Green & Gold Forever:  The Origin of the Eskimos' Team Colours

 

Most football fans today can tell you that the Eskimos' uniforms are green & gold, and have been ever since 1949, the year they "rejoined" the league.  However, a lot of people are under the mistaken impression that the Eskimos have only been around since 1949.  Most have forgotten that the team has existed in one form or another since 1911.

 

Prior to 1949, the various incarnations of Eskimo teams wore blue & white uniforms.  So where did the green & gold come from?  Well, people that are somewhat in the know will tell you they "adopted" the colours of the University of Alberta's teams by borrowing uniforms in 1949 when they were setting up shop to join the WIFU.  This is true to a point.  Dr. Maury Van Vliet, then-Director of the Physical Education department at the U of A "loaned" the team their uniforms, which the Eskimos later went on to purchase in time for the 1949 opening day.

 

But what most don't know is the origin of the green & gold in the first place.

 

 

As noted Edmonton historian Tony Cashman writes in his book "The Best Edmonton Stories", the University of Alberta was chartered in 1908, but not without a good deal of opposition.  Some were vehemently opposed to it for one reason or another.  Others, like the Calgary Herald, were opposed to "merely provincial universities" in general, arguing that "...provincial universities would be so academically puny that a degree from one of them would mean very little."  Their preference was for a regional university to serve the four Western provinces, centrally located on a transcontinental railroad.  In other words, a not-so-subtle way of saying it ought to be located in Cowtown.

 

However, the first premier of Alberta, the Honourable Alexander Rutherford had already decided it was going to be in Strathcona.  He had already purchased a lot in the Garneau district of the City of Strahcona (now old Strathcona on Edmonton's south side) for a campus.

 

In those days, the "university" men in Alberta were divided into two camps: the McGill men and the Toronto men.  Rutherford, being a McGill man, was not about to entrust the new institution to anything other than a McGill man, and that's what he got.

 

He hired Dr. H.M. Tory as head of the new university in January, 1908, who immediately set about hiring academics from older, more established institutions.  One, Dr. Will Alexander, was enticed away from University of Western Ontario at more than double his salary there.  He arrived that fall, along with his wife, to begin the task of "turning out Alberta men".  It would be three long years before they turned out any.

 

In these early years, the surrounding area was a favourite strolling area for Dr. Alexander and his wife Marion and their friends.  Apparently on the very first such walk, having come to the top of a hill overlooking the river valley with its poplars resplendent in their golden leaves in sharp contrast to the evergreens, Marion decided then and there -- quite literally at a glance -- that evergreen and gold would be the colours of the university.

 

She went to Johnstone Walker's and after an hour searching through the ribbon counter, "...one of the longest and most prestigious counters in the stores of that era", finally found two ribbons which represented exactly what she had seen on her walk.  The university Senate would quickly voice its approval, and made the colours official.

 

The first building on campus, Athabasca Hall opened in the fall of 1912.  From there, expansion of an Arts building, complete with two wings and a convocation hall was added.  By the summer of 1915 it appeared it would be finished in time for that fall's opening.  However, with the Great War raging in Europe, and the economy having flattened out from the boom years of the first decade of the century, there was no money left to complete the roof.

 

In any case, to make a long story short, the money was found, the roof was completed, and when the students returned that fall, the whole campus – to say nothing of the surrounding countryside and river valley – was decked out in the evergreen and gold that Marion Alexander had chosen.

 

Make that Green & Gold forever!

 

 

 

 

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