As founder of the Tiger Rugby Club I have been asked (and I might add very honoured) to establish and document the early formation and history of the Tigers. In 1957 when I was 22 (and I had never even heard about the sport of rugby, along with most Canadians), I was invited to come out and play Rugby by a Canadian friend of mine named Tom Gunn, who was working at the Research Council where he got acquainted with some rugby types. I soon learned to love the game, the camaraderie with the guys, the parties and traditional sing songs and went on to play for 2 years with the Edmonton Rugby Club (Pirates) against teams from Calgary and Penhold.
In the spring of 1959 (because of growing numbers) we knew we had to form another team. An older Englishman named Phil Alderson (who played fly half at a County level at one time) had been bending my ear over the past winter and spring practices that in order for Rugby to grow in Edmonton we had to establish the Canadian born athletes into the game.
As Secretary/ Treasurer of the Edmonton Rugby Club (Pirates) at the time, I had the very unsavoury duty to inform my team mates and fellow executive (please note I was the only Canadian at the committee meeting called for this purpose of expansion) that it had been suggested we start an all Canadian side. The room became very tense and silent and with somewhat of a wounded uncomfortable feeling, until at last, The great, departed friend of Rugby, (Pres) Sam Wright said good idea Norm and we went on from there.
At the next practice I assembled the 40 or so players at mid field and explained the decision of the executive. I told all the Canadians to go to one end of the field and the rest of the odds and sods to the other and we became two. The only objection to the suggested split was from a Welshman named Dave Thomas who said he was a Canadian citizen and be dammed if he would play for the others. As he was the best hooker in town we made a graceful exception, plus our player coach Phil Alderson. Shortly afterword’s we picked our club name while in the pub at the Park Hotel and I might add that we came very close to being called the Canucks.
The Tigers went on to win the City Championship in the fall of 1959 (without my help as I was out with a broken ankle) by beating the more experienced Pirates and then went on for years with a nucleus of Canadian high school and Jr football players, who dictated a very aggressive style of play that punished rather than out finessed the opposing teams. Records on the playing field are fairly well documented, so I won’t dwell on that aspect, but the tremendous growth of Rugby in Edmonton and Alberta that you see the results of today, owes a lot to the Tigers.
For example 1) The annual home and away exchanges in the spring and the fall (starting in 1960/61) with Vancouver teams especially the Meralomas (20 Plus Years) was the early formation of the now flourishing RugbyFest and strong club ties with the Lomas still exist today.
2) In 1971 and 1972 myself and John Rockcliffe arranged for the rezoning and favourable purchase price ($25,000) of the 30 acres at The Ellerslie Rugby Park as well as laying out the long term planning of the site that has become the envy of rugby groups around the world.
3) Doug Swail (An Original Tiger & Edmonton Eskimo) was a prime mover in the early 60’s in the initial structure of the Alberta Rugby Union of which 3 Tigers have held the position of president for 7 years since its critical formative years myself as a director for many years and as President in 1971-72 &73.
Out of this era evolved an expression that I particularly enjoyed and coined as AP.RO.POS and the fact that RUGBY IS A WAY OF LIFE and will continue to be so for future generations.
Norm Suvan Feb 16, 2012
Early History of the Leprechaun Rugby Club -
We had established a branch of Renold Canada Ltd at 12253 William Short Road (Subsequently changed to 75 Street). Renold manufactured Industrial Power Transmission Equipment, and still does. This was in 1960. I was the inside man, running the office, and warehouse. I had volunteered to be transferred from the Montreal office, after having worked for them there since arriving in Canada in 1958. The Manager, and salesman was Bill Crosher, an Englishman who had come from Toronto.
One afternoon in the Fall of 1961 a wee Irishman came in, bushy back eyebrows and a blue shave, he was selling stationery. He and Bill got involved in a long conversation, and suddenly I was included when Bill said "Davie will join as well" "Whit?" I asked. Bill replied "This is Jimmy Gordon, and he is starting a new rugby club, and I volunteered you to play". "Ok" I said "I'll try anythin". This is when I discovered that Bill had played rugby for Bristol.
