Game action during the 1907 season.
7 October 1907


The Ontario Rugby Football Union (ORFU) had humble beginnings like their counterpart the Quebec Rugby Football Union (QRFU). While both of the unions enjoyed Rugby Football, these two unions just could not see eye to eye with the rules, style of play or the location of teams.

One example is the location of teams; the QRFU had their teams mostly situated in the Montreal area, with the exclusion of Ottawa City (now the Ottawa Rough Riders), Ottawa College and Brockville that later joined the QRFU, while the ORFU had teams all over the province, with Kingston & Ottawa in eastern Ontario, Toronto & Hamilton in central Ontario, and Sarnia & Stratford in southwest Ontario just to name a few.


Another difference between the two unions was the style of rules between the two unions and the confusion that each of them caused whenever an Ontario and a Quebec team played for the Dominion Cup. Known as the Burnside Rules (which was adopted in 1903), these rules helped design what modern Canadian Football is today. Some of the Burnside Rules are as follows:

1. The snapback system instead of the heel kick.
2. Offensive team to have six men on the line of scrimmage.
3. 12 men on the field instead of 14.

With these rules, some teams decided that it will be better to play under the rules that they were accustomed to.

Another difference between the two unions is that while the ORFU was more lax on professionalism, meaning anyone can play whether it be amateur (usually a college man) or a professional.


The ORFU began in January 6, 1883 in a chop house in Toronto. The purpose of the ORFU was to initiate competition between the teams that was placed all over Ontario, because ten years prior, the rugby clubs just played each other just for enjoyment of the sport. Now with the population enjoying football rugby and gaining popularity, the clubs decided that the league should be made and the winner will be deemed champion.

The first president of the ORFU was W.H. Merritt who only lasted for the 1883 season. W.H. Merritt adopted the scrimmage style of play (this style of play is when players are lined up beside each other and across each other). When the ball is dropped in the middle, the players rush each other trying to heel kick the ball back to a player, who in turn passes the ball to another player (much like today's rugby).

Before the Burnside Rules came into effect, there were 15 players on each side of the field, and the scoring system was the same used by the Americans. Four pointers were Trys (touchdowns), goals-from-trys (converts), flying, free and penalty kicks. Six points came from goals from the field (field goals). All kicks into the end zone only counted as one point. With the point system and the style of play ironed out, the only thing left to determine was the schedule. In the beginning there was 16 teams in the union, the ORFU decided that the best way to determine a champion was by using a Tie Schedule (A Tie Schedule is when clubs were divided in districts across Ontario, and played each other until one club was left undefeated in the district). To win a match, the club had to win by two points.


The first winner of the Challenge Cup that was played in 1883 was the Toronto Argonauts. They won their district by beating such clubs as Peterboro, Upper Canada College (UCC), and University of Toronto (U of T). Toronto's opponent was Ottawa City. The Argonauts won the first Challenge Cup 9-7 after a questionable call from the Toronto officials. At the end of the season meeting, the ORFU decided that in the future, the executives have the right to select the official for the Challenge Cup, and the official will not be from the same city as the competing clubs.

In 1884, The Argonauts reclaimed their Challenge Cup when Ottawa City decided to that they had to withdraw from all of the injuries that they suffered from the game previous when they played against Queen's University. After Ottawa City forfeited, the Canadian Rugby Football Union (CRFU) decided to have a match to determine the best club in Ontario and Quebec. The winner of that match would be the Dominion champion. On November 5, The Montreal Football Club (Montreal FC), winners of the QRFU championship played against the Argonauts at the University of Toronto. Toronto could not keep up with Montreal all day, and were easily defeated 30-0 thus making Montreal the first Canadian Champions.

The next significant season was in 1886, the ORFU decided that the clubs should be divided into city and college groups. In the city group, the Argonauts were the winners by beating Peterboro, Hamilton, and Ottawa City. In the college group, since there was only two college clubs Ottawa College was the victor by defeating the U of T 13-0, after it was decided that the first game will be cancelled due to darkness. In the Challenge Cup, the Argonauts would be playing against Ottawa College, and in the end it was Ottawa College winning the game 13-0 despite the snow storm.


In the 1888 season, the ORFU decided to change the format of games. Instead of the way it was done before, the ORFU decided that a challenge system will be better (the way the challenge system works is that the defending champion would accept challenges from any other club in the union, and if the other club won, that club will be known as the champion). In the first season of the challenge system, Ottawa College easily defeated Ottawa City when Ottawa City challenged. In Southwestern Ontario, there was a little tournament between The Toronto Argonauts, Hamilton, UCC, and London to determine which one of these four will challenge Ottawa College. When the tournament was done, Hamilton was the victor, and they went on the challenge Ottawa College for the ORFU championship. During the Hamilton and Ottawa College game there was a massive snowstorm, which Ottawa College did not mind as they beat Hamilton10-1.

