TORONTO — November is a special time for Canadians – a time of remembrance, followed by a time of celebration. We begin the month honouring the Veterans of Canada’s armed forces, including the young men and women who paid the ultimate price, in defence of our freedoms. And we finish it by indulging in the national celebration that is the Grey Cup game, a treasure that binds east to west, and one Canadian to another. But Canada’s military and football traditions are bound by more than the calendar. They are joined by history: a proud heritage that includes gridiron heroes who also displayed their courage on an infinitely more important stage: the battlefield.
Photo – Courtesy of Canadian Football Hall of FameThe Grey Cup, from 1942 to 1944, was contested exclusively by service teams including the 1944 Grey Cup Champions, Navy Combine – H.M.C. Signal School / H.M.C.S. Donacona.
After helping the Winnipeg Blue Bombers win the Grey Cup in 1935 and 1939, Jeff Nicklin served in the Second World War with the First Canadian Parachute Battalion, where he was wounded jumping into Normandy on D-Day. Later, while commanding the Battalion, Lieutenant-Colonel Nicklin was killed during the Battle of the Rhine. The award for the most outstanding player in the CFL’s Western Division, the Jeff Nicklin Memorial Trophy, still bears his name.
Like Nicklin, a number of other football players chose to serve their country after the Western Interprovincial Football Union and Interprovincial Rugby Football Union suspended operations because of the Second World War.
Canadian football players continue to serve our country. Former CFL receiver Nigel Williams spent time as a radio operator for Canadian battle group commander Lieutenant-Colonel Ian Hope during a 2006 tour in Afghanistan while another former player, Jason Kralt, served as a Sergeant in the Canadian Forces as a member of the Governor General’s Foot Guards, including a tour as part of a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Croatia in the mid-1990s. Williams and Kralt joined RCMP members in escorting the Grey Cup to the podium for the presentation to the BC Lions at the 2006 Grey Cup celebration in Winnipeg.
These individuals, and countless others like them, make us proud to honour our Veterans. We remember all of the men and women who defended our way of life, who made every freedom we enjoy today, including the Grey Cup itself, possible.