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Walling: The CFL will be coming East

Alex J. Walling
10/15/2009 6:21:43 PM
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Halifax, by far the most populated and most affluent place in the Maritimes, got their behinds kicked once again by Moncton.

This time the prize is a Canadian Football League game and we are not talking about the exhibition game variety.

Yes over the years, if not the decades, Atlantic Canada has held a few CFL exhibition games. One was in Saint John, NB, in the 1980's and on June 11, 2005, Toronto and Hamilton gave Halifax an exhibition game that featured Damon Allen and Danny McManus. The game ended in a tie.

But next year, and perhaps for the first time ever (I've been following the CFL since 1957 and I can't recall another occasion), a regular season game will be played outside a team's home stadium.  Yes, the CFL will come to Atlantic Canada and the city of Moncton will host the Argos and an unknown Western opponent in September.  It will truly be an ''East versus West'' match-up.

This is a big win for Moncton, one of many cities that the CFL is looking at expanding to.  The other cities include London, Quebec City, Windsor, Saskatoon, and of course Halifax.

In fact, Halifax has been mentioned so often since I arrived to this part of the world in 1972 that many thought it was a foregone conclusion.

I'm afraid not. 

One of those who didn't believe it was a slam dunk for Halifax, by far the most populated centre in the Maritimes (390,000 and growing), was Moncton.

If the CFL is truly looking at a place for another team then Moncton is ahead - no, make that way ahead of anyone else. Moncton has the one item that no one else has and that is a stadium, one that can accommodate a CFL crowd which is around 25,000. And, they did it the right way.

Halifax went after a stadium by bidding for the 2014 Commonwealth Games which turned out to be a disastrous move and one that could have run the city/province into two or more billion dollars in debt.  The city and province ultimately scrapped the bid.

Moncton went after a smaller stadium for the 2010 IAAF Moncton Junior Track and Field Championships a few years ago and got it.  The stadium seats 10,000 but can be expanded with temporary seating of 20,000.

''We started small,'' general manager of Moncton's Recreation and Tourism office Ian Fowler told TSN.ca. ''We wanted something that we could build on.''

They got the games, the different areas of government got the money, and they have been eyeing the CFL ever since.  In other words, the IAAF Track event was simply a way for the city to get a facility. And good for them, they pulled it off.

Moncton has taken initiative for years.

Sure, Halifax has the history. They have been playing football in Nova Scotia since the 1950's with the Senior League, comprised of many military personnel, to the first university dynasty in the Don Loney St. FX teams from the mid-to late 1950's and early 1960's.

While history is nice and nostalgic, it hasn't done much for Halifax in getting a stadium.  The factor that got Moncton this to be a historic game is persistence and politics, not history.

They have been chatting to the CFL for years.  I recall former CFL boss Tom Wright telling me at a media conference to ''take Moncton very seriously, we (CFL) do.''

The only person who took Moncton seriously was former Metro Centre boss Fred McGillivray but he was alone.  What Moncton had, along with Fowler, is the support of the various Mayors over the years and the support of the Premier(s).

McGillivray in Halifax was basically the lone ranger with Mayor Peter Kelly and the former Premier Rodney MacDonald showing very little, if any, support for the project.

''Be it the CFL or anything else in the world of sports or entertainment or business one has to go for it,'' McGillivray told TSN.ca.

Bill Robinson has viewed the Moncton-Halifax situation for years.   Robinson is one of the very rare Canadians who played and lasted nearly five years in the CFL as a quarterback.  He won two Vanier Cups in his college days and for the last 25 years has been the executive director of the Nova Scotia Hall of Fame.

He totally understands the 'stadium' situation.

''Without a stadium, Halifax will lose out on the CFL, on soccer, on major concerts and other events.  It all comes back to the stadium or a big enough venue, and now Moncton has one and Halifax doesn't,'' Robinson told TSN.ca.

Moncton is a city that over the years has shown resilience and has kept fighting.   In the early 1970's, the city got a double-barrel of bad news when in the matter of under a year Moncton lost the CN Rail offices and then Eaton Catalogue went out of business.

The city could have caved in but they didn't.

When the American Hockey League left in 1994, Fowler and friends went after the Quebec Major Junior League and got the Wildcats, which has been one of the best franchises in the country and hosted the Memorial Cup in 2006.

''Moncton is persistent'' former CFL boss Tom Wright said, while current CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon told me at a sports banquet in Halifax last winter that ''Moncton seems to have great support.''

Not only did Moncton get the stadium for that track and field event, it negotiated a great deal with Moncton University to put the facility on their land.

And of course there is plenty of space for parking and expansion, just in case the CFL came looking.

Forget this one game thing; Moncton wants to hold a game a year for the next five years and hopes to show the CFL they and no one else should get a franchise.  Or, that they should be first in line.

There are some additional 250,000 people who live within a one hour drive from Moncton and over 1.3 million within a two-and-a-half hour drive.  You are looking at Saint John, Fredericton, all of PEI, and Halifax.

Those could become interesting numbers.

Don't bet against Moncton. Halifax did and lost, big time.

For TSN.ca I'm Alex J. Walling

Alex J. can be reached via email at:  ajw@eastlink.ca



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