for the CFL. “This can be especially true for teams who don’t end up making the playoffs.”

Part of the appeal is that the same teams have played each other for decades. Hamilton lines up against Toronto, Calgary takes on Edmonton and Saskatchewan plays Winnipeg – this matchup in particular is a favourite for football fans, says Daniel.

“It’s the longest western rivalry, period,” he says, with the two teams playing each other on Labour Day weekend 51 times. Saskatchewan owns a 34 to 17 record and the Roughriders are have won 11 consecutive matchups.

Shorter season, bigger games

The Labour Day Classic dates back to the 1940s when the CFL’s regular season was shorter – the league started playing in August, instead of June, which is when it begins now. Because of late start, Labour Day felt like the last days of summer, so rivalries playing on this weekend seemed like a perfect fit.

It wasn’t until the mid-70s, though, that the tradition we know today really took its form.

“That’s the year it became an institution,” says Daniel. That’s when the CFL started planning the regular season with those three games in mind, building the rest of the schedule around those core events.

Not all teams, though, participate in the Classic and some have come late to the tradition. B.C., which has no natural geographic rival, often takes a bye on the weekend – this year they’re playing Toronto before the weekend begins. (Toronto is still playing its game against Hamilton a few days later.)

Montreal and Ottawa, which have built up a small rivalry, have only recently been added to the weekend lineup, as both teams have joined and left the league periodically in the last 30 years.

Rivalries exist in all professional sports, but there’s nothing quite like the Labour Day Classic.

Nothing Else Like It

Rivalries exist in all professional sports, but there’s nothing quite like the Labour Day Classic.

In other sports, teams play several more games per year, and although some teams have a long history of going up against one another – the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, for example – their matchups are far more frequent, and rarely capture the attention of an entire nation.

“With the NHL, there are so many teams now that by definition, the rivalries are watered down,” says Daniel. “What I think is the most important with the Labour Day Classic, is that event is a matter of continuity to Canadians.”

Where can you watch?

If you can’t get to a game – and there are bus tours that take people from one city to another – you can always park yourself on the couch and watch on television. Here’s the lineup for the weekend.

August 31, 6:30 PM: B.C. versus Toronto

September 1, 6:30 PM: Ottawa versus Montreal

September 4, 2:00 PM: Winnipeg versus Saskatchewan

September 5, 2:00 PM: Edmonton versus Calgary

September 5, 5:30 PM: Toronto versus Hamilton

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