In the 1889 season, controversy was around Ottawa College because they seemed to think that they should not defend their championship outside Ottawa. Ottawa College felt that since they defeated Toronto and Queen's in the season, Ottawa College were champions for that season, but not so according to the ORFU executives. The executives ruled that if Ottawa College did not defend their championship again they would forfeit it. Ottawa called the ORFU executives bluff and lost. The executives claimed that the Argonauts were the champions, but Toronto did not to win like that, and informed the ORFU that they did not want the cup if they did not challenge for it. So in the end the ORFU had no choice but to give back the championship to Ottawa College.


In the 1890s, two new things occurred. The first being that Ottawa College dropped out of competition from the union. With Ottawa College dropping out, the college teams were starting to play against the city teams again. The second thing is that there is a new scoring value for goals-from-try (the point value now is four). During the 1890 season, the Challenge Cup was played with Queen's and Hamilton. At the end of the Challenge Cup, controversy emerged. It happened when the official called the game off due to darkness, because apparently the game started late itself. While Hamilton won the match, Queen's did object to the matter and took it up with the executives. After much deliberation, the ORFU agreed with Queen's and ordered a rematch against Hamilton which Hamilton did not agree, and told them that they would not replay the match. Few days later after the ORFU reversed their own decision, but the executives did find that an exhibition match will be played between Hamilton and Queen's which Hamilton won 8-6.

During the 1891 season a new rule was formed. The winning club has now to win by a majority in a two-game series. Also during the season Osgoode Hall entered the ORFU. In Osgoode Hall's first year, they made it to the Challenge Cup against Hamilton and won 28-4. In December, the Canadian Rugby Union (CRU) was formed and replaced the old CRFU. The purpose of the CRU is to became the governing body of all Canadian Football.

In the 1892 season, Ottawa College returned to the union after a two year hiatus. In the Challenge Cup, Osgoode Hall and Hamilton had a rematch from last year's Challenge Cup and much like the results from the previous season Osgoode Hall won the Challenge Cup. Osgoode Hall would play Montreal for the Canadian championship. At the end, Osgoode Hall defeated Montreal 45-5.


In 1893, it was Queen's year by defeating all opponents easily and claiming the Challenge Cup over the Argonauts 27-1. In the Dominion Cup final against Montreal, Queen's University dismantled Montreal 29-11. At the annual end of season meeting, the ORFU decided that future contests will have two 45-minute halves.

Before the 1894 season started, six teams were in the ORFU. The six teams were the Royal Military Collage (RMC), Queen's University, Osgoode Hall, U of T, the Hamilton Tigers, and the Toronto Argonauts. Out of the six teams metioned, the Hamilton Tigers and Queen's play for the Challenge Cup in which Queen's University won 14-2. In the Dominion Cup, Queen's University played Ottawa College who joined the QRFU before the 1894 season. In the game Ottawa College defeated Queen's 8-7. At the annual end of season meeting, the executives decided to lower the scoring value of the free kick from four to two points.

In the 1895 season, The Argonauts decided to leave the ORFU because they did not see eye to eye with the rules. With the Argonauts leaving, the Toronto Athletic Club (TAC) who field many of the Argonauts players joined the ORFU. Another team that decided to enter the union was the 48th Highlanders who only saw one game that season which was a 80-1 defeat by Osgoode Hall. The Highlanders were so embarrassed that they decided to forfeit their second game and not return to the ORFU. In the final series of the season, U of T played Queen's for the championship which U of T won. In the Dominion Final, the Montreal Football Club played U of T in which U of T won 10-5 and won the Canadian Championship. At the annual meeting, the ORFU decided that the playing fields must be 100 yards by 65 yards and now matches are played in two halves of 40 minutes each.


After the 1896 season in which U of T defeated TAC 18-16 for the ORFU championship, the ORFU executives made a decision about how the game was played. It was decided that now each half will be 35 minutes, instead of the previous 40 minutes.

In 1897 the ORFU only had five teams which were TAC, Hamilton, Queens, Osgoode Hall, and U of T. At the championship match, Hamilton played against Osgoode Hall in which Osgoode Hall put up a fight, but ending up losing 16-8, and went on to play Ottawa College for the Canadian Championship, and once again the ORFU team came up short as Ottawa College won 14-10. At the end of the season, a new union was formed, which was the Intercollegiate Rugby Football Union (CIRFU). The CIRFU will only be playable to college teams and will be played in Ontario and Quebec. The CIRFU requested to play in the Dominion Cup and were accepted by the CRU. TAC, U of T, and Queen's dropped out of the ORFU and joined the CIRFU. With the amateurs and collegiate teams out of the union, Ottawa City (now known as the Rough Riders) and the Argonauts rejoined the union. During the year end meetings, the ORFU decided that now each half will be 30 minutes instead of 35 minutes that was previously enjoyed in 1896. The ORFU introduced a six game schedule, & now the players will just have to cross the goal line to score instead of touching the ball down in the end zone to score, also flying kicks now won't be scoring plays from now on.

