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You call this a rivalry?

We don't hate Vancouverites, they don't hate us -- here's some fuel to start the fire

VANCOUVER -- At the Elephant & Castle pub on Burrard Street, a home away from home for Winnipeg football fans this weekend, the cover charge is supposed to be $5 a person -- or $10 if you're wearing green.

"It's just a joke," insists the hostess, promising anyone who walks through the doors of Blue & Gold House will be charged a fiver, even if they're fans of the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

Such is the Prairie football rivalry that Rider fans -- not supporters of the hometown B.C Lions, who the Blue Bombers actually play in the Grey Cup on Sunday -- remain the prime objects of attention for visiting Winnipeggers this weekend.

The B.C.-Winnipeg rivalry just isn't as fraught with same sort of history and emotion, partly because the two clubs are separated by a chain of mountains and partly because they haven't met each other in the playoffs since the 1980s.

"There's not much context between Winnipeg and Vancouver," said Al Smith, a Winnipeg fan strolling down Vancouver's Robson Street Friday afternoon. "Vancouver's a bigger a city and it attracts a lot of our young people. But that's about it."

Outside the football world, Winnipeg and B.C. get along rather nicely, claims Greg Selinger, Manitoba's premier, who doesn't believe there's any major political issue driving a wedge between fans of either squad.

"There isn't a huge one. We co-operate on climate change. We ship a lot of goods through B.C.," said Selinger, standing outside of BC Place. "There isn't a big, horking point of contention."

While the absence of enmity between Winnipeg and B.C. may be the current state of the affairs, fans with long memories recall a time when the Bombers and Lions were in fact arch-rivals.

Back in the 1980s, when Winnipeg played in the CFL's west division, the two clubs competed in a number of fierce playoff battles, recalls Ken Serne, a lifelong Vancouverite and B.C. Lions fan. "One of the biggest sins the CFL ever committed was moving Winnipeg to the east division. It ended that rivalry with the B.C. Lions," Serne said.

Perhaps the most infamous mid-'80s incident took place late in playoff game at what was then known as Winnipeg Stadium, when the hometown scoreboard operator displayed "B.C. sucks" up on the south-end screen. He was fired after the game.

Now if the loss of one over-exuberant dude's job is not enough to fire up the masses, you can always delve deeper into the Winnipeg-B.C. relationship. In an effort to inflame some perhaps nonexistent passions, the following is a brief history of the rivalry between Winnipeg and Vancouver, the two cities vying to win the 99th Grey Cup:


The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike was seen as a watershed for workers' rights in Canada, but Vancouver actually beat us to it, having had a general strike in 1918.

The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike was seen as a watershed for workers' rights in Canada, but Vancouver actually beat us to it, having had a general strike in 1918.

1. Winnipeg digs a hole

At the turn of the 20th Century, Winnipeg was one of the fastest-growing cities in North America, thanks to a railway boom that made the Manitoba capital the commercial and financial centre of Western Canada.

But that all came to an end on Aug. 15, 1914, when the Panama Canal opened and suddenly made cross-continental shipping far more competitive with rail.

Almost immediately, Vancouver started growing faster than Winnipeg. Before the opening of the canal, Winnipeg was Canada's third-largest city and had about 15,000 more people than Vancouver.

But Vancouver overtook Winnipeg some time in the 1920s. By the 1931 census, there were 28,000 more people living in the hub of the Left Coast, which remains Canada's third-largest city to this day.


2. Vancouver strikes first

While labour historians like to claim Winnipeg as the home of North America's first major general strike, the reality is Vancouver beat us to the collective-uprising punch by almost a year.

On Aug. 2, 1918, Vancouver workers held a one-day general strike to protest the killing of a labour activist who opposed the military draft during the waning days of the First World War.

The better-known Winnipeg General Strike would not materialize until May 15, 1919. Vancouverites would go on strike in sympathy with workers in Winnipeg -- but would retain bragging rights for trying this gambit first.


Winnipeg's decline began when  the Panama Canal opened in 1914.


Winnipeg's decline began when the Panama Canal opened in 1914.

3. Winnipeg takes the field

After a prolonged period of dormancy, the Winnipeg-B.C. rivalry suddenly sprang back to life in the form of the 76th Grey Cup, on Nov. 27, 1988.

Playing at Ottawa's Lansdowne Park, receiver James Murphy scored a touchdown and Trevor Kennerd kicked four field goals as the Winnipeg Blue Bombers edged out a favoured Lions squad for a 22-21 victory.

Some B.C. fans still consider this game a cause for revenge.


4. Vancouver comes from behind

In what easily ranks among the most bitter memories for Winnipeg sports fans, the Vancouver Canucks eliminated the original Winnipeg Jets from the Stanley Cup playoffs on April 30, 1992.

At one point in the Smythe Division semi-final series between the two NHL clubs, Winnipeg was up three games to one. But the Canucks regrouped and won three games in a row, including a humiliating 5-0 drubbing in the seventh and final games of the series.

If there was a goat that night, it was everyone on the Jets.




5. Another chapter

When the Winnipeg Blue Bombers take the field Sunday, the club will set a CFL record by playing in a record 24 Grey Cups. But Winnipeg has a losing record at the championship level, as the Bombers have won 10 Grey Cups but lost 13.

B.C. has only won five cups, but the Vancouver club hasn't been in existence as long. It also has a winning Grey Cup record of five wins and four losses.

The Bombers hope to come closer to .500 as they attempt to end a streak no Winnipeg football fan needs to be reminded about: 21 years without a Grey Cup, the longest drought in CFL history.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 26, 2011 A6

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