This is the final season for one of the most historic and iconic venues in the Canadian Football League, Ivor Wynne Stadium, home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. When the 2012 season is over, the stadium will be torn down and a new, state-of-the-art stadium will be built on the same spot, but it just won’t be the same.
Construction of the original Ivor Wynne began in 1928 and the stadium opened in 1930. It has been a landmark in Hamilton, Ontario for over 80 years. Today, it is nestled in the heart of a quaint little neighborhood where the surrounding residents allow fans to park right in their own front yards on game days, for a price!
Originally, it was simply known as The Stadium. Then, it became Civic Stadium. Finally, in 1970 it was renamed to honor the chairman of the City Parks Board, Ivor Wynne, who had suggested that the stadium be expanded to accommodate more fans. (More on him later)
Because this is the final season for Ivor Wynne Stadium, I decided that I had to see it one last time before it was too late. My youngest son and I traveled to Hamilton recently for a game between the Ticats and their hated rivals, the Toronto Argonauts. Hamilton and Toronto are only about 40 miles apart (64 kilometers if you are reading this in Canada) so the rivalry between the cities, know as the Battle of Ontario, can be quite intense.
A near capacity crowd of 24,264 endured a hot and humid July evening, many clad in the Hamilton team colors of back and gold. The Tiger-Cats jumped out to a 21-0 lead in the fist half. Two of the first three scores came courtesy of wide receiver/kick returner Chris Williams. Williams is in his second season of playing in the CFL and played his college football at New Mexico State. His first touchdown of the game was a 34-yard reception and run in the first quarter and his second came in the second quarter when he returned a punt 89 yards for a score.
Williams saved his best return of the night for last, however. As time expired in the first half, Toronto attempted a field goal, but the kick sailed wide of the goalposts. Williams caught the ball nine yards deep in the end zone and weaved his way 119 yards for his third touchdown of the half. (Remember, CFL fields are 110 yards long with 20 yard end zones). Missed field goals are treated like punts in the CFL and must be run out of the end zone by the defensive team or they will concede a point to the kicking team. This is called a Single. Hamilton led Toronto at halftime, 29-13.
Toronto did make a comeback in the second half, scoring 14 unanswered points. They shut out Hamilton in the third quarter but were only able to score 4 points of their own. (A field goal and a single) The Argos then scored 10 in the fourth to cut the Tiger-Cats lead to 29-27. But Hamilton answered with a 75-yard drive that ended with a six-yard touchdown pass from Hamilton quarterback Henry Burris (Temple) to wide receiver Bakari Grant (UC-Davis) to seal the 36-27 victory for the hometown team. Hamilton had won its first game of the season and both teams now had 1-2 records on the young CFL season. (For his performance, Chris Williams was named the CFL Special Teams Player of the Week. He accumulated a total of 266 all-purpose yards in the game)
But, for me, the whole CFL experience is more than just the game on the field. There is much more to it. On our way to the stadium my son and I stopped for a burger at a uniquely Canadian fast food restaurant. It is called Harvey’s and it has been serving char-grilled hamburgers and hot dogs throughout Canada since 1959.
Before the game, local team cheerleader “Pigskin Pete” led the crowd in the traditional “Oskee Wee Wee” chant prior to kickoff and with every Hamilton score, the boisterous crowd began chanting, “Argos Suck! Argos Suck!” I told you this rivalry is a heated one. During the singing of the national anthem, Oh Canada, a giant Canadian flag was unfurled that covered a majority of the field.
A few hours before the game, a couple even got married on the field at Ivor Wynne! They had their reception in the VIP tents area near the end zone located under the giant video screen. That should tell you something about the love the fans have for the team and the stadium.
Our seats were in section 21, row 8, which is right in the corner of the end zone where the Tiger-Cats players come onto the field after being introduced. Did I mention that it was very hot and humid that evening? The sun was really beating down when the game kicked off at 7PM, and even after the sun went down in the second half of the game, the heat continued to be a factor throughout the evening.
While this was only the third time I had ever been to a game in Hamilton (2007 and 2009 were my other two games), I still felt a deep sense of sadness when I left Ivor Wynne at the end of the game. As someone who appreciates the history of the sport of football, it will be a sad day when yet another football icon falls to the wrecking ball. The new stadium will be modern, shiny and new, but it just won’t be the same.
A Brief History of Pro Football in Hamilton
The Hamilton Tigers were founded in 1869. A second Hamilton team was formed in 1911 called the Hamilton Alerts. They were only around for two seasons, but they brought the city its first Grey Cup title in 1912. (That was 100 years ago)
A third team called the Hamilton Wildcats began play in 1941 after the Tigers suspended play for a few years during World War II. The Tigers and the Wildcats merged in 1950 to become the Tiger-Cats of today. Since the merger, the Tiger-Cats have won 8 Grey Cup championships. They won their first Grey Cup in 1953 and the last one was back in 1999.
Looking to the Future
With Ivor Wynne being torn down after this season, the Tiger-Cats are looking for a place to play next year. There was talk that they might play across town at McMaster University, but the school recently rejected the idea. One option now mentions the University of Western Ontario in London as a possible site.
The new stadium is set to open in time for the 2014 CFL season. It will also be the host site for the Pan-Am Games in 2015. Ironically, when construction began on the current Ivor Wynne Stadium back in 1928, it was selected as the host site of the 1930 British Empire Games, which was the first major international athletic event ever held in Canada.
Who was Ivor Wynne?
Ivor Wynne graduated from McMaster University in Hamilton in 1940. While attending the school, he played football and basketball. After serving in the Canadian Army during World War II, Wynne was named the athletic director at McMaster in 1948. He also became the school’s first dean of students in 1965. Wynne did color commentary for college and pro football games on local Hamilton television station CHCH for many years. In 1967, he became the Chairman of the City Parks Board. He died of a rare blood disease in 1970 at the age of 51. It was shortly after his death that the City Parks Board voted to rename Civic Stadium in his honor. There is also an Ivor Wynne Centre on the campus of McMaster University that was constructed in 1966. It is the school’s main athletic building.
For more information on the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and the final season of Ivor Wynne Stadium, go to www.ticats.ca.