The Northern Football Conference (NFC) was formed in 1954 as the Northern Ontario Rugby Football Union (NORFU). Its purpose, then as it is now, is to provide an opportunity for athletes over the age of 19 to play football beyond the high school level. Over 6700 players have availed themselves of the opportunity to play in the over 900 scheduled NFC games. Many players have gone on to star in University/College and Professional football. Likewise, many star University/College players have chosen to continue playing competitive football in the NFC. NFC football is played at a very high caliber and is very entertaining and exciting brand of play.
The newly formed league began playing in 1954 with four teams participating: Kirkland Lake Alouettes, North Bay Roughriders, Sudbury Hardrocks and Tri-Town (Cobalt, Haileybury, New Liskeard) Raiders, and has operated annually with as many as eleven teams and as few as three teams since that time.
In the intervening years other teams, communities and clubs have entered and departed the league. In total there have been thirty teams representing 19 communities and 1 team representing Laurentian University. The former membership includes: Sturgeon Falls Bombers, Rouyn-Noranda Fantassins, North Renfrew Rams, North Bay Ti-Cats, Val D'Or Jets, Timmins Falcons, Kirkland Lake Kougars, Sault Ste. Marie Steelers, Laurentian University Voyageurs, Bramalea Satellites, Orillia Silver Bombers, Etobicoke Argonauts, Stoney Creek Patriots, North Bay Northmen, Hamilton Wildcats, Brampton Bears, Brampton Bulldogs, Scarborough Crimson Tide, Hamilton Wild Cats, Toronto Eagles, Peterborough Packers and Mississauga Wolverines.
The current league is composed of eleven teams centred in Belleville, Toronto (Maddogs and Raiders), Milton, North Bay, Oakville, Oshawa, Sault Ste. Marie, Sudbury, Tri City (Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge) and Sarnia.
The league continues to have a Northern Ontario flavour as befits it name, but it is now a province-wide senior amateur football group that has a very storied history.
Competitive football was introduced into Northern Ontario in 1923 when the high schools in northern communities began to play. Later, exhibition games between graduates of the high school competitions and the high school teams were staged to allow the high school graduates an opportunity to play the game they loved one more time. In the years prior to World War II inter-community exhibition games, or "intermediate caliber" games, were played between the graduates of high school teams. The exhibition games involving high school graduates ceased during the war years.
During the early years of the 1950s High school football players, upon their graduation, began looking for an opportunity to continue to play intermediate football in their own communities. Newspaper accounts show that in 1950 interested players in Kirkland Lake played exhibition games against their counterparts in the Tri-towns (Cobalt, Haileybury, New Liskeard) area. In 1951 the Kirkland Lake Youth Club football team was formed and continued to stage exhibition games. This Club would later become the Kirkland Lake Alouettes. The Tri-town team would later become the Tri-town Raiders. At a meeting in June 1952 at the Red Cross Centre in Sudbury, the Sudbury Amateur Football Club was formed. The club organized exhibition games against neighbouring communities through the fall of 1952 and 1953. This Club would later become the Sudbury Hardrocks. In 1953 a group of players from North Bay formed to compete in these exhibition football games. This group would later become the North Bay Roughriders.
During the 1953 home and home series of exhibition games between Sudbury and North Bay, Britt Jessop, a prominent North Bay sportsman, felt that if these players were willing to play "outlaw" games they were deserving of an organized league. He sent telegrams to delegates of the northern community football clubs to invite them to a meeting in North Bay in the spring of 1954. The delegates met at the North Bay City Hall and created an organized league for competitions and named it the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union. This newly formed Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union petitioned the Canadian Rugby Union for the privilege of operating a "recognized" Northern Ontario league. The league was granted admission and affiliated with the intermediate class of the Canadian Rugby Union and granted a league logo.
Bill Plaunt, a Sudbury, sportsman and businessman, donated the Donald Plaunt Memorial Trophy to the league to be competed for as the league championship trophy. The trophy was donated in memory of Bill's brother Donald, who was killed in action during World War II. Henry Kangro, an outstanding player in the "outlaw" and early years of the league, donated the August Kangro Memorial Trophy for the league's leading scorer. The trophy was donated in memory of Henry's older brother August, who was killed in action during the Korean War (1950-1953).