The first meeting was held at the Renold office, and present were Bill, myself, Jimmy, Sam Hogg, Mike Harty (Another blue chinned Irishman), Ken Pritchard and a Canadian, Al O'Neil, who went on to be the manager of the Peter Pond Hotel in Fort McMurray. We had all winter to get a Club together.
Another recruit, New Zealander Hughie Ross (Still a great friend) was working on a farm at Sherwood Park and got us the job of bringing in a few thousand bales of hay, for this backbreaking work we got a couple of hundred dollars which bought our first set of kit. This was obtained from Marv Holland Ltd in Edmonton. White jerseys, the purchase was arranged by Paddy Braiden. I eventually designed the badge and stenciled the green harp onto the chests of all the jerseys.
All the Clubs in Edmonton at the time, The Druids, The Barbarians, The Pirates, The Tigers, just ran one team. All trained, and played at The South Side Athletic Ground, and drank in The Corona Hotel. The newly formed team was no exception. After our first friendly game, and my first ever rugby game, there was a Journal Sports writer who approached Jimmy Gordon and interviewed him. I heard him say to Jimmy "I can't put downThe New Club, they have to have a name" We still hadn't given much thought to what the new Club should be called! Jimmy thought for a minute then said "Call them The Leprechauns, for every time I mention money the bastards fuck off!" True.
Davie Graham Updated December 20, 2011
The Leprechauns R.F.C. were Edmonton 1st Division city champions in 1964, 1965, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1981, 1986. They were also Edmonton 2nd division champions in 1972, 1979. 3rd division champions in 1979 and 4th division champions in 1983. They were Edmontonï¿½s best overall club in 1979, won the u-19 championship in 1983.
A History of women's rugby would have to include mention of the Edmonton Rockers, the first women's club in Edmonton. In 1977, the Edmonton Rockers Women's Rugby Football Club was formed. Originally there were approximately 25 members and several inter-squad games were arranged. The club maintained its numbers, strengthened its abilities on the field, and soon made a sizeable contribution to the administrative and fundraising duties of the Union
In 1982 a breakaway group from the Rockers formed the Coven Women's Rugby Football Club. The founding members were Ruth Hillerud, Terry Nelson, Corinne Skrobot, and Helen Wright. Even with the addition of another women's club in Edmonton it was still necessary to travel frequently in order to play more games.
The Alberta Women's Rugby Union was able to introduce a provincial representative team in 1983 and an Alberta team, composed of players from the Rockers, the Coven, and the Calgary Renegades, dominated the inaugural Western Canadian Women's Rugby Championships. Progress at the club level remained slow however, as all teams struggled to attract top female athletes may of whom still considered the game too rough. The Coven capitalized on strong university contacts to add to its strength.
With the introduction of rugby to the High School league in 1989, rugby for women was introduced into mainstream youth sport. With the help of many Coven players coaching these teams the league took off, attracting players from all backgrounds. This subsequently caused an influx of players at the club level and the Coven was able to start a second division team. Other teams in the city also capitalized on the new player base, and competition throughout the city skyrocketed to what it is today. In 1997, the Coven Women merged with the Leprechaun/Tigers R.F.C.
Since it's first days in 1982, the Coven has had the privilege of supplying the National Womens' Team with eleven players, and numerous players being long listed. The club has also had an untraceable number of players named to the Alberta Womens' squad, both senior and junior. These accomplishments culminated in 2000 with the 1st division women winning the provincial championship. A year later they suffered a last minute loss in the semi-finals to the eventual champion Calgary Renegades. That same year, the women's 2nd division team, packed with youth and resilience, surprised all by winning five rounds of playoffs games to make it to the provincial finals. Unfortunately, they were bested by the Calgary Saints, considered by most as a first division team, and supported by the fact that the Saints are competing in First division this year.