Skip to content

Five Uniquely Canadian Sports Circuits to be Thankful For

As Canadians, we like to do things just a little bit differently.

While we share many characteristics and values with our southern neighbours – and other countries around the world – we like to approach things in our own way.

Thanksgiving is one example. The holiday is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November in the United States, but in Canada it’s held on the second Monday in October. The discrepancy is mainly due to an earlier harvest that traditionally takes place in our northern climate.

When it comes to athletics, Canucks also like to put their own stamp on things. For sports fans in the Calgary area, there is plenty to celebrate about our unique approach to the games we love.

Here are five examples of Canadian sports you can enjoy in the Calgary area and be truly thankful for:

  1. Canadian Football League (CFL)

Football is the sport that comes to mind the most when you think about Thanksgiving. Fans of the National Football League (NFL) settle in for action hosted by the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, among other teams, as the turkey bronzes in the oven. The CFL, meanwhile, will have a full slate of Thanksgiving weekend matchups that run from Friday through Monday.

Of course, there are several notable distinctions between the CFL and the NFL. The Canadian gridiron is longer and wider than the fields used in the U.S., measuring 110 yards long with an end zone that is 20 yards deep. The total length of the NFL field is 120 yards, while the CFL field measures 150 yards. With all that room to run around, the CFL allows 12 offensive players and 12 defensive players on the field at one time, while the NFL prefers a head-to-head matchup of 11 players doing battle for each squad.

Perhaps the biggest difference is that the CFL only has three downs per offensive possession, as opposed to the four downs NFL teams work with. You have to move the ball quickly and efficiently to gain the first down that comes with 10 yards of territorial gain in the CFL.

The goalposts are also in different spots in both leagues. The NFL goalposts sit at the back of the end zone, while they sit at the front of the end zone in the CFL, sometimes making life more hazardous for wide receivers and cornerbacks.

There are some quirky variations that exist in the CFL, as well. The “rouge” allows teams to pick up a single point on a missed field goal or punt if the receiving team does not move the ball out of the end zone. This also tracks with the Canadian tendency of apologizing so often. “So sorry you missed that field goal! That’s too bad … why don’t you just take one point instead of the three you would’ve got for splitting the uprights?”

Calgarians, of course, get to enjoy the CFL at McMahon Stadium, the home of the Calgary Stampeders. And the city has been fortunate to have such a storied and successful franchise. Founded in 1945, the Stamps have won eight Grey Cup championships and 20 Western Division titles over the years. The Stampeders and their fans have also helped establish the annual Grey Cup festival as a national celebration.

2. Canadian Premier League (CPL)

True story … I went to an equestrian show-jumping facility the other night and a soccer game broke out. With apologies to Rodney Dangerfield and his famous quip about fighting in hockey, the venue that is Spruce Meadows has evolved into a remarkable site for watching sports. In addition to a full schedule of show-jumping tournaments that attracts world-class equestrian talent, the south Calgary area now plays host to Canadian Premier League soccer (or football, as many soccer fans outside of North America call it).

Nestled in Spruce Meadows is ATCO Field, which is where the Cavalry Football Club (FC) play their home games. A member of the CPL since its formation in 2019, the Cavalry have been a popular addition to Calgary’s sports scene.

The Cavs have also been a winner on the pitch. They are the 2023 Canadian Premier League Shield winners, an honour given to the league’s regular season champs. This achievement also secures a berth for the Cavalry in the 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup, a competition between the top clubs from North America, Central America and the Caribbean. Before they get to that, the Cavalry will open play in the CPL playoffs at ATCO Field on Oct. 14th.

3. Canadian Elite Basketball League (CEBL)

The Calgary Surge are new to the city’s entertainment landscape, but the team had an outstanding season introducing the CEBL to a southern Alberta audience.

Playing out of Winsport Event Centre, the Surge put together a 12-8 record under head coach Nelson Terroba in 2023 and finished the year as Western Conference champions. Despite losing in the finals, the Surge brought professional basketball back to Calgary and gave fans a look at a different kind of hoops.

The CEBL draws on talent from the National Basketball Association (NBA), the NBA G League, NCAA programs and international leagues, but the rosters are high in Canadian content.

The 10-team circuit also employs a novel system for finishing games. Known as “target score ending” or the “Elam Ending,” the game clock is stopped at the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter and the game clock is retired. A target score is set as the leading team’s score, plus nine points. The shot clock remains as normal, but the two teams must now engage in a race to the target score. The first team to reach that target wins the game.

Those accustomed to the NBA-style of ending are in for a twist, but this tweak adds a new level of excitement and urgency.

4. Western Canadian Baseball League (WCBL)

Calgarians were treated to a golden era of baseball from 1985 to 2002.

The Calgary Cannons brought Triple-A calibre play – the highest level of minor-league baseball – to Foothills Stadium, along with hundreds of future and former Major League Baseball (MLB) players. It was an exciting time for fans of the sport.

When the Cannons left, the Pacific Coast League’s departure dealt a major blow to the game and it seemed unlikely that it would ever recover.

The arrival of the Calgary Dawgs of the Western Major Baseball League (the predecessor of the Western Canadian Baseball League) changed things, however. The team’s brand of summer collegiate baseball didn’t replace the professional baseball that preceded it, but that was never the goal.

The Dawgs won a championship in 2004, but when things didn’t work out at Foothills Stadium after three seasons, the team moved just south of the city to Okotoks. The community embraced the club, which set up shop in state-of-the-art Seaman Stadium in 2007.

Success has followed ever since – the Dawgs put the finishing touches on their seventh league championship this summer. In addition, Ballpark Digest recognized Seaman Stadium as the best summer collegiate baseball facility in 2023, and the franchise experienced the third-highest attendance among 160 summer teams across North America.

For baseball watchers who may have missed what the Cannons had to offer, they can now enjoy some of the top college baseball players from Canada and the United States during WCBL action in Okotoks. Many of the league’s alumni turn pro, including a number who play their way onto a roster in the major leagues. Enjoy those Dawg days of summer.

5. National Lacrosse League (NLL)

The NLL is a 15-team professional league, with 10 of those squads based in the United States, but don’t let that fool you when it comes to Canadian content.

For starters, lacrosse is one of Canada’s two official sports (hockey is the other), and when it comes to the rosters, over 85% of the players are Canadian.

The game itself – referred to more specifically as box lacrosse – combines some of the aggressive play of hockey with the game management of basketball, including the use of a shot clock.

In Calgary, the Roughnecks represent the city at Scotiabank Saddledome between December and April each year. The Roughnecks, who first began play in the NLL in 2002, have won three league championships and five division titles.

They provide Calgarians with one more reason to be thankful for the sports scene the city has to offer – one of many.

Related Links

Top CFL Thanksgiving Weekend Moments …

Cavalry FC are 2023 Canadian Premier League Shield winners …

Q&A with Nelson Terroba …

Seventh Heaven …

Roughnecks Announce 2023-24 Season Schedule …