Eskimos History – The Beginnings

Welcome to the first ever Eskimo History Moment portion of the Eskimo Empire Blog. Here we will look back at significant moments in Edmonton Eskimos football history through the years. Hopefully this will entertain readers as we look back at the rich history of football in Edmonton.

On August 5, 1907, Edmonton had formed the first Rugby club the city had seen for some time after the neighbouring city of Strathcona formed their own club a week before. The teams played 4 games vs each other with 2 more canceled due to weather or lack of preparation, with the Edmonton side winning two, losing one and tying one at 0 to 0 for a final score. After a spirited season, Edmonton challenged traditional rival Calgary to form a club and take them on for Alberta supremacy in a 2-game total point series, which Edmonton won by a combined score of 33-10. These games were all played using British rules, similar to the way Rugby is played today.

Even with a very popular resurgence in Edmonton sporting circles, the team folded at the end of the season, and no plans were made to continue the following year. Calgary had definitely caught “Rugby Fever”, and on August 27th, 1908 they decided to try “Canadian Rugby-Football” as was played out in Eastern Canada. Edmontonians weren’t as sure about changing to the new rules, but on September 14th they gathered enough support to form and train a team using the new, Canadian rules. As they formed late in the season, there was no “regular season", but it was determined that again they would play a two-game, total point series in November.

In the newspapers of the era, the Edmonton team was alternately called the “Esquimos” or occasionally Eskimos — the current spelling — while the previous year’s squad was simply called the Edmonton Rugby Football Club; the Calgary "City team" was known as the Tigers. The earliest mention of the name Eskimos was in the November 7, 1908 Edmonton Capital newspaper:

Canadian Rugby was played with 14 men a side at this point in history; the line was made up of a "wing", with positions like inside, middle and outside wings - the equivalent of Guards, Tackles and Tight Ends now - and three men known as "scrimmage" - one man to "heel" the ball back to the backfield players, and two "props" whose job it was to hold up the centre man while he kicked the ball back. The backfield consisted of a Quarterback, three halfbacks and a Fullback. This was a consistent alignment until the 1921 season when the "snap" was adopted in the West, and the prop positions were no longer needed. Some teams would eschew a halfback in favour of a "Flying Wing" - a player that could "fly" between the Wing Line and backfield, later called Wing Back and finally evolved into the modern Slotback after the Tight Ends split out away from the main line.

As they did the previous year, The Eskimos won each game of the 1908 playoffs and a total score of 19-3 to again win bragging rights as provincial champions! Calgary believed they had a chance with Edmonton down their star halfback, Percy Hardisty, member of a prominent Edmonton family, but the Eskimo club proved they were so much more even without him. This would prove to be the last time Edmonton won the Provincial Championship - later known as the Cecil Cup after Cecil Hotel Magnate C. H. B?langer donated a trophy at the beginning of the 1910 season - until the 1913 season. The provincial champions were able to compete for the Hugo Ross trophy beginning in 1913; emblematic of the champions of the Western Canadian Rugby Football Union, after its namesake perished the year before along with over 1500 other souls aboard the R.M.S. Titanic. The Ross trophy was finally retired and replaced by the N.J. "Piffles" Taylor trophy from 1948-2003. The Edmonton Eskimos were of course the last team to win that trophy prior to it being replaced by the Western Division Trophy for the 2004 season.

Superfan Mike


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