Before the 1899 season Osgoode Hall dropped out of the union and was replaced by the Kingston Granite. In Kingston's first game, they pulled an upset and defeated the Rough Riders 11-4. At the end of the season Hamilton, Kingston and Ottawa all tied with a 5-1 record, but with the better scoring differential, Ottawa and Kingston went on to play for the ORFU championship, which Kingston won 8-0. With the Granites winning the Ontario Championship, Kingston was happy enough not to play for the Canadian Championship, as they were not willing to play the Quebec champions Ottawa College thus the 19th century ended with no Dominion championship.


A small Hamilton Tgers banner.


Framed picture of ORFU champions, Ottawa Rough Riders.
Circa 1908


In the beginning of the 20th century, Kingston was still the best team as they beat the Rough Riders 3-1 in the first game of the season. At the end of the season, Toronto and Ottawa who had identical records of 4 wins and two losses, and played in a playoff to determine the ORFU champion in which the Rough Riders won 20-12. In the Dominion Cup final the Rough Riders played against Brockville, who were the winners of the QRFU that season. At the end of the game, the Rough Riders won 17-10. This was the first championship for the ORFU since the 1898 season when the Rough Riders defeated Ottawa College.

Before the 1902 season started, the professional topic came up again, and finally the ORFU decided the difference between professionals and amateurs. The ORFU decided that if a player took money while playing football then it was deemed that the player was a professional and if the player did not, he was deemed an amateur. The Argonauts, Hamilton Tigers, and the Rough Riders were part of the 1902 season. A schedule was created so that each team play each other while the other team had a bye. During the season, the Hamilton Tigers decided that to cease operations for the remainder of the season, due to lack of players and gate receipts. So the season continued with Toronto and Ottawa. When the season ended the Rough Riders won the cup. In the Canadian final, both Ottawa teams played for the Canadian Championship in which the Rough Rider won 5-0. After the season, the ORFU decided to enforce the Burnside Rules that was set to start in the 1903 season.

Before the 1903 season, the Hamilton Tigers returned to the union along with Kingston, Peterboro, The Hamilton West-End Pleasure Club (WEPC) and London therefore making this for the first time an seven club union. This season the seven clubs were spilt into East and West divisions. In the East division, there was Ottawa, Kingston and Peterboro, and in the West it was both Hamilton clubs, Toronto, and London, but before the season started, teams were dropping out of the ORFU for different reasons. Ottawa withdrew because they did not want to play with the Burnside Rules, and also Ottawa believed that Kingston and Peterboro were below them in terms of talent. Kingston dropped out because they could not play their star player. Peterboro had problems putting a team together and just withdrew. London withdrew because they had to play their first two games on the road, and finally the Argonauts withdrew from the union because they did not like the actions of how professionals were treated by the union. To replace the Argonauts, the Toronto Torontos was formed to join the union. When the season started Hamilton, Toronto Torontos and the WEPC stayed in the unioin. At the end of the season, the Hamilton Tigers won the championship and went on to play the QRFU champion, the Ottawa Rough Riders who joined the QRFU. Ottawa heard that they were playing against Hamilton and refuse to play the Tigers due to the fact that Hamilton was playing with the Burnside Rules. Both clubs could not reach an agreement of how to play this game, so the championship was not played that season. At the annual meeting, the executives changed the scoring system once again. This time a try is now five points instead of four and the goal-from-try is now one point instead of two. Also during the meeting, the fair catch rule was introduced.


In the 1904 season, WEPC decided to drop out. Two teams that joined Hamilton and the Toronto Torontos were the returning Argonauts, Peterboro, London and the Toronto Victorias. In the championship two game series, the Hamilton Tigers played the Toronto Torontos. In the first game of the series, Hamilton won 32-0, and in the second game Hamilton won the game and the ORFU championship 43-15. In the Canadian championship, Hamilton made a suggestion that they and Ottawa College play each half under their own set of rules, but Ottawa College did not want to play under the Burnside Rules, so another Canadian championship game did not happen that season.

At the annual meeting after the 1905 season in which the Hamilton Tigers won another ORFU championship, the executives decided that four 15 minute quarters can be a part of the game, if the captains decided to allow it before the game started.

During the 1906 season, Peterboro decided to return replacing the newly departed London Kickers, and once again the Hamilton Tigers were ORFU champions. Now with Hamilton winning the ORFU championship, the CRU decided that Hamilton had to play a strong Montreal club and win. If they win that game, the Tigers have to go play college champions McGill for the national championship. All without using the Burnside Rules. Hamilton accepted the CRU challenge and played Montreal in the semi-final. During the first game in which they played Montreal, Hamilton won 11-6. And it the championship game against McGill, the Tigers easily defeated McGill 29-3 and won the Dominion Cup.


The following season, the ORFU decided to play under the CRU rules (14 players per side, no snap-back, and no yards system), because of Hamilton and how they could beat teams with any sort of rules. With many set of rule changes, the ORFU survived for 50 another years and even teams participated in Grey Cup games in the early part of the 20th century. The ORFU teams that participated in the Grey Cup and won are the Hamilton Alerts in 1912, Toronto Balmy Beach in 1927 and 1930, and the Sarnia Imperials in 1934 and 1936.