Grey Cup touches down in Esquimalt

Grey Cup touches down in Esquimalt

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer ~

One of Canada’s most famous sports trophies is making a two-day port call at CFB Esquimalt this week.

The Grey Cup, the championship trophy of the Canadian Football League (CFL), will be on display at various locations Oct. 2 and 3.

The cup’s visit is sponsored by the CFL, the Canadian Football League Hall of Fame and Canada Company, a national non-profit that provides post secondary scholarships to the children of military members that died on duty or by suicide attributed to military service.

After making a brief stop at the Base Commander’s Office, the 109-year-old trophy will be available for viewing between 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 and 3 p.m. at the Naden Drill Shed on Oct. 2. On Oct. 3 the trophy will be on display at the Dockyard Gym between 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. Then it will cross Esquimalt Harbour to Colwood to the Fleet Diving Unit (Pacific) Mess for a noon to 1:30 p.m. showing. Then after another appearance at 443 Maritime Helicopter Squadron, the Cup will be transferred to CFB Comox.

The Grey Cup was commissioned in 1909 by Canada’s Governor General Earl Gray and donated as a championship trophy contested between four regional Rugby Football Union leagues. It has the names of all 105 champions engraved on its base, with the University of Toronto Varsity Blues as the first and the Toronto Argonauts as the latest.

This year’s Grey Cup will take place Nov. 25 at Edmonton’s Commonwealth Stadium.

The last time the Grey Cup visited CFB Esquimalt it was in celebration of the B.C. Lions’ 2011 Grey Cup victory over the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Vancouver businessman and Canada Company member Daniel Whittle, a former Clearance Diver with the Naval Reserves during the 1980s, helped organize this year’s visit.

Whittle is owner of the Sealord Capital Corporation and is a member of The Waterboys, a volunteer group of B.C. businessmen that help promote the Lions in the community. He says the Cup’s latest stop at Vancouver Island military installations is meant to coincide with the B.C. Lions Military Valour Halftime show at their Oct. 19 game versus the Edmonton Eskimos. 

“The CFL and the Football Hall of Fame wanted to show its appreciation for the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces by bringing the Cup to CFB Esquimalt and CFB Comox,” said Whittle. “I also wanted to make sure the sailors of the diving unit weren’t forgotten when we came, and the Cup made it across the harbour to Colwood.”

Handle With Care

Fans are encouraged to come out and view the Grey Cup and have their pictures taken with it, but there will be absolutely no touching of the trophy’s cherished sterling silver chalice.

Protecting the Cup is a serious responsibility for the football hall of fame and for Jeff McWhinney, a Delta Airlines employee based out of Winnipeg. He is one of two volunteers known as “Keeper of The Cup” that wears white gloves whenever handling it.

McWhinney, whose father Glenn ‘Keeper’ McWhinney helped the Edmonton Eskimos win a Grey Cup in 1954, spends his spare time travelling with the Grey Cup keeping it from harm’s way at promotional events across the country, and has attended several Grey Cups.

That’s for good reason because the cherished mug has been dented, dropped, stolen and crushed, with most of the acts of abuse coming from the players and not the fans. The Edmonton Eskimos broke the trophy on two separate occasions with one player sitting on the trophy in 1987 and another delivering a damaging head butt in 1993. In 2006 a B.C. Lions Offensive Linesman raised the trophy over his head in celebration of winning the championship game and the Grey Cup fell into two pieces.

Football for the Fleet

McWhinney is excited to pay a visit to the military bases this week because he knows how much of a debt Canadians owe to Canada’s military.

“Bringing the Cup to Vancouver Island is our way of honouring today’s men and women in the Canadian Armed Forces and letting them know that the freedoms we enjoy in our country today are due to the sacrifices made by their brothers and sisters, many of whom are former players and lost their lives as members of Canada’s military.”.

Several CFL cities are the namesakes of no fewer than six ships of the Pacific Fleet, with HMCS Vancouver, HMCS Regina, HMCS Calgary, HMCS Winnipeg, HMCS Ottawa and HMCS Edmonton all share a strong sense of pride and connection to their respective professional gridiron gladiators.

Regina Executive Officer, Lieutenant-Commander Brian Henwood says his warship enjoys a robust connection to the City of Regina and the Saskatchewan Roughriders.

“There is high level of interest in the Roughriders which is reflected by the significant number of Riders items located throughout HMCS Regina,” said LCdr Henwood.

Some of those items include a 2013 Taj Smith Grey Cup helmet and game ball, and a Riders flag donated to the team by a group of school children from Regina. Last year the Roughriders filmed a video on board Regina with team mascot Gainer the Gopher.

The crew also visits their namesake city in Saskatchewan each year and a big part of that tradition is to visit Taylor Field for a Roughriders game. Twelve crew members of Regina visited Regina Sept. 12 to 16 and attended the Riders game against the Ottawa Red Blacks.

In a sad twist of irony, Regina and its crew won’t have an opportunity to get a visit with the cup this time as they will be busy performing trials in preparation for a future deployment.

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