Saturday, 27 August 2016

The All Canadian All-Star Perplexity

The first reference I can recall seeing about a definite selection of the most impressive players from a particular season for the top level of Canadian football competition at the time, was from around 1912 but I can't locate the document or publication at the moment. Nevertheless it is a fitting indicator of the long and twisted and very poorly documented history of All-Star team selections in Canada. Naturally this aspect of the game has also resulted in a fair number of collectibles produced over the decades to be showcased here.

Canadian football Hall of Fame player and subsequent author, reporter, poet! and highly regarded knowledgeable expert on the sport, Ted Reeve selected this All-Star team for Liberty Magazine in 1938.

Independent selection of All-Eastern teams by the media appears to have began sometime in the late twenties with a more or less official Canadian Press team being announced from 1932 in the East and 1937 in the West. These teams were often featured as stories in the news magazines of the times (with colour accents!) and are attractive and historically interesting items.

Maclean's nominated their own All-Star team selected by a different sports reporter in 1938. It is not known if these various team selections were somehow merged to create the Canadian Press team or if they were independently determined. 

Maclean's magazine is of course well known here but others like Liberty and New Liberty are hard to track since internet searches of any kind are always inundated with the American versions of the magazine and almost no results about the Canadian. In general the wealth of obtainable information and pictures relating to Canadian football in vintage news magazines and newspaper supplement magazines has not been documented to any reasonable degree.

Ted Reeve's credibility in the sport allowed him to keep picking All-Star teams for more than 20 years, above is his 1950 effort. The players selected by the Canadian Press were eventually compiled as official in team media guides and the CFL official record books.

By the mid fifties specific football magazines targeted at fans were being produced and in some cases selecting their own "All-Canadian" teams as it seems the Canadian Press teams were still limited to just the IRFU team in the east and the WIFU team in the west.

Normie Kwong appears in his All-Star colours on the cover of Canadian Football Illustrated for 1956 and included was a story on the new innovation from 1955, the very first Canadian Football All-Star game.

From 1955 through 1958 four All-Star games pitted the East against the West sponsored by the Shriner hospitals for sick children. The games were played in Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal and Hamilton and all were in December meaning the weather conditions were usually a negative factor.

The official first All-Star souvenir program on the left and a much scaled-down 4 pager version on the right for the less well-heeled fans in attendance. Having different quality programs like this was fairly common in this era with the cheaper edition probably being harder to come by today.

The fifties All-Star games were not particularly well-attended and since so many of the players were American imports they would not all have normally stayed in the country anyways after the season was over. The games were discontinued after 1958 with the West claiming a 2-1 edge with one tie.

 The 1956 edition of the game featured some fairly funky little used logos on the program and other collectibles were starting to become available such as the pennant pictured above right. If you have a healthy collecting budget perhaps Hamilton's Eddie Bevan #52 game-worn All-Star jersey from 1956 would look good in your man cave.

From 1962 the Football Reporters of Canada began selecting an official All-Canadian team on Offence and Defense which corresponded with the recent adoption of an interlocking schedule among the two conferences.

Magazines would still sometimes publicize All-Star selections independently from the official selections. On the left is the 1963 French Canadian magazine Perspectives and on the right is a 1970 magazine with a Sports Canada "All-Pro" coaches selected team.

In 1970 the All-Star game was resurrected under the auspices of the CFL Players Association with the format being the previous season's All-Stars from all teams combining forces against the reigning Grey Cup Champions at the home field of the champions. 

On the left is the "1st Annual" (not really) program from 1970 and it is little known that this game was the last career game for Ottawa superstar QB Russ Jackson, not the 1969 Grey Cup game.  On the right is the inside of the CFLPA All-Star banquet pamphlet from the 1971 game in Montreal.

These games continued in the champs versus everybody else format for five years with all of the games happening in the pre-season. The League won 3 of the contests with the Stampeders and Rough Riders winning the other two. 

Occasionally you might come across a CFL All-Star reference in an unexpected place such as the colour game action picture from the 1972 contest at McMahon Stadium in a glossy magazine promoting the city of Calgary. At right are All-Star tickets from the 1972, 1974 and 1978 games.

In 1976 the format reverted to East (1 win) versus West (2 wins) for the next three years in pre-season, followed by a 4 year gap before another post season December game but this time indoors at brand spanking new B.C. Place Stadium (West win).

1978 All-Star program from Calgary and 1983 All-Star program from Vancouver 

The last CFL All-Star game was held in 1988 in June at Commonwealth Stadium where the CFL All-Stars defeated the reigning Grey Cup champion Eskimos. Of course CFL All-Star and All-Canadian team selection continued but in true Canadian Football fashion at some point the CFL Players Association began selecting their own All-Star team (voted on by the players themselves) meaning there were more than one group of selections in certain years.

There used to be a list of some years of these selections on one of the two CFLPA (and ProPlayers) websites and there used to be lists of the CFL selections on their website but they all seem to have disappeared now. These more modern All-Star teams spawned additional collectibles that I will cover in a future blog post.