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5 things you (probably) didn't know about football in Vancouver

From the Vancouver Grizzlies to an air disaster to the first Punjabi broadcasts.
Clockwise from top left: A newspaper headline introducing the Vancouver Grizzlies, a map showing where the memorial to Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810-9 is, an add from the Vancouver Daily Province for radio broadcasts of games, a program cover for the Vancouver Grizzlies.

Football season has started in Canada and the BC Lions just played their home opener in front of a massive crowd.

While the BC Lions have long been the banner holder for American football (aka gridiron in archival newspapers), the sport has a long history here (relatively speaking, given the first stable professional league was founded in 1920).

Here's a look back at some moments from across football's local history.

1. First night game in Canada

Just like baseball, the first football game under the floodlights was played in Vancouver.

The game was Sept. 29, 1930, and the Hamilton Tigers were in town to play some exhibition games; at the time Vancouver had no professional teams.

Instead, the Tigers played the UBC Thunderbirds at Athletic Park, which was at the intersection of West 6th Avenue and Hemlock Street (near the southern end of the Granville Street Bridge).

"Vancouver beat Montreal by two nights as the first arclight game in Eastern Canada took place in the Canadian metropolis Wednesday night," wrote a journalist in the Vancouver Daily Province.

2. The Vancouver Grizzlies were the first professional football team in Vancouver

In 1941 football was a fast growing sport in Canada, and in Vancouver there was a movement to join in with a local professional team.

In September of that year the Grizzlies were revealed. The team was professional, in so much as they go paid, but few were trained in the game. A newspaper article from the time notes several players had previous careers, including a hotel manager, a radio technician, and a mink farmer.

One player, Jack Eaton, was a firefighter who'd never played the game previously.

The team went 1-7 in a short season that ended due to World War 2. The team was disbanded and never returned.

3. The Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810-9 tragedy

By 1956 the BC Lions had been established and professional football was a regular event in Vancouver.

That year the Canadian Football League (CFL) decided the all-star game would happen here, dubbed the Shrine Game.

After the game players from the rest of Canada were headed back to their hometowns; five of them boarded Trans-Canada Air Lines Flight 810-9, which was headed from YVR to Calgary on Dec. 9, 1956 with 62 people on board.

The plane made it past Chilliwack when a fire alarm went off, and the pilots decided to return to Vancouver.

Just after 7 p.m. contact was lost with the aircraft. Shortly after it crashed into Mount Slesse, south of Chilliwack.

The crash killed all those on board, including CFL all-stars Melvin Becket, Mario DeMarco, Gordon Sturtridge, Ray Syrnyk, and Calvin Jones. The first four were all from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, while Jones was from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. At the time it was the worst air disaster in Canadian history; it's still one of the worst.

There's now a memorial to the crash on Mount Slesse, below where the crash occurred. The Gordon Sturtridge Football League in North Vancouver is named after Sturtridge

4. Will Ferrell wore BC Lions gear to the Superbowl

The BC Lions got an unusual shout out during the 2022 NFL Superbowl when Will Ferrell wore the black-and-orange to the big game.

While it may seem like an odd choice, given the Canadian wasn't playing for obvious reasons, it should be noted that joining Ferrell at the game was Ryan Reynolds. Also, the Cincinnati Bengals were playing in the game, and they where similar colours to the BC Lions (and are named after a big cat).

5. The first Punjabi broadcasts

The BC Lions have been part of some historical broadcasts recently. The first ever professional football game broadcast in Punjabi in North America was a game last year, on July 29, 2023.

The Edmonton Elks vs. BC Lions game was called by Harpreet Pandher and Taqdeer Thindal, both born and raised in Metro Vancouver. It was aired on Sher-E-Punjabi Radio 600 AM in Vancouver and My Radio 580 AM in Edmonton.

For 2024 the Elks and Lions are both airing the entire season in Punjabi, on the same stations. Pandher and Thindal will be calling the games for the Lions.