Garbage Bowl kicks
off Montreal West’s 100th
By Stephen McDougall
This year’s Montreal West Garbage Bowl
game not only kicked off the year for Montreal as it always does New Year’s
Day, but it kicked off this town’s 100th birthday.
The renowned Garbage Bowl drew over 250 supporters despite the minus 30 degree
temperature and the icy field and gave the Southern Bombers a 25 to 8 win
over the Northern Combines (their 26th win versus the north’s 17 victories).
“That kick-off was not only for the game, but for our centennial year,” said
Mayor John Simms. “It was Jan. 9, 1897, when the fathers, and mothers,
of this community signed the papers to become a town.”
Although Mr. Simms was not there for that signing, he has been attending the
Garbage Bowl each New Year’s Day since it started in 1949. “I saw
the game when people like Lloyd Johnson, Sam Etchevary, Ted Coulter and Johnny
Newman played here. When the event was floundering in the 1950s, I went to
town hall to encourage the organizers to go on.”
A long-standing member of the Montreal West Rotary Club, Mr. Simms and other
Rotarians have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars raised by the Garbage
Bowl for local charities.
He also knows what the event does for the town’s morale. “People
come here from NDG and the Lakeshore to see the game. Some young residents
I met said they flew back from out west to see it.”
Riviere des Prairies resident Jessica Egiziano decided she wanted to see if
it was true grown males played football in the snow.
“This is strange,” she said after her boyfriend described it to her. “I
asked him if he was sure the game was played New Year’s Day. It was worth
the trip to see it.”
It all started 48 years ago when some young football aficionados found a cure
for New Year’s Day hangovers:
play some football in the snow.
At least, that is what Garbage Bowl veteran Bill Spears would have you believe. “Some
guys were fooling around, and one group challenged another to play out in the
snow and the cold,” said Mr. Spears New Year’s Day, as he held
a cup of coffee with a “wee dram” in it. “After the game,
they found they no longer had a hangover from their New Year’s Eve parties.”
But Mayor Simms takes that story with a grain of salt. “I think the players
had planned this game a few weeks before their parties,” he said. “But
I grant you, it is a good hangover cure.”
Since its start, it has become a traditional grudge match between people living
north and people living south of the CP train tracks in Montreal West.
Garbage Bowl Association president Donna Stafford said playing football in
the snow is what attracts such a devoted following. “The main thing is
the entertainment factor.”
Watching the game, it was hard to tell whether the players were tackling each
other or hanging on to each other to keep standing up.
The ground was that icy.
Actually blocking an opposing player became a horrendous task. A player no
sooner bumped another with his arms than saw his legs slip out from under him
and down he went. The only saving grace was the opposing player also went down
because of the ice.
“This is my last year,” said Northern Combines tight-end Eddie Smith. “I’ve
been at this for 10 years. I’ve had two heart attacks, but I’ve also
loved these games:’
First-year bowl player and newly-arrived Montreal West resident Charles Gagnon
got involved in the bowl after organizers spotted him in his football jacket
at a local curling match.
“I’ve been playing the game seven years through high school and college.
So they asked me if I wanted to keep on playing,” said the former Sherbrooke,
Que., resident before the game started. “But I can see this game is going
to be bad. Look at that ice.”
For some in the audience, the event is a tradition that has kept them coming
Montreal West resident Helen Clair Ross donned her father’s 1914 leather
football helmet and a fur coat to cheer on the players.
“I came to the first bowl game when I was four:’ she said. “That
was when my father would play in the game. I’m now on the bowl committee.
It becomes a part of you.”
What makes the game that much more valuable for residents is the money raised
for charity. This year, the expected total was about
And Donna Stafford argued little goes to waste. “This is a hands-on charity.
Everyone who helps out does it voluntarily, no one gets paid. The money goes
directly to the charity,” she said as the ga me began.
Most of the money raised will go to children’s charities. Those include
the St. Justine’s Children’s Hospital in Côte des Neiges,
the Montreal Children’s Hospital near Westmount, the MacKay Centre in
NDG, and the Children’s Wish Foundation, the Starlight Foundation and
the Lamp- lighters.