Remember this? Ottawa Football Club aka the Rough Riders

In seven games of the 1898 football season, the Rough Riders went undefeated, scoring 188 runs to just 24 runs against.

CityNews, in partnership with Ottawa Historical Societybrings you this weekly report from director James Powell, highlighting a moment in Ottawa’s history.

An ad appeared in the Ottawa daily citizen in mid-September 1876 inviting those interested in forming a “football” club to meet on Monday, September 18 at 4:30 p.m. sharp at the pavilion of the Ottawa Cricket Club located at Rideau Hall, residence of the Governor General of Canada.

The meeting lasted a long time as it was adjourned until the following evening when “a good number of gentlemen” gathered in a private room at the Russell House Hotel. There, on September 19, 1876, a club to be called the Ottawa Football Club was formed with thirty-four members. The president of the new sports club was Mr. Allan Gilmour, a pioneer lumberjack from Ottawa who gave his name to Gilmour Street.

There seems to have been little doubt that a team would be established as the Ottawa club footballers’ uniforms had already been ordered from England and were due to arrive in Ottawa in ten days or less. The shirts and bottoms were in cherry and French gray, the colors of the new team. Their pants were navy knickerbockers.

The new football club was quick to take to the field. The following Saturday, the Ottawa Football Club faced the Aylmer Football Club. The game lasted an hour and a half and Ottawa emerged victorious. The score of the hotly contested match has not been released. But Ottawa got its first win when Mr. Sherwood kicked the ball into Aylmer’s goal.

For much of their early years, the team played in the Quebec or Ontario Rugby Unions as the Ottawa Football Club, or more colloquially known as the “Ottawas” or even the ” Senators”. It wasn’t until 1898, the year the team won its first Canadian Championship title, that it received the nickname “Rough Riders”.

1898 was the year of the Spanish-American War in which the United States intervened on the side of Cuban revolutionaries against Spanish colonial rule. In this conflict, Colonel Theodore Roosevelt, later President Roosevelt, came to public attention as the commander of the “Rough Riders” who distinguished themselves at the Battle of San Juan Hill. Until then, rough rider was synonymous with horse trainer. Roosevelt’s regiment apparently got its nickname because many of its members were “bronco busters” from the western plains.

In mid-October 1898, the sobriquet ‘Rough Riders; was handed over to the Ottawa Football Club by disgruntled Hamilton sportswriters following a hard-fought game in Ottawa where the home side beat the Hamilton Tigers 9-1. According to the Hamilton players, the game was one of the toughest they have ever played. Hamilton’s captain said “Ottawa has three of the dirtiest football players to ever play on a Canadian gridiron.” A report from Hamilton said ‘Westerns’ (aka Hamilton) were being ‘misused in the capital’.

Ottawa had a certain reputation. The previous year, the Ottawa Football Club had been expelled from the Quebec Rugby Football Union in which it played due to rough play. Ottawa reporters, however, attributed the team’s expulsion to a personal grudge and a desire to eliminate a Quebec Union championship contender. An article in the Log called the team’s expulsion “the most shameful display of injustice on record in Canadian sport”.

The Toronto Star demanded an investigation into Hamilton’s allegations that Ottawa played badly by saying “either Ottawa is playing a foul game or its disappointed rivals are not above trickery to stir up popular opinion against the team to such an extent that it could be expelled from Ontario”. Union.” According to the Ottawa newspaper, one aspect of the game in which the Ottawa Club was very weak was its lack of squealers. He also called Hamilton’s claims a “very bad libel against the truth”.

The rematch took place in Hamilton at the end of October. Once again, Ottawa defeated the Tigers. This time there were few complaints. The Toronto Star reported that while he was quite difficult, “it wasn’t a dirty game”. Even the Herald of Hamilton thought the The Rough Riders [italics added] victory was well deserved and that the team was forgiven for their treatment of the Tigers in the previous game in Ottawa. This may be the first time the Ottawa team has been called the Rough Riders.

As an interesting aside, the Montreal Herald said the Ottawa team was “made up of heavy men.” But the average weight of an Ottawa footballer was only 169 pounds, which is very light by today’s standards. Frank McGee, the nephew of D’Arcy McGee, the famous “Father of Confederation”, who played for the Ottawa Rough Riders and the Ottawa Senators hockey team, weighed only 143 pounds. Today, the average weight of a CFL football player is around 230 pounds, while the average NFL player weighs nearly 250 pounds.

