Quebec football has been an absolute powerhouse in the last several years because of a mandatory vocational college system and financial backing by the province’s athletic excellence foundation. Despite strong support from its CFL teams, Alberta’s lack of pre-university programs and government funding has seen Alberta football on the losing side of several championships.
If you follow Canadian football at any level you may have noticed a trend, Quebec is impressively good at football. Since 2010, the province has been represented in the Vanier Cup seven times, and out of those seven times, Laval University has represented the province five of those times, going 4-1 — their only loss was in double overtime to McMaster.
“I know the last two times we played them it wasn’t even close, they blew us out by a lot” University of Calgary’s football head coach Wayne Harris on playing Laval in the Vanier cup.
Quebec has also completely dominated the Football Canada Cup, a pre-university tournament that showcases the top talent under 18 football players from each province. Since 2010, Quebec has won the Canada Cup five times. The two times they didn't win they placed second in 2010, and third in 2014.
There are two main reasons for the province’s continued dominance in the sport of football.
First, the CEGEP program in Quebec has been instrumental to the development of Quebec football players. What's the CEGEP? It’s a pre-university program, taken immediately after high school, that is two to three years in length.
In addition to being necessary to attend a postsecondary institution in Quebec, CEGEP also has a pre-university sports league known as the Quebec Student Sports Federation. It boasts three football divisions, with 26 teams. That means, by the time Quebec players get to university, they are older, more mature and more experienced.
Jonathan Colin, the coordinator of the bursary program at the FAEQ who also played football at McGill says, “The CEGEP program is a strong contributor to how good theQuebec conference is in football.”
Ron Hilaire defensive coordinator at McGill University agrees, adding that “the CEGEP is high level competition football. We get freshman guys coming in at 20 years old instead of 17 or 18. Guys who have already played at the level for two or three years... They're getting good coaching from that level and it’s allowing them to grow.”
The second part to Quebec’s football supremacy is the Quebec Foundation for Athletic Excellence and its partnership with the Montreal Alouettes and Football Quebec. The main focus of the foundation is to try and support athletes as soon talent emerges, whether that be at the regional level or at the provincial level.
Here's how it works: each year, Football Quebec will present their best candidates to the foundation. A selection committee will then choose individuals from that list of more than 200 names to receiving funding from the Alouettes. The lucky few will be supported for at least one year, with $500 to $1,500 being provided to develop their athletic potential.
The Quebec Foundation for Athletic Excellence and the Alouettes give out one bursary to one player at each university and college in the province. Last year the partnership handed out $34,250.
Athletes in Quebec have been benefiting from the foundation for over 30 years, as they give out $1.2 million to over 450 athletes from 60 different sports every a year.
Hilaire says,”Getting bursaries like that from the [Quebec Foundation for Athletic Excellence] and the Alouettes definitely helps the young guys focus a bit more on their studies and not have to get a 30 hour a week job.”
Back here at home, the Calgary Stampeders are heavily involved with the community at every level of football. Through the Stampeders Foundation, nearly $300,000 was donated by the team to amateur football in 2016 including the junior programs like the Calgary Colts, the University of Calgary Dinosaurs and high school teams. That amount includes a donation to KidSport, whose mandate is to help kids get into sports, including football.
The Stampeders also present the Stan Schwartz Heart of a Champion Award each year to three grade 12 students one for each division. Each winner also receives a $500 scholarship towards a post-secondary educational program.
The result of that support has seen Alberta football on the rise. Since 2010, Alberta was represented in the finals of the Canada Cup three years in a row from 2010-2012, only to lose to Quebec.
But, while, the University of Calgary Dinos have represented Canada West (CWUAA) three times in the Vanier Cup, they sadly lost to Quebec’s Laval at each attempt.
The commonality is that Alberta has been on the losing end of championship games.
University of Calgary Dinos head Coach, Wayne Harris says Quebec schools are attractive to athletes because of the affordability.
“The educational funding in Quebec is so much less expensive, than it is here in Western Canada. There are so many advantages and that's why so many CEGEP players want to stay in Quebec because it’s such a cost-effective program.”
Harris says playing teams like Laval set the tone for success, “We haven't been able to finish, against them. It’s one of the few programs out there, that we haven't been able to do that, but each year we're getting closer... You're always trying to teach guys to get to the top, and playing guys like that on Laval and the top programs in the country on a regular basis always makes you better.”
At the CFL’s 2015 and 2016 drafts, Calgary and Laval had the most top prospects with 13 players, most of whom were selected in the first or second round.
Jean Charles Meffe the general manager of Football Quebec says his organization is the building blocks for successful French-Canadian football players.
“Knowing that the more Quebec players we have in the North American university system, the better chance we have Quebec players making it to the CFL and NFL.”
- By Peter Brand