Photo courtesy of Matthew Hamilton
Junior football in Winnipeg has a long rich history dating back to 1893 in the Manitoba Junior Rugby Football Union (MJRFU). Winnipeg Collegiate School played in both the Spring and Fall Series.
In 1910 the team was called the Winnipeg Tigers and they went onto win their first league title beating their rivals the St John Royalists two games to one.
After a hiatus that began following the 1915 season the Winnipeg Canoe Club rejoined the league in 1920 but didn’t win a game. Then in 1922 the Winnipeg Victoria Bisons joined the league and went onto win the title 10-7 over the Tammany Tigers.
In 1928 the Winnipeg Argonauts won the league with a 4-0 record and went onto represent Manitoba in their first ever appearance in the Western Canada Championship. Unfortunately they were shutout by the Regina Patricias 28-0.
Two years later the city of Winnipeg had three teams competing in the MJRFU. The class of the league was the Winnipeg Native Sons of Canada who finished 4-0 outscoring the opposition 82-7 in the regular season. They would go on to capture the provincial title with an 8-1 victory over their cross town rivals Argonauts. They continued to roll by beating the Saskatoon Hilltops 25-10 to win their first ever Western Canada Championship. With that win they would punch their ticket to their first appearance in the Leader-Post Trophy championship game, what we know today as the Canadian Bowl. They traveled to Toronto for a tilt with the Toronto Junior Argonauts on December 6, 1930 but fell 7-1 in front of 3,914 fans.
Following the 1935 season the league became known as the Winnipeg Junior Rugby Football League in 1936 featuring four teams. A number of team names played in the Winnipeg league for the next few seasons until 1953. That season the existing teams joined others from Saskatchewan to become the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Junior Football League featuring four teams.
The 1954 season was big for the Winnipeg Rods finishing the regular season 6-1 and going on to win the Conference title. They would then beat the Calgary Bronks in the Western Canada Inter-Conference championship to punch their ticket the Leader-Post title game. They would travel to Windsor, but fell to the AKO Fratmen 13-9 in front of 4,000 fans.
The very next season (1955) the same two teams again met in the Leader-Post game but this time in Winnipeg and this time the Rods beat the Fratmen 19-13 to win the city’s first ever junior football championship. The Rods would then repeat as Canadian champions the next season with a 21-10 victory over the Toronto Parkdale Lions in Toronto in front of 3,952 fans.
Fast forward to 1994, the final season of teams from Manitoba competing in the CJFL. This hiatus would last eight seasons.
Finally 2002 a brand new franchise in Winnipeg was born; the Winnipeg Rifles. The rich history of junior football in Manitoba returns and becomes the sixth team in the Prairie Conference.
The team started slowly but did find themselves in the post season for the first time in 2004 season. The following season the Rifles had one of their best seasons to date finishing first with a 7-1 record and winning their first playoff game, a 39-22 victory over the Edmonton Wildcats. They then hosted the Edmonton Huskies, who ended the Rifles season with a 35-17 win before going onto win the Canadian Bowl that season.
Since becoming the Rifles the team has had a couple of different home fields including Investors Field, home of the Blue Bombers and now St. Vital Mustangs Field which is more adept to hosting junior football. They have also seen four players move onto playing the CFL including Kienan LaFrance from the Saskatchewan Roughriders, Zach Williams for the Calgary Stampeders, Samson Abbott for the Ottawa RedBlacks and Macho Bockru for the hometown Bombers.
One of the most exciting moments for the Rifles since 2002 has been their history making CJFL Inter-Conference game when they traveled to Ottawa to meet the Sooners, beating them handily. They would play a complete game in the nation’s capital.
Coming into the 2021 season there will once again be high expectation for the Rifles who will no doubt push for another Prairie Conference title.
Quick Rifles Facts:
Conference – Prairie Conference
Location – 100 Frobisher Rd, Winnipeg, MB
Team President – Dale Driedger
Head Coach – Geordie Wilson
Stadium – St. Vital Mustangs Field
Social Handle - @RiflesFootball
Motto – “I am Resilient”
Primary Colours – Black, Grey, Blue and Gold