The Grey Cup Game is a Quirky and Uniquely Canadian Tradition That’s Still Going Strong
The Toronto Argonauts beat the Winnipeg Blue Bombers 24-23 in the Canadian Football League's championship game, the Grey Cup, at Mosaic Stadium in Regina on November 20, 2022. Photo: Steve Russell/Toronto Star via Getty Images
The 110th Grey Cup kicks off at Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton on Sunday evening, pitting the upstart Montreal Alouettes against the perennial powerhouse Winnipeg Blue Bombers.
In a country that has precious few unifying cultural traditions, the annual Grey Cup celebration certainly counts as one. This institution has been around for 110 years and, despite the ups and downs due to the ever-changing tastes and demographics of this country, it manages to retain a place on our national calendar.
This annual mid-November weeklong bacchanalia of football, greasy food and endless bottles of beer began in 1909, when Lord Albert Grey, then-governor general of Canada, donated a $48 sterling silver bowl to be awarded annually to the top rugby football team.
The first Grey Cup was held in Toronto, where 3,800 fans watched the University of Toronto Varsity Blues defeat the Parkdale Canoe Club 26-6. By 1921, teams from the West began competing for the trophy and in 1948, when a posse of rowdy Calgary fans descended on Toronto to party before the big game, the Grey Cup celebration was truly born.
And while the modern sport of football has evolved to the point where it’s a completely different sport than was played in 1909, the 4th Earl of Grey would be happy to know that his trophy has become the centrepiece of a much cherished annual tradition that’s now firmly embedded in our national psyche.
Grey’s successor and our current governor general —Her Excellency, the Right Honourable Mary Simon — will continue a long-standing tradition by conducting the ceremonial coin toss to begin the game.
Despite the fact that the popularity of Canadian football has waned over the past few decades, and is now greatly overshadowed by the great behemoth that is the NFL, the sport marches stolidly on, appealing to those who like the pace of the game, not to mention the fact that the players often times don’t make much more than the fans watching them.
Somehow, the sport and its championship game survives, and even thrives in pockets of western Canada. Last year’s game between the Toronto Argonauts and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers drew over three million viewers, ranking as the eighth most viewed show of 2022 in Canada, clocking in just ahead of the Academy Awards.
The Grey Cup broadcast, unlike the Super Bowl’s, is very Canadian: it’s charmingly hokey and understated as opposed to brash and patriotic. The half-time show usually features stalwart Canuck performers, like Shania Twain (2002 and 2017); Bryan Adams (2003); or Nickelback (2011).
Inexplicably, this year’s show features Green Day, a U.S.-based pop-punk band known for songs like Good Riddance, American Idiot and 21 Guns. In a statement promoting the unlikely billing, the group said: “You better be ready because we’re about to turn the Grey Cup green and into the loudest (expletive) night in CFL history.”
This doesn’t sound like the CFL at all. Lord Grey would not be amused.