Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Illustrating the CFL

Magazines with the title "Canadian Football Illustrated" or "Canadian Football League Illustrated" have a very long affiliation with professional football in Canada over three distinct eras. All of them make for great collectibles filled with period information and photos that are not commonly seen elsewhere. This blog post will examine these cool and desirable items.

Billy Vessels of the Edmonton Eskimos on the cover of the 1953 edition and
Eddie Bevan of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on the cover of the 1954 edition. 

The first era spanned five seasons beginning before the two primary Canadian leagues (Eastern "Big Four" I.R.F.U. - Interprovincial Rugby Football Union and Western W.I.F.U. - Western Interprovincial Football Union) had merged to form the CFC - Canadian Football Council in 1956). The last edition of the yearly magazine came out in 1957.

1956 edition Table of Contents page as well as one of the article pages 

The magazines were published before each season with prognostications on the upcoming year as well as pictorial features and coverage of Canadian college football. These magazines are not super rare although acquiring a complete set of five would probably take some patience, with prices ranging from about $30 to $60 per copy depending on condition, the older ones obviously at a bit of a premium over the later ones.  

1955 cover featuring a beautiful full colour picture of Ottawa playing in Hamilton and Hal Patterson of the Montreal Alouettes on the cover of the 1957 edition.

The CFC would rename itself to the CFL - Canadian Football League in 1958 and for their 13th season in 1970 the name Canadian Football League Illustrated was resurrected for a series of magazines that were available for separate purchase but also functioned as "outer" programs at games in each city.

1970 Volume I No. 1 Saskatchewan Roughriders and
Volume I No. 8 Montreal Alouettes 

The publications feature gorgeous colour photographs of each team in action on both the front and back covers at a time when colour pictures of CFL games were definitely not the easiest thing to come by. These are large format magazines measuring roughly 8 3/4" X 11 3/4".

Inside page of the Roughriders album detailing some of their history

Each magazine, one per team, was like a mini history of the franchise detailing their championships and most famous all-time players as well as some of their current crop of budding stars.

Inside page of the Alouettes album showcasing some of their current players

Because of their in depth team history studies these 1970 mags make great keepsakes and since they were printed in large quantities to supply fans at the games in every city they are fairly easy to come by, sometimes for as little as $3 or $4 each at antique malls or thrift shops, and sometimes they show up on Ebay at significantly higher asking prices.

1971 Volume II No. 2 Hamilton Tiger-Cats with poster and watch offer inside page

The 1971 editions remained large format and contained a little historical information along with more stories on the team's active players and  multiple offers for cool CFL Properties merchandise, some catalogued and some yet to be catalogued.

Finest plastic "Wood Grain" binder that contained a full set of 1970 magazines and
a 1971 "Internal" game program that came stapled inside the "Outer" magazine

When you bought the CFL Illustrated at the game it typically contained a smaller (but still as many pages as a regular program) local insert with local advertising and the usual lineup pages and team photos and sportswriter columns. Great value for $1. 

1972 Volume III No. 5 Toronto Argonauts and 1973 Volume IV No. 7 B.C. Lions

Starting in 1972 the magazines were shrunk to a more standard program size of roughly 8 1/4" X 11". These publications served to chronicle the history of the CFL during these years with great colour images of some of the biggest stars in the league and in depth reporting in the stories within.

1974 Volume V No. 9 Ottawa Rough Riders and 1978 Volume IX No. ? Superstars

Initially there were nine magazines for every season, one for each team but eventually others titled "Outstanding Players", "Superstars" or "CFL Action" were added to various season's sets. Eventually the game local inserts ceased being different magazines but instead were just additional pages of the same paper stock collated into the magazine for each city.

1980 Volume XI No. 5 Winnipeg Blue Bombers and 1984 Volume XV No. 16? Stampeders

The CFL Illustrated name continued into the eighties and by mid decade the occasional colour photo accompanied the stories or features inside. The magazines could still be ordered separately but this was no longer promoted in large advertisements, just in the tiny print on the letterhead page. Perhaps for this reason or perhaps because crowds were somewhat less numerous in the eighties, these seasons are definitely harder to complete than the seventies issues.   

1986 Volume XVII No. 5 Hamilton Tiger-Cats French and 1988 No. 5 Offence

After 19 consecutive seasons the second era of CFL Illustrated finally came to an end in 1988, during which season the issue per team theme was finally retired for different topics. While bilingual covers started way back in 1973 during the eighties full French language covers (and many French language articles inside) were being produced, meaning there can be double the magazines to collect for many seasons as well. 

1991 Volume 1 No. 4 Edmonton Eskimos and 1995 Volume 5 No. 5 Birmingham Barracudas

After just a two year break the third and final (so far) CFL Illustrated era started in 1991 and ran to 1996 with the Volume numbering being restarted in regular numerals. The team theme returned to the covers although not always explicitly named. This era included the American CFL teams for posterity.
So there you have it, 30 years of magazines spanning 43 years of Canadian Football action. Probably in excess of 250 magazines (including French versions) that chronicle the sport like no other resource. This should keep a dedicated collector busy for a little while.

1 comment:

  1. There is an article in the 1970 Grey Cup program that discusses the increased marketing efforts put forth by the CFL that season. The CFL Illustrated yearbook style magazine/programs were so well produced that they drew the attention of NFL commissioner Pete Rozell. Rozell was so impressed that he considered creating a similar style game program but the NFL never produced anything close to the early 1970's CFL Illustrated yearbook/magazines. For $1.00 they were an incredible bargain. Individual team issues or complete annual sets of CFL Illustrated magazines could be ordered my mail as well (without a local program insert). An offer could usually be found inside the publication with a mail order form that you could clip out and mail in. Later issues could still be mail ordered ... an address and pricing information was supplied in the front part of the publication for those interested in ordering.