Gridiron greats remembered at City Hall exhibit

By Jordan Shifman

The 92nd Grey Cup may be in the books for another year, but one event outside the big game touched the hearts of Ottawa’s football fans.

Between Oct. 12 and Nov. 21, the “Ottawa’s Football Tradition 1876-2004” exhibit gave fans the opportunity to revisit 128 years of Ottawa football including the Ottawa Gee-Gees, Carleton Ravens, Ottawa Sooners, Ottawa Rough Riders and Ottawa Renegades at the City Hall Art Gallery.

Serge Blondin, co-ordinator for the project with the City of Ottawa, says the Grey Cup festivities wouldn’t have been complete if the exhibit was not included.

“The game’s a show, but we added more by demonstrating that the game is made of people and made of the past,” he says.

“There are people that still remember the good old days of football and their old heroes. I think it’s nice that they could come and see it all again.”

Blondin says it took about six months to put the exhibit together with dedicated help from the football teams. Each football club submitted information about their team’s history.

Arash Madani, director of media relations for the Ottawa Renegades, says the team didn’t hesitate to get involved.

“We had over 40 events for the Grey Cup, but to have had that setup at City Hall just added a huge piece of the puzzle,” he says. “It was almost like going into the Hall of Fame. You looked at some of the artifacts and photos and saw that we live in a football hotbed. It makes you appreciate just how good it’s been here in Ottawa. It’s great for the fans.”

The fans who visited the exhibit saw helmets, jerseys, trophies and team photos.

“The people I’ve spoken with have marvelled at it,” Madani says. “To me, the most exciting thing is that the first football (the Renegades) ever used against the Saskatchewan Roughriders was there and that’s a piece of history.”

But the football exhibit didn’t display history for just the fans, it brought out some former players and their families too.

“I didn’t know what to expect, but they did a nice job,” says former Ottawa Rough Riders slotback Pat Stoqua, who played on the team from 1979-85. “My three kids were all born after I finished playing football, so it’s nice they could get to see what it was like.”

Stoqua says he was most impressed with the presentation of the Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens sections. “It’s not just CFL football, but universities too,” he says.

“There are lots of players who went to one of the two Ottawa universities before making it to the CFL.”

Donn Smith, the current offensive line coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers was the last football coach of the Carleton Ravens, managing them from 1993-98.

He says it’s great all the Ottawa teams were included in the exhibit.

Smith has also been an offensive line coach for the Ottawa Sooners and Ottawa Gee-Gees. He won two Grey Cups playing for the Rough Riders. “It’s nice that Carleton football hasn’t been swept under the carpet. A lot of people have very fond memories of Carleton football and the rivalry they had with the Gee-Gees,” says Smith. “And it’s really nice to see that the city is making an effort to recognize the various levels of football that are in Ottawa. I think it’s a real tribute to the sport of football and excellent for this community.”

Blondin says he’s also surprised the exhibit was enjoyed by former players like Stoqua and Smith.“I never thought it would go that far. That’s really over and above the expectation. We did the best job we could and I guess we did a little bit more,” he says. “So it was a success. Mission accomplished.”