Despite the supposed roughness of the game, there was no apparent animosity between the two teams. They went out to party together after the game and had a ‘good time’ at the Russell Theater where the footballers occupied two boxes to watch the Troubadourscourtesy of the Director of Troubadours and Mr. Drowne, the theater manager. Between acts, the footballers sang songs.

The Troubadours was an African-American musical and acrobatic group led by Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones. A soprano trained at the New England Conservatory, she was the highest-paid African-American singer of her age, performing for US presidents and royals.

The Rough Riders nickname given to the team by Hamilton journalists as a nudge at Ottawa’s alleged rough play has been adopted by the Ottawa club. A few days later, Ottawa footballer Fred Chittick showed off his one-and-eighth-inch diameter Rough Rider cufflinks, bearing the figure of a rough rider with a football surrounded by a red border, white and black.

With the new name came new colors. While the original team colors were cherry and French gray, at some point Ottawa footballers began playing in black and white. This posed a problem for the 1898 season when Ottawa switched to the Ontario Rugby Football Union after being expelled from the Quebec Union, as Toronto’s Osgoode team also played in black and white uniforms. Ottawa opted to dress in new colors, wearing chunky white jerseys with scarlet sleeves and scarlet bottoms. The new outfits were displayed in the windows of Young Brothers, a local store. There is no mention of black in the initial newspaper descriptions, but it can be assumed that the pants were that color.

Ottawa won the Ontario Rugby Football Union title in 1898 as well as the intercollegiate championship when they defeated the University of Toronto varsity team 7-3, according to the Log the team’s “greatest and most glorious victory”. The game was vicious. The Varsity men “used the knee or whatever to stop the Ottawa runners extensively.” But despite the provocation, the Log reported that the Rough Riders played a “clean, square game with no sign of anger.” The win, in front of 2,000 fans, set the stage for the Dominion Championships between the Ottawa Rough Riders and Ottawa College, champions of the Union québécoise de rugby de football for two consecutive years. The garnet and gray colors of the College of Ottawa are today the colors of the Gee-Gees of the University of Ottawa.

The Dominion Intercity Championship was held at the Metropolitan Grounds. The grandstand and bleachers were packed with more than 3,000 rabid football fans. In a bruising contest in which the tackles were described as “vicious and in some cases brutal”, the perhaps aptly named Rough Riders won with a score of 11-1. But the College team gave it their all. Rough Riders Harvey Pulford and Weldy Young suffered a broken collarbone and concussion respectively. (Weldy Young then left Ottawa to try his luck in the Klondike Gold Rush. Young, who like Frank McGee and Harvey Pulford also played for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club, was to manage the Dawson City Nuggets, the team that challenged Ottawa for the Stanley Cup in 1905.)

In seven games of the 1898 football season, the Rough Riders went undefeated, scoring 188 runs to just 24 runs against.

In early December, a celebratory banquet for the team was held at the Russell House Hotel, hosted by its eccentric manager, Francois Xavier St. Jacques. Over 200 people were invited to the party, including Major Bigham. The dining room was decorated with streamers in the team’s red, white and black colors. As a sign of friendship, the yellow and black colors of the Hamilton Tigers were also on display. Each table was decorated with bouquets of carnations, roses, chrysanthemums and ferns. On the menu, dishes such as oysters with scrimmage, boiled salmon from Saguenay (Hold on the line) with arbitrator sauce and Spec-“taters”. Also served was young Vermont stuffed turkey (Tackled on the Run) with offside green beans and “scraped” potatoes. The meal ended with “victory sweets” consisting of a choice between referee pudding with grandstand sauce and apple turnover with “excluded” sauce.

In subsequent speeches, Fred Colson, president of the Ottawa Amateur Athletic Association, noted that “Ottawa had challenged the Tigers in their jungle, near Hamilton’s molehill called a mountain.” President Seybold of the Ottawa Club said the team was “called the Rough Riders after Roosevelt’s men.”

The 1898 Dominion Championship was the first of three Dominion Championships and nine Gray Cup titles the Ottawa Rough Riders were to win during their long and storied career. The club folded for good in 1996. Today, the Ottawa RedBlacks wear the historic red, black and white colors.

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