A History of CFL Expansion to Atlantic Canada


CFL fans at 2010 Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton (courtesy: sportsnet.ca)

Alternative title: CFL in Halifax, an ongoing debate since 1966!

I have complied a list of the many mentions of potential CFL expansion to Atlantic Canada.  All notes are from the archives of the Globe and Mail.  I mention any articles or columns that detail expansion plans, ideas or league games played in Atlantic provinces.

November 18, 1966: Alouettes owner Joe Atwell criticises the expansion agenda of incoming commissioner Keith Davey (mentions Halifax, London and Quebec City).  Atwell estimates a new team would spend $1 million in its first season.

December 17, 1966: An article mentions new commissioner Keith Davey thinks expansion makes sense.  He said having CFL in Quebec City and London and perhaps Halifax and Lakehead (Thunder Bay) makes sense.

February 3, 1967: The Globe and Mail reports that new CFL commissioner Senator Keith Davey favours expansion to Halifax, Quebec City & London.

November 26, 1970: The Eastern Football Conference hears reports for proposed teams in Halifax and London.

January 21, 1971: Commissioner Jake Gaudaur says Halifax franchise would pose problems.  A group of Calgary business want a team in the city to play in an 18,000 seat stadium.  Grudaur reports a Halifax team would require 22,000 a game to break even.  The ownership groups believes Halifax would be successful as more people live in a 100 mile radius of the city than in a 100 mile radius of the successful Regina market.  Proposed name is the Atlantic Mariners.

November 29, 1973: In an article about a NFL-CFL all-star game in Mexico City, it is mentioned the CFLPA favours expansion to Halifax and London.

May 9, 1974: Stampeders GM Gary Dobson mentions a CFL Halifax team would give the Atlantic region a name across the country.  He cites how Winnipeg wouldn’t have a name across the country if not for the Blue Bombers.

February 16, 1979: Former Argonaunts owner Bill Hodgson is being encouraged by the CFL to start-up an expansion team in Halifax.  The article mentions the benefits of expanding from nine to ten clubs.  The team was tentatively referred to as the Maritimers.  Separate article details the challenges he faces.  They include a lack of stadium, the Metro Centre being paid off and fiscal con-strengths of the provincial government.

March 24, 1979: Marty York reports that the city, including mayor Edmund Morris, has yet to hear from Hodgson regarding his expansion bid on behalf of the city.

July 26, 1980: York reports that the CFL is always receiving expansion applications from Halifax, Quebec City, London and Windsor.

August 23, 1980: York reports that J.I. Arbrecht is finishing up a ten-year study on having the CFL in Halifax.  There is talk a team could launch in 18 to 24 months.  A stadium would be built on the outskirts of the city, on the site of the Atlantic Winter Fair.  Arbrecht compares his CFL team would be like the NFL New England Patriots, where the team belongs to an entire region, not just one city.

January 29, 1981: Al Strachan mentions the Alouettes could move to Halifax or London if the city of Montreal is awarded an NFL franchise.

March 27, 1982: York reports a team for Halifax-Dartmouth could be a reality in two months.

May 14, 1982: The CFL awards Halifax a conditional franchise.  Maritime Professional Football Club Ltd has until July 1983 to confirm it can build a stadium in time for the 1984 CFL season.  The bid was headed by Mississauga trucking executive John Donoval and J.I. Arbrecht.  It would be the first CFL expansion since the BC Lions joined in 1954.  The franchise will be named Atlantic, nickname to be announced.  The coach will John Huard, Acadia Axemen head coach.  The franchise will cost the ownership group $1.5 million.

June 19, 1982: Article mentions that all nine CFL stadiums plus Halifax will likely host World Cup games in 1986 in the event Canada is awarded the event.

November 27, 1982: The Globe reports the Schooners may not begin play in time for 1984, due to funding issues for a new stadium.  There was talk of a $4 million loan from the federal government to assist in building the stadium.

February 16, 1983: Paul Palango writes an extensive article on the Atlantic Schooners.  He mentions how the league doesn’t know much about the ownership group.  The group is seeking partners and has signed a 20 year lease on land in Dartmouth.  The stadium will hold 34,000 fans.

April 27, 1983: The Schooners bring in Rothmans Canada as a major sponsor.  The article mentions how the sponsorship will help the owners pay the $900,000 down payment for a franchise.

May 11, 1983: An article by Palango questions if Halifax even wants the Schooners to play in the city.  Former commissioner Davey is quoted saying “you can’t keep the CFL out of Halifax forever”.

June 17, 1983: Palango writes an article about the demise of the CFL Schooners.  The article goes on to mention the bid failed in part because there was no local ownership.  There has never been a local CFL bid as Halifax doesn’t want to pay major league prices for a second or third-rate product.  He also mentions how Halifax is an NFL town who follow the New England Patriots.

October 28, 1983: J.I. Arbrecht is moving on from the Schooners debacle and will apply for a team in Moncton.  His company, Down East Football Limited has applied to join the CFL for the 1985 season.  His proposed stadium will hold 30,000 to 35,000 people and may host a AAA baseball and soccer teams in addition to the CFL club.

