Canada is a vast and varied country, famous for many things, including maple syrup, being very, very cold, not being America and punching above its weight in music, acting and other areas. It is also well known for its great natural beauty and wilderness and whilst it isn’t the first country one might think of in terms of sport, ice hockey is a true national obsession in Canada.
Canadian sport offers up more than just hockey though, and the Great White North hosts major events in a range of other sports too. Canada is a major player at the winter Olympics but its sporting prowess isn’t limited to merely cold weather pursuits and it also holds world class events in tennis, golf and a number of other sports.
Ice Hockey Rules
Hockey really is a national infatuation in Canada and if you want to watch, attend, or bet on a big game, then one involving a Canadian outfit is a great place to start. As we discuss in our feature on sport in the USA, seven Canadian teams play in the NHL, the top level of ice hockey in North America and, therefore, the world.
At the time of writing, and we don’t foresee any imminent changes, the seven NHL sides based in Canada are:
- Montreal Canadiens
- Ottawa Senators
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- Winnipeg Jets
- Calgary Flames
- Edmonton Oilers
- Vancouver Canucks
The Toronto Maple Leafs ($1.5bn) and the Montreal Canadiens ($1.3bn) are both believed to be worth in excess of one billion US dollars and are among the most valuable sides in the NHL. This shows just how big ice hockey is in Canada and whilst many non-North Americans may associate the NHL with the USA, it was founded in Montreal, Canada, with the two Canadian teams mentioned above part of the “Original Six” that constituted the NHL for its first 25 seasons.
Stanley Cup Finals
Indeed, the Canadiens (whose official name is Les Canadiens de Montréal) are the most successful side in NHL history, having been crowned champions 25 times. In order to take glory and the Stanley Cup trophy that comes with it, teams must progress through the regular season (October to mid-April) and then the Stanley Cup play-offs until just two teams remain and contest the Stanley Cup Finals.
As well as the NHL, Canadians also have lots of other ice hockey to get excited about. Just as in America, college sports are huge. We explain more about the collegiate system in our feature on the United States but in Canada U Sports administers university sport and there are big competitions in a range of sports, including hockey.
Universities are divided geographically but teams are eventually whittled down before taking part in the U Sports Championship in spring. College/university sport isn’t perhaps quite as big in Canada as it is in the US but hockey still attracts big crowds and is televised, meaning even more great action for fans to savour.
In addition to both of those ice hockey tournaments, the passion Canadians have for the sport is never more obvious than when they are cheering on Team Canada. Canada is the most successful nation in men’s international ice hockey and has taken Olympic gold on nine occasions, including in 2002, 2010 and 2014, in addition to winning the world championships and other events multiple times.
Ice hockey is, by some distance, Canada’s number one sport but Canadians are also hugely passionate about other disciplines too, as we shall see.
As said, Canada is cold and its nickname of the Great White North reflects the snowy, icy weather that is the norm. It should come as no surprise that aside from ice hockey, many other winter sports are also hugely popular and Canada, as of 2020, sits fifth in the all-time medals table for the winter Olympics.
They have competed at all the games, winning at least one medal each time and have won medals in just about every sport and discipline going. They have hosted the winter Olympics twice, in Vancouver most recently (2010) and also in Calgary (in 1988), and they are sure to play host some time again in the future.
Hockey, Freestyle Skiing, Curling, Speed Skating & Figure Skating
They lead the way in medal terms in hockey, freestyle skiing and curling but have also enjoyed great success in speed skating, figure skating and many other events. These sports are very popular in Canada and the country plays host to a number of major local and international events in them all.
Curling is one of the most popular sports in Canada and, with skiing and skating second nature to many Canadians, it is no surprise that the various iterations of these sports are also incredibly well-loved.
Changing tack completely, it will probably surprise many non-golf fans to learn that the Canadian Open is part of golf’s Triple Crown. Canada’s national championship is the third-longest continuously held tournament in the world. Founded in 1904, only the Open and the US Open have been played more frequently; and as well as a good dose of history, the Canadian Open also offers up around $8m in prize money!
The tournament attracts a very strong field and has been won by greats including Tommy Armour, Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman and Tiger Woods. More recent winners include Jason Day and Dustin Johnson, whilst by winning the 2019 Canadian Open Rory McIlroy became just the sixth player in history to complete the Triple Crown of Opens.
World Class Tennis Too
Golf isn’t the only “summer” sport in which Canadian fans can enjoy world class action and the country also hosts some top level tennis tournaments. Aside from lower level events, Canada hosts massive tournaments in both the men’s and women’s games.
ATP Tour Masters 1000
Canada is far from famous for tennis but if fans want to watch the game’s best players they can enjoy the ATP Tour Masters 1000 event that takes place in Toronto or Montreal. This tournament is the Canadian Open and alternates between the two Canadian cities, going by the name of the Rogers Cup at the time of writing for sponsorship reasons.