The early years of the Northern Ontario Rugby Football Union were exceedingly grim as the clubs had to struggle to survive. They had to finance equipment purchases and seasonal operating costs and establish the league as a viable form of entertainment to the northern sports fan.
To overcome the financial struggles most clubs turned to the high schools and the professional teams at the time for old equipment, and, prominent sportsmen, local merchants and fund raising ventures for financial support.
The league and intermediate football also had to be sold to the communities as a spectator sport and this was accomplished by the manner in which the clubs staged intermediate football games. The ensuing media coverage and the institution of an in-depth statistical records package, in 1959, allowed the local sports fan to follow the exploits of the players competing in the league. The league also instituted league awards to recognize outstanding play. In 1958 the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union instituted the Most Valuable Player award, in 1960 the Lineman of the Year award, and, in 1963 it instituted the Leo Troy Trophy, named in honour of long time executive and league supporter Leo Troy, for the Rookie of the Year award. All of these awards were voted upon by the players and the coaches. The packaging of the games, the media coverage and the recognition of outstanding play through league awards allowed the league to be embraced by the northern communities as exciting entertainment.
The league began with four teams: Sudbury Hardrocks, North Bay Roughriders, Kirkland Lake Alouettes and the Tri-Town Raiders. During the ensuing decade the league had expanded by three teams but by 1963 only Sudbury Hardrocks, North Bay Roughriders (renamed Ti-Cats), Kirkland Lake Alouettes and Sturgeon Falls Bombers, who entered in 1955, remained. The Tri-Town team for two years then took a three-year leave of absence before returning for one more season, whereas, the Rouyn-Noranda Fantassins participated for a three-year period then took a three-year leave of absence before returning for another two years. The other team to join the league was the North Renfrew Rams who participated for only one season in 1956.
Perhaps not so ironically, the teams that completed the first decade where also the most competitive teams on the field. The Sudbury Hardrocks captured the Plaunt Memorial Trophy five times, the Sturgeon Falls Bombers captured it on three consecutive occasions and the North Bay Ti-Cats captured it once. The exception to the pattern was the North Renfrew Rams who won a championship in their only year in the league.
Beginning in 1955 the N.O.R.F.U. champion went on to compete for the Ontario Intermediate championship. The teams from the south won all the first nine contests but the games became very close as the decade wore on.
By the time of the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union's tenth season, in 1963, the league had resolved its early financial struggles and established itself as a "major" sport in many northern communities.
The growth of the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union continued over the next nine years but the league saw many changes. In 1967 the Northern Ontario Rugby-Football Union changed its name to the Northern Football Conference. The name change was to coincide with the year in which the parent Canadian Rugby Union renamed itself to the Canadian Football League and designed to follow the lead established by the professional leagues a few years earlier. Along with the new name came a new league logo.
The number of members in the league remained relatively stable during this period but there was much change among the membership. Sudbury, North Bay and Kirkland Lake remained constant throughout most of this period although the Sudbury team renamed itself the Spartans in 1967 to coincide with the league's name change and the Kirkland Lake team changed its name to Kougars in 1968 before folding after the 1971 season. Sturgeon Falls Bombers were forced to take a leave of absence following the 1963 season but returned for four more seasons before ultimately folding in 1968. The Rouyn-Noranda club returned for one more season of play in 1965 but ceased operations thereafter. There were a number of new teams entering the league during this period. Val D'Or, another western Quebec community, entered a team in the league in 1965 and remained until 1970 but took a leave of absence in 1969. Timmins Falcons entered in 1966 and remained until 1971 but took a leave of absence for the 1970 season. The 1972 season saw two new entrants to the Northern Football Conference. Sault Ste. Marie Steelers, which took over the Timmins operation and Laurentian University, which purchased much of the Kirkland Lake assets and needed a place to compete after leaving the O.U.A.A. Both commenced operation in 1972.
Despite all the changes in teams during this time the dominant teams remained the more stable clubs. Sudbury captured five Plaunt Memorial Trophies and North Bay won three. The only other team to win a Conference title during this period was the first year Sault Ste. Marie Steelers in 1972.