March 9, 1984: New commissioner Doug Mitchell is in favour of expansion, believes both Halifax and London have potential.

March 23, 1984: The proposed stadium in Moncton received funding from private sources.  It is not reported who gave the money or how much was proposed.  It is believed the Sullivan family (owners of the Patriots) are the financiers, while the stadium will cost a total of $10 million to build.  They are still shooting to join the CFL in 1985.

February 23, 1985: London may be awarded CFL team if city lands the Pan-Am games.  Halifax would also need stadium to be awarded a franchise.

October 8, 1985: CFL commissioner says there is no plan to expand into Atlantic Canada.

June 4, 1986: Article mentions the preseason games between Winnipeg and Montreal to be played Saturday in Saint John.

June 5, 1987: Brief mention of Alouettes training camp in Halifax ahead of their preseason game in Saint John.

August 5, 1989: Not CFL but article on the Ottawa Bootleggers suggest Halifax as a site for a semi-pro club playing American rules football.

November 14, 1997: CFL CEO John Tory mentions Ottawa and Halifax as potential expansion destinations.

June 12, 1998: John Tory says any expansion to Halifax or Ottawa is several years away.

November 26, 1998: Another article mentions John Tory is in favour of expanding to Halifax and Ottawa.

December 12, 2001: The federal government will ponder stadium projects in both Quebec City and Halifax.  Any new stadiums in these cities will host expansion CFL teams.

June 6, 2002: Alouettes owner Robert Wetenhall suggests expansion to Halifax, followed by expansion to the United States.

June 21, 2004: Commissioner Tom Wright visits Moncton to discuss possible franchise.  The article mentions how 1.1 million live within a three-hour drive of Moncton, while only 700,000 live within three hours of Halifax.

March 30, 2005: CFL announces preseason game in Halifax between Toronto and Hamilton.  The 2,000 seat Huskies Stadium will be expanded for this event.

June 10, 2005: Shawna Richer reports from Halifax on the upcoming exhibition in Halifax.  Tickets to it sold out, prices ranging from $40.00 to $62.50.  She mentions how the idea of a CFL team in the Maritimes has been around 30 years, with Halifax and Moncton both interested in landing a team.  Also mentioned is Moncton is building a stadium for the 2008 World Junior Track & Field Championships, putting them ahead of Halifax as a favourite to join the league.  The Irvings and McCains are rumoured investors.

June 13, 2005: An article about the Argos-Tiger Cats preseason game in Halifax mentions the city needs a stadium for an expansion franchise.  The recent Touchdown Atlantic game drew 11,000 people to Huskies Stadium.  There was also a mention of holding a second Touchdown Atlantic in Moncton.

December 16, 2005: Halifax is chosen as the Canadian representative to bid for the 2014 Commonwealth Games.  The bid will be against Glasgow, Scotland and Abuja, Nigeria.

January 28, 2006: CFL releases schedule, including June 3 exhibition between Montreal and Ottawa at Huskies Stadium.

March 21, 2006: Stephen Brunt says if the Renegades fold, the far-fetched Halifax expansion plans can be put on hold.

October 15, 2009: Reports indicate, the Argonauts will play a home game in 2010 in Moncton.

September 25, 2010: Full page article on east coast expansion, ahead of the upcoming neutral site game between Edmonton and Toronto to take place in Moncton.

September 27, 2010: David Naylor reports on the Eskimos-Argos game in Moncton.  Feels Maritimes would be great place for CFL team.

July 30, 2011: Halifax considers building a 10,000 seat stadium.  The stadium could cost $60 million and host games at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

September 23, 2011: Rachel Brady reports the upcoming Hamilton-Calgary game in Moncton is still not sold out.

September 26, 2011: Article reports on the 20,000 crowd for the game in Moncton.

November 24, 2012: David Edner writes about CFL tackling the issues surrounding Toronto and Hamilton.  Mentions Mark Cohon is also eyeing expansion to Quebec City, Halifax and/or Moncton.

July 19, 2013: Article talks about CFL getting serious about adding a franchise is Halifax or Moncton.  Commissioner Mark Cohon calls Halifax mayor Mike Savage “progressive” and a builder.

September 21, 2013: Mention of Montreal-Hamilton game in Moncton.

November 17, 2017: The Globe mentions the new ownership group trying to bring the CFL.  The biggest hurdle remains the lack of a stadium.  Former Coyotes owner Anthony LeBlanc and AMJ Campbell president Bruce Bowser are both members of the potential ownership group.  Derek Martin of SEA questions the demand for the CFL in the region but remains optimistic the Halifax’s stadium riddle could be solved.

December 13, 2017: 3312738 Nova Scotia Limited, a numbered company obtains trademark for Atlantic Schooners.

January 29, 2018: Twitter handle @CFLinHalifax ignites debate on one of their proposed names for an expansion team (Halifax Explosions).  The people behind the account are not affiliated with the group trying to bring a CFL team to Halifax.

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1 Response to A History of CFL Expansion to Atlantic Canada

  1. Alex says:

    Serious question, has any league flirted with a city as long as the CFL has with Halifax?

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