The 1990s, the Heydays of Professional Baseball in Canada

The 1990s were the heyday of minor league baseball in Canada.  At some point throughout the decade there was baseball at every level (MLB, AAA, AA, A, short season, independent) in various cities across the country.  Not only that but the teams were good.  The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993.  There were AAA champions in Ottawa and Edmonton.  Winnipeg established themselves as one of the top independent teams when they joined the Northern League in 1994.  Everywhere in seemed (save for Atlantic Canada) was jumping on the baseball bandwagon and enjoying it.  Unfortunately by the late 1990s. everything went south, both latterly and figuratively.

It was likely a combination of lack of new facilities (which hasn’t been a problem in the USA), high taxes, low Canadian dollar and throw in the Major League strike of 1994-95, and teams started to leave for greener pastures.  The migration of teams south of the border not only affect minor league baseball but the NHL (Jets 1.0 & Nordiques), MLB (Expos), NBA (Grizzlies) and minor league hockey, namely the AHL (see the old Atlantic Division).

This wave of baseball popularity that Canada was experiencing in the early 1990s was a missed opportunity where somebody could have brought minor league ball to the region but it never came to be.  Lack of facilities and geography being the two main reasons why this never happened on the East Coast.  Obviously there are no ready-made professional grade facilities in the region (any minor league park would have to be built or at least renovated to meet their needs).  This was before the rise of indy ball and the region is isolated from all affiliated leagues (Eastern League being the closest).  Keep in mind Portland, Maine didn’t join that league only 1993, so the closest team 25 years ago would have been in New Britain (suburban Hartford).

Atlantic Canada did however have a sports boom (if you could call it that) in the early 1990s as the AHL had teams at some point, in the seven biggest markets in the region and by 1994 the QMJHL came to the region with the Halifax Mooseheads.  Also in the early part of the 1990s, Halifax briefly had pro soccer (Nova Scotia Clippers) and basketball (Halifax Windjammers).  Speaking of basketball, Sydney had the Breakers for two summers (1993 & 1994).  Sadly baseball was never to be in the Maritimes.

As mentioned earlier, every other province had at least one professional baseball team during the decade.  They are as follows:

  1. Brandon Grey Owls, Prairie League (independent), 1995-96
  2. Calgary Cannons, Pacific Coast League (AAA), 1985-2002
  3. Edmonton Trappers, Pacific Coast League (AAA), 1981-2004
  4. Hamilton Redbirds, NY-Penn League (Low A), 1988-92
  5. Lethbridge Mounties, Pioneer League (Rookie), 1992-95
  6. Lethbridge Black Diamonds, Pioneer League (Rookie), 1996-98
  7. London Tigers, Eastern League (AA), 1989-93
  8. London Werewolves, Frontier League (independent), 1999-2001
  9. Medicine Hat Blue Jays, Pioneer League (Rookie), 1978-2002
  10. Montreal Expos, National League (MLB), 1969-2004
  11. Moose Jaw Diamond Dogs, Prairie League (independent), 1995-97
  12. Ottawa Lynx, International League (AAA), 1993-2007
  13. Quebec Capitales, CanAm Legue (independent), 1999-present
  14. Regina Cyclones, North Central League (independent), 1994
  15. Regina Cyclones, Prairie League (independent), 1995-97
  16. Saskatoon Riot, North Central League (independent), 1994
  17. Saskatoon Riot, Prairie League (independent), 1995
  18. Saskatoon Smokin’ Guns, Prairie League (independent), 1996-97
  19. St. Catherines Blue Jays, NY-Penn League (Low A), 1986-95
  20. St. Catherines Stompers, NY-Penn League (Low A), 1996-99
  21. Surrey Glaciers, Western League (independent), 1995
  22. Thunder Bay Whiskey Jacks, Northern League (independent), 1993-98
  23. Toronto Blue Jays, American League (MLB), 1977-present
  24. Vancouver Canadians, Pacific Coast League (AAA), 1978-99
  25. Welland Aquaducks, North Atlantic League (independent), 1995-96
  26. Welland Pirates, NY-Penn League (Low A), 1989-94
  27. West Manitoba Wranglers, Prairie League (independent), 1997 (Brandon)
  28. Winnipeg Goldeyes, Northern League (independent), 1994-present

That means 20 cities across Canada enjoyed some level of professional baseball during the 1990’s.  Every province (outside of Atlantic Canada) had at least two teams during the decade, with Ontario having the most (7).  As the decade wore on the number of affiliated teams decreased, while independent baseball grew across Canada.  This trend would continue into the next decade.  The only independent leagues that may have given the Maritimes a chance in this time period were the Northeast League (now CanAm) or the North Atlantic League.  Both of these leagues had a presence in New England.  The North Atlantic League would fold after the 1996 season, with three teams joining the aforementioned Northeast League.  Both leagues attempted to place a team in Quebec City during the 1995 and 1996 seasons, but les Capitales would not join the Northeast League (then known as Northern League East) until 1999.

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