Other changes saw the Clubs progressing to competition at the senior level, dating from 1966. Northern Football Conference teams fared very well in the senior competition twice reaching the Canadian Finals in the last years of the 1960s. By 1970 only two senior leagues remained in contention for the national title of Canada, the Northern Football Conference and the Ontario Rugby-Football Union, later the Ontario Football Conference. The two league champions faced each other on three occasions in the early 1970s. The only title earned by an N.F.C. unit was the Sault Ste. Marie Steelers 26-7 victory over the London Lords for the Ontario Senior title in 1972.
In terms of recognition in the community the league began naming an all-Conference team and a Coach of the Year in 1971. Like all other awards, the Coaches and Players also selected these.
With the commencement of the 1973 season, the leagues twentieth anniversary, the Northern Football Conference had become the only remaining senior football league in Canada. The remaining senior teams in the Province of Ontario, the Bramalea Satellites and the London Lords applied for admission to the northern league and were welcomed but the London team never participated in the league. With the addition of the southern team and no other senior leagues in Ontario the Northern Football Conference became a province wide league and its champions were recognized as Ontario Provincial Champions.
Despite the growth in the first twenty years the league experienced rough times following its anniversary. With the folding of the Laurentian University team after the 1973 season and the Bramalea Satellites withdrawing to compete at the Ontario junior level after the 1974 season the Northern Football Conference had declined to three teams for the 1975 season, Sudbury Spartans, North Bay Ti-Cats and Sault Ste. Marie Steelers. Interest in competing at the senior level appeared to be waning in Ontario. The league decided to attempt innovations to encourage new clubs to join the league. The innovations included adopting a summer schedule for the 1976 season and playing with four downs rather than the traditional three downs. The summer schedule was accepted because it is more suited to weather conditions in northern communities and it would allow University players an opportunity to further hone their skills during their summer holidays by competing in the Northern Football Conference. The change to four downs was accepted because of the adoption of this rule by many of the high school leagues in Ontario.
The innovations proved a boon as the Orillia Silver Bombers joined the league commencing in 1976 making the league a solid four-team league. With some newfound stability, many applications for league expansion began to appear.
The league championship had new meaning during this five-year period as it was also recognized as the Ontario Provincial championship. The Bramalea Satellites captured back to back crowns in their only two years in the league (1973-1974) and the Sault Ste. Marie Steelers returned to league prominence by capturing back to back championships (1975-1976) as well. Sudbury added its eleventh title to its illustrious list of accomplishments when the Spartans captured the championship in 1977.
Nineteen seventy-eight marked the 25th Anniversary of the Northern Football Conference. To commemorate the occasion the NFC revitalized their league logo. The Northern Football Conference looked forward to a prosperous future but all would not be well.
The league quickly expanded to a high of seven teams by the 25th Anniversary year of 1978 by adding three new teams, the Etobicoke Argonauts, the Oakville Longhorns and the Stoney Creek Patriots. Etobicoke lasted only one season as they withdrew to compete in the Ontario junior league for the 1979 season and set the tone for the many changes over the next few years in the Northern Football Conference. The 1980 season saw the Orillia team cease operations and the North Bay team change its name to the Northmen who then ceased operations after the 1982 season. The 1982 season also saw the Stoney Creek Patriots move to Hamilton and become the Wildcats. There was some expansion as the Brampton Bears under the tutelage of Rick Morenz entered the loop in 1985. By its 35th Anniversary, 1988, the Sault Ste Marie Steelers folded before the start of the season and the league had again declined to three teams, Sudbury Spartans, Oakville Longhorns and Brampton Bears. The addition of the Brampton Bulldogs in 1989 and their subsequent move to North Bay for the 1991 season stabilized the league somewhat.
Despite the concern in some quarters that the southern teams would dominate the league the Plaunt Memorial Championship Trophy bounced back and forth between northern and southern teams during the 14-year period. Stoney Creek Patriots and Oakville Longhorns each captured three titles and the Brampton Bears captured one championship for southern teams while Sudbury captured six more titles, including four in a row, and Sault Ste. Marie Steelers captured one title for northern teams. The Plaunt Memorial Trophy traveled between north and south equally proving no one region of Ontario could dominate senior football.
