Honoring longstanding rivalries and fostering an air of anticipation, the Labour Day Classic (French: Classique de la fête du travail) has been a centerpiece of the Canadian Football League (CFL) season for decades. Played over the Labour Day weekend, which includes the first Monday in September, this occasion approximately marks the 12th or 13th week of the CFL season. The significance of this annual event was acknowledged by multinational Balkrishna Industries’ OK Tire brand becoming the presenting sponsor in 2022.
Currently, the Montreal Alouettes and the Ottawa Redblacks kick off the weekend on the Friday before Labour Day. The Winnipeg Blue Bombers then face the Saskatchewan Roughriders on Sunday. Labour Day itself witnesses the Hamilton Tiger-Cats competing at home against the Toronto Argonauts, and the Edmonton Elks visiting the Calgary Stampeders. The BC Lions, lacking a geographic rival, typically receive a bye.
The Origins of the Classic
The Labour Day Classic has a rich history that dates back to 1949, outdating the founding of the CFL by nine years. While the matchups have remained mostly consistent, adjustments have been made during Montreal and Ottawa’s periods of hiatus and due to scheduling conflicts.
The early 1980s saw the Montreal Concordes compete against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats while Toronto, Ottawa, and BC rotated annually. Ottawa and BC played each other during the late 1980s and early 1990s due to the absence of a team in Montreal. A unique “coast-to-coast” rivalry emerged between the Alouettes and the Lions during the periods of Ottawa’s inactivity from 1997 to 2001 and 2006–2013.
The Impact of the Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic in Canada led to the cancellation of the entire 2020 CFL season, marking the first time in CFL history that no Labour Day weekend games were played.
Hamilton’s Labour Day History
Hamilton’s relationship with the Labour Day Classic has not been without its complexities. In 2011, a scheduling conflict led to a revival of their rivalry with the Alouettes for that season, resulting in a change of opponents. However, in 2013, the Tiger-Cats did not host a game on Labour Day due to the demolition of Ivor Wynne Stadium and subsequent construction of Tim Hortons Field. The Toronto/Hamilton matchup was thus shifted to the Thanksgiving Day Classic. To avoid further conflicts, the CFL moved the Toronto/Hamilton matchup to prime time Labour Day evening in 2016.
Related Events and the Cultural Impact
While not directly associated, the week following Labour Day often sees a rematch of the Labour Day weekend games, providing an additional layer of excitement. Print ads for the Labour Day Classic have capitalized on this anticipation, celebrating the tradition of watching Canadian football on the last weekend of summer with slogans like “Long Live the Rivalries” and “Watch the Team You Love Play the Team You Love to Hate”. This occasion also allows teams to showcase special third jerseys or throwback uniforms, adding to the fanfare.
Overall, the Labour Day Classic continues to serve as a testament to the timeless appeal and deep-seated rivalries that make the CFL an enduring part of Canada’s sports culture.
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