The Canadian Open is the second oldest event in the sport. Dating back to 1881, only Wimbledon has more history and this really is a feather in the cap of sport in Canada. The ATP 1000 events sit just below the Grand Slams in terms of prizes and prestige and the women’s tournament in Canada is a Premier 5 event, effectively the third tier of tournaments but still offering significant prize money and attracting world class players to Canada.
Both the men and the women play this event on hard courts, with the women’s Canadian Open being held in Toronto in odd-numbered years and Montreal in even ones and the men’s running the opposite way.
F1 in Canada
Sticking with sports with global appeal that travel the world, Canada is home to an annual Grand Prix and has been since 1961 (becoming part of the F1 World Championship in 1967). Held every year since then aside from 1975, 1987 and 2009 the Canadian Grand Prix is very much a fixture and is held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal.
As with many races on the calendar, Michael Schumacher and Lewis Hamilton have both enjoyed a number of great victories in Canada and are tied on seven wins apiece as the most successful drivers in the history of the Grand Prix. Hamilton will look to forge ahead in the years to come and the Canadian Grand Prix gives Canada its moment in the motorsport spotlights.
In most of the major North American sports, a handful of Canadian sides compete against teams from the US in the most prestigious competitions. However, the NFL doesn’t have any teams from the north and part of the reason for that is that Canada has its own version of gridiron: Canadian Football.
Although rarely played outside its home country, this sport is very popular among locals and the Canadian Football League (CFL) attracts big crowds. The sport is very similar to American football with a few big differences, such as teams having three (rather than four) downs on offence, the pitch in Canada being slightly larger, and teams comprising 12 rather than 11 players.
The CFL operates with an 18-game regular season from June to early November and then a six-team post-season that culminates in the Grey Cup at the end of the month. This game, the “Canadian Super Bowl”, is the pinnacle of the sport and it is estimated that up to 40% of the population watches on TV.
However, Canadian football is played far beyond the CFL and features in Canadian schools and universities and also at semi-professional level too. U Sports Football, the top tier of university “football” (college football in the US), is very popular and the university/collegiate system is broadly similar to the US and to other such sports in the country.
The Montreal Expos were the first Canadian team to feature in MLB but Canada is now home to just one team in the world’s most prestigious league, the Toronto Blue Jays. The Blue Jays have featured in the American League East since their inception in 1977 and have won the World Series twice, in 1992 and 1993.
Baseball in the country dates back much further though, right back to the 1800s and there are many teams throughout the nation that compete in various minor leagues, attracting reasonable crowds. Once again, universities compete at a very good level and whilst Canada isn’t the first country one might associate with baseball, there are certainly lots and lots of matches taking place throughout the season.
Basketball falls into the same category as Canada’s other core sports that are shared with the US. Whilst the National Basketball League of Canada is fully professional and popular with fans, and university basketball is also big business, in terms of prestige and international appeal it is the Toronto Raptors, who play in the NBA, who attract the most attention.
The Raptors were founded in 1995 and currently share the Scotiabank Arena with NHL side the Maple Leafs. They won their first and only title in 2019, beating the Golden State Warriors 4-2 in the finals. Canadians collectively enjoyed that success and watching Raptors game is undoubtedly a major sporting event in the country that is well worth watching if the chance arises.
According to stats produced by world governing body FIFA, soccer is the biggest participation sport in Canada. Played widely by both men and women, once again it is the predominantly American MLS that attracts the most attention, despite the presence and reasonable popularity of both university soccer and a professional domestic league (the Canadian Premier League).
Canada has three MSL teams at the time of writing; Toronto FC, Montreal Impact and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The season runs from February to November, ending with the MLS Cup. Toronto are by far the best of the Canadian sides right now, having made the MLC Cup final in 2016, 2017 and 2019, winning in 2017 when they beat Seattle Sounders.
It may surprise many who disparage North American soccer to learn that the MLS is the ninth-best attended league in world football (soccer). The most recent campaign saw average attendances in excess of 21,000 and the trend is very much upwards. Of the three Canadian sides Toronto, unsurprisingly, lead the way, their home average of more than 25,000 in 2019 showing just how popular soccer is in Canada.
Canadian Horse Racing
Another sport not hugely associated with Canada is horse racing but this vast nation is home to a number of tracks and hosts a range of horse racing disciplines. No Canadian races are likely to feature on the bucket lists of racing fans but even so, there is a very busy schedule for those who want to watch or bet on the action.
Much of the action takes place in Ontario, with Woodbine Racetrack in Toronto hosting many of Canada’s biggest races. It hosts four Grade I races, as well as the Queen’s Plate, perhaps the biggest, most important race in the country. Founded in 1860, this 10f affair is the oldest continuously run race on the continent and offers up CAD$1m in prize money.
Along with the Prince of Wales Stakes, held at Fort Erie, and Breeders’ Stakes, run at Woodbine also, the Queen’s Plate forms the Triple Crown of Canadian Horse Racing. 12 horses have managed to land all three races, the most recent being Wando in 2003.