The Northern Football Conference also instituted new awards and expanded the all-Conference team to include Special Teams performances. The new awards recognized Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year in 1981 and in order to enhance the excitement of the Championship Game the league awarded Championship Game Most Valuable Player recognition in 1982. Also, commencing in 1985 the Northern Football Conference formed a Hall of Fame to recognize players of outstanding merit over a period of years, as well as honouring coaches, officials as well as club and league administrators whose contributions to the league over a period of time was seen as being of a consistently high level.
On the eve of the Conference's 40th Anniversary, member clubs of the province's lone intermediate caliber league, the Central Ontario Football League, approached the Northern Football Conference to merge leagues. After considerable negotiations the intermediate league disbanded and two of its members, the North York Eagles, who entered as the Toronto Eagles and the Scarborough Crimson Tide, joined the Northern Football Conference thus stabilizing the Conference at six members. The stability was only slightly damaged as Scarborough ceased operations after the 1994 season but was replaced by the Hamilton Wild Cats, who had competed in the American Football Association, in 1995.
By 1995 the Northern Football Conference established itself as a very strong and vibrant football league. At the end of the year the Ontario Amateur Football community recognized Sid Forster, long time administrator and coach with the Sudbury Spartans as Builder of the Year, Tony Molnar, long time coach with the Oakville Longhorns, as Coach of the Year, and Jack Leitch, Conference Referee-in-Chief, as Official of the Year. The recognition of the talent that works for the Northern Football Conference and the reputation that the league has established as a leader in community football programs had placed the Northern Football Conference at the forefront of amateur football in Ontario.
The euphoria of the 1995 season was short lived. The Brampton Bears withdrew from the league before the 1996 season to compete in the newly formed midget developmental league but were replaced by the Sault Ste. Marie Storm, who had competed in the Ontario Junior Football Conference. The North Bay Bulldogs took a leave of absence from the league for the 1996 season and the Hamilton Wild Cats ceased operations after the second week of the season leaving the Northern Football Conference with four teams for the 1996 season. Only one year after the memorable 1995 season the league and senior football was seen to be struggling.
As always the Northern Football Conference rebounded. The 1997 season saw the Conference returned to six teams with return of the Peterborough Packers and the entrance, yet mysterious departure of the North Bay Bulldogs. Add this and many other centres had expressed interest in participating in senior football. The league was looking forward again!
The N.F.C. went from the six teams back to four. The 1999 campaign had the Peterborough Packers cease operations before the season with no replacement yet found, the Packers left to compete in the New York State Empire League.
Despite the chaos of the 1990s in the Northern Football Conference one team has set the standard of play. The Oakville Longhorns have held the Plaunt Memorial Trophy Championship since 1993. The Longhorns, and other league teams, have also dominated play in inter-conference games against American minor league teams proving that the play of the Northern Football Conference is very high.
In 2000 the NFC joined forces with the Alberta Football League for a National Championship from Canadian Senior Football League (changed to Canadian Major Football League in 2003). The Oakville Longhorns have represented the NFC for this championship and have emerged winners all three times. With the National Championship Site alternating every year, the NFC had the honour in 2005 to host the championship at Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton.
In January of 2006, at the League Annual General Meeting in Sudbury, the Sarnia Imperials were welcomed to the fold. The Imperials have a rich football tradition in the Sarnia area that includes winning the Grey Cup in its early days in 1933.
In early May of 2007, the Sudbury Spartans coach and players decided that there was not enough players to play the 2007 season. So the Spartans took a leave of absence. This is the first time in 36 years that the team from Sudbury will not take to the field. The first being 1961.
The Northern Football Conference will enter 2007 still with a strong field of 10 teams; the Milton Marauders, North Bay Bulldogs, Oakville Longhorns, Oshawa Hawkeyes, Quinte-Limestone Panthers, Sault Ste. Marie Steelers, Sarnia Imperials, Toronto Raiders, Toronto Maddogs and Tri City Outlaws and an exciting summer schedule. Its status is intact as the oldest senior amateur football league in Canada and a reputation as a leader for football in Ontario and Canada.
Northern Football Conference website