By Carlos Verde
Take a good, long look around, Ottawa sports fan.
Never before has this city enjoyed such a rich combination of exciting professional teams, superb amateur teams and quality recreational opportunities.
The national capital’s professional teams are thriving. The NHL’s Senators are fresh off a conference-final appearance; the CFL’s defending Grey Cup champion Redblacks have reinvigorated Ottawa’s football scene; the USL’s Ottawa Fury FC have survived initial attendance woes and a league change to become a legitimate pro soccer team; the Can-Am League’s Ottawa Champions have brought baseball back — successfully this time, as opposed to their short-lived predecessors.
At the amateur level, varsity teams at the University of Ottawa (women’s rugby) and Carleton (men’s basketball) are regularly amongst the best in the country. The latter’s domination of the national championship — seven straight, 13 of the last 15 — is truly remarkable.
Recreationally, Ottawa boasts an incredible variety of mainstream and niche sporting opportunities. For example, the Ottawa-Carleton Ultimate Association is one of largest ultimate frisbee leagues in the world, and the River Runners kayak and canoe club recently celebrated the construction of a handsome new clubhouse along the Ottawa River tailrace, just a few paddle strokes from Parliament Hill.
Given today’s positive trend, some earlier down years — the departure of pro baseball (twice), pro football (twice), a failed lacrosse team (the short-lived Rebel), etc. — now seem like a distant memory.
But those scars still run deep.
A local owner has failed to come forward in the three years of the Champions existence, naturally spawning questions about the longevity of the franchise — even after the team won a league title; the Sens’ decision to slash the number of seats at the Canadian Tire Centre in response to low demand for season’s tickets has raised eyebrows around town; and a significant number of Ottawa residents were initially skeptical in 2014 about the co-existence of two new summer sports teams — the Redblacks and Fury — at Lansdowne.
In sharp contrast to the fates of some previous Ottawa sports teams, however, nobody has left. No owner has come in with talk and failed to back it up. No franchise has been a one-and-done, à la the Ottawa Rapids (2008, baseball) or Capital City FC (2011, soccer). No team has had to install a hot tub at the Civic Centre in a desperation move to try to draw fans (again, lacrosse’s erstwhile Rebel club).
Amongst the university ranks, the return of the Carleton football team has reignited the cross-town rivalry between the Ravens and Gee-Gees. The rekindling of the Panda game has created a can’t-miss spectacle every fall that has become the event in Canadian university sports.
The capital’s one-million-plus population and multicultural makeup have created fertile ground in the recreational sphere; popular sports like hockey, soccer, softball and touch/flag football have leagues of all levels and sizes, while niche activities such as table tennis, water polo and handball are also thriving at community centres.
A decade or so ago, Ottawa watched its professional baseball team (the Lynx) leave town soon after losing its second pro football team, the Renegades. Carleton’s football team had been dormant by then for over a decade.
Today, the city has four robust pro franchises, university football has returned stronger than anyone could have envisioned and our city is a prime place for recreational sports.
So, whether as fans, recreational participants or journalists, after the frustrations of all those game-less summer nights of the past, it’s time to revel in this golden era in Ottawa sports.