The CJFL has been in existence since 1908 taking on many forms, but always keeping the core values of providing young people an opportunity to play highly competitive post-high school football across the country. Several of the current 18 CJFL franchises are able to boast a rich history as part of the CJFL for many, many years.
So relatively speaking the GTA Grizzlies are still one of the youngest franchises, playing in the Ontario Conference. They first became a full CJFL member in 2014, calling the largest city in Canada home. When they first began play they would call Father Henry Carr Catholic Secondary school home before moving to their current location of Etobicoke Centennial Stadium.
Heading into just their third season in 2017 the team rebranded to their current blue and white colours to reflect their growing partnership with the Toronto Argonauts. That season they also launched their new logo that we know them by today.
In their first six seasons they have qualified for the CJFL playoffs in the last three straight years, but are still looking for that first playoff win.
Speaking of the playoffs, one of the most exciting moments in Grizzlies team history came on October 13, 2018 with a playoff berth on the line. The Grizzlies were hosting the Ottawa Sooners and needed to beat them by at least 19 points to advance to the post-season. The stadium was packed with high school students cheering on their Grizzlies to an impressive 39-0 shutout punching their ticket to the playoffs.
Despite their youth, the Grizzlies program has already produced some talented players including Michael Sanelli and Kelvin Muamba who are in the CFL playing for the Montreal Alouettes and Saskatchewan Roughriders respectively. Last season’s (2019) CJFL Rookie of the Year Harvey Mafuta could be joining them in the CFL ranks in the not too distant future.
Former head coach Mark Houlder is more proof that the Grizzlies recipe for success is working. Houlder was recently elected to the CJFL Executive Board to lend his experience and expertise to move the league forward in various paths. He was the head coach of the Grizzlies in 2019, but with this elected position, he has had to step down from coaching but will no doubt assist the club in their search to fill the vacant role.
The Grizzlies find themselves in a unique position in the Toronto area, and have just now started to make a name for themselves. Sure they are in the most populated area in the country, but there are several Universities and other opportunities for young football players coming out of high school to continue to play. With that said and their most recent success, the Grizzlies will no doubt start attracting more players once they are able to get back to normal recruiting and practicing following the pandemic.
The club has the right people in place to grow their team into a consistently competitive franchise once football resumes.
Quick Grizzlies Facts:
Conference – Ontario Conference
Location – 56 Centennial Park Rd, Etobicoke ON
Grizzlies President – Karen Escoffery
Head Coach – An announcement is coming soon
Stadium - Etobicoke Centennial Stadium
Motto – Keeping the Dream Alive
Social Handle – @gtagrizzlies / @gtagrizzlies_
Primary Colours – Dark & light blue, and white
For years offensive lineman Theren Churchill patrolled the trenches for the Edmonton Huskies in the CJFL and was a highly decorated player. He was a Prairie Conference All-Star and won multiple team awards.
Fast forward to 2020 and following three successful seasons with the University of Regina, Churchill heard his name at the CFL Draft. Due to the pandemic the traditional bright lights of the Draft were dimmed but that didn’t stop the excitement. When the Toronto Argonauts were on the clock for the ninth overall pick, the moment came. The Argos took the former Huskie.
Earlier this week Churchill put pen to paper and officially signed a contract with the Argos to begin his path to getting on the turf and BMO Field in Toronto. He talks with Ryan Watters about the contract, draft day and dealing with the pandemic.
Since 1963 one of the class organizations of the Ontario Conference has been the Hamilton Hurricanes. Each season the Hurricanes are at or near the top of the standings fighting for a Conference title. In just their second season they finished with a 4-1-1 record and qualified for their first playoff appearance. They lost that first playoff game, but it set the tone for the 1965 season. They finished 8-2 and won their first playoff game that year, a 13-1 win over the Etobicoke-Lakeshore Bears and punched their ticket to the final.
In 1966 the Hurricanes claimed their first, first place finish with an 8-2 record, scoring the most points in the Conference, averaging 28 a game. After beating Burlington in the semis 22-19, the Hurricanes would fall in the Conference final 38-37 in the two game series with the Weston Invictus Redmen.
After appearing in the Conference final five straight seasons, the Hurricanes finally tasted victory in 1969 beating the Burlington Braves 14-7 in the two game series. Unfortunately for the Hurricanes they would fall in the Eastern Ontario semi-finals 29-23 to the Windsor AKO Fratmen. This was the first chapter in the Hurricanes-Fratmen rivalry that has lasted ever since.
The 1972 season was perhaps the most memorable in Hurricanes history. That year they crushed the West Division of the Ontario Conference with a 10-0 record outscoring the opposition 307-89. In the semis they blasted the Oshawa Hawkeyes 59-0, and then beat the undefeated West Division champion Scarboro Rams 22-14 in the two game series. Following that win, the Hurricanes beat the Quebec Conference champion Ottawa Sooners 11-7 in CJFL East championship and punched their ticket to the Leader-Post Trophy (Canadian Bowl) game in the neutral site of Saskatoon.
In that national title game the Hurricanes faced the heavily favoured Regina Rams who had breezed through the regular season, Prairie Conference playoffs and destroyed the Vancouver Meralomes 57-14 in the Western Canada championship. Despite the Rams pedigree the Hurricanes wouldn’t be denied and dominated the Rams for a 33-8 victory in front of 6,000 fans to win their first national championship.
Since that victory the Hurricanes have appeared in seven national championship games but have yet to reclaim the title.
In all the Hurricanes have 12 Ontario Conference titles and have finished first 11 times, the most recent in 2018 when they flew to Langley for the national semi-final game.
The Hurricanes have been fortunate to play the majority of their home games on a CFL field. In the past they would host teams at Ivor Wynne Stadium and today they welcome in their Ontario Conference rivals to Tim Hortons Field, both the home of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. In 2019 the Hurricanes played a couple of their home games in Brantford, 30 minutes from Hamilton at the Wayne Gretzky Sports Complex. All of their locations have been outfitted in field turf.
Over the course of their history the Hurricanes have been blessed with several outstanding players. Quarterback Jason Hayes helped them continue their winning tradition and is now their all-time winningest coach, Linebacker Aram Eisho is the only player to be named the CJFL Defensive Player of the Year three straight times from 2008-2010. Quarterback Jake Marquette was named the CJFL Offensive Player of the Year in 2018 setting various team records.
Quick Hurricanes Facts:
Conference – Ontario Conference
Location – 64 Melrose Ave, Hamilton, ON
Hurricanes President – Mike Samuel
Head Coach – Jason Hayes, the team’s all-time winningest coach
Stadium – Tim Hortons Field
Social Handle – @CanesFootball63 / @HamiltonHurricanes
Motto – Do Work
Primary Colours – Black, Powder Blue, Orange, White