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The Battle of Alberta is a term applied to the intense rivalry between the Canadian cities of Edmonton, the capital of the province of Alberta, and Calgary, the province's largest city. Most often it is used to describe sporting events between the two cities, although this is not exclusive as the rivalry predates organized sports in Alberta. [1]



Edmonton was designated the provincial capital in 1905.

The rivalry between the two cities dates back to the 1880s when the Canadian Pacific Railway suddenly shifted its planned route across Western Canada from a northern one (via Edmonton) to a more southerly path (via Calgary)[2]. The next major battle between the two cities was to see which would become Alberta's capital city when the province was created in 1905. Edmonton was the eventual victor, and as well Edmonton's neighbour, Strathcona won the right to host the University of Alberta (see below). The last important battle was over economic leadership, especially in the Oilpatch. Calgary's nearby Turner Valley deposits were discovered in 1914, far before Edmonton's Leduc #1 field in 1947. This in part accounts for the dominance of corporate head offices in the city of Calgary. Edmonton is an also-ran in terms of the corporate oil sector, but with the help of government and university influence it has become the artistic and cultural hub of Alberta. Edmonton is also the research and manufacturing centre of the Canadian petroleum industry, and roughly 80% of Canada's oil production is sent to market through Edmonton's Refinery Row.

Although the rivalry is generally shown only during sporting events there is an 'unspoken' friendly rivalry between residents that remains on a subtle level.


The first professional hockey rivalry between the two cities dates to the founding of the Western Canada Hockey League in 1921. Both cities received teams, Calgary the Tigers, and Edmonton the Eskimos. The Eskimos won the WCHL title in 1923, but lost the Stanley Cup to the rival National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators. Calgary also appeared in a Stanley Cup championship series in 1924, but lost to the Montreal Canadiens of the NHL. After the demise of the WCHL in 1927, Alberta hockey fans turned to junior hockey. Both cities had teams in the Western Hockey League and Alberta Junior Hockey League.

Pro hockey did not return until the World Hockey Association arrived in 1972. Both cities received teams, but Calgary's Broncos folded without playing a game. The new Edmonton Oilers, then were left without an intra-provincial rival until a new WHA team, the Calgary Cowboys arrived in 1975, but they folded after two years. The short and sporadic nature of the Calgary WHA franchises made building meaningful rivalries more difficult. The WHA itself was unstable and merged with the NHL in 1979.


Oilers vs. Flames

Eric Godard and Matt Greene fight during a game in Calgary.

In recent years, one of the most intense and passionate expressions of this rivalry is the frequent matchups between the professional NHL hockey clubs based in each city - the Edmonton Oilers and the Calgary Flames.

The Oilers joined the NHL as one of the teams making the switch from the World Hockey Association in 1979. They were soon followed by the Atlanta Flames moving to Calgary in 1980, making the question of who would reign as the top team in Alberta a hot topic. The Flames were the dominant squad in their inaugural season, finishing with 39 wins and 92 points and making it to the conference finals. The following year the Oilers became the dominant franchise and never looked back. Wayne Gretzky was shattering NHL records (including his own), and the Oilers became the NHL's last dynasty, winning the Stanley Cup Championship in 1984, 1985, 1987, 1988, and 1990 with lineups that featured legends like Grant Fuhr, Paul Coffey, and Mark Messier. The Flames would not win the Stanley Cup until 1989, led by superstars Lanny McDonald, Doug Gilmour and Mike Vernon.

The Oilers defeated the Flames in the playoffs in 1983, 1984, 1988, and 1991, on their way to two of their five Stanley Cups. However, the Flames did get revenge; the infamous 1986 Battle of Alberta was decided by rookie Oiler defenceman Steve Smith accidentally scoring on his own goal (credited to Perry Berezan), which ignited the rivalry to a new level. The Flames were favored in the 1988 playoffs, but the Oilers swept the series and eventually went on to win the Cup. 1991 was last year the teams met in the playoffs, and it came down to the final game to decide the victor. Esa Tikkanen led the underdog Oilers to victory in overtime with his third goal of the game. It is often cited as one of the most exciting playoff series of all time.[citation needed]

Due to the sheer talent and skill exhibited by both teams in the mid to late-1980s, Alberta was considered a "Death Valley" for teams coming to play on a road trip, especially those from the Eastern conference. Even though 5 were won by the Oilers, an Albertan team won the Cup in 6 of 7 seasons between 1984 and 1990.

With the fortunes of both teams taking a slide during the 1990s, the rivalry cooled off. The passions ignited in the 1980s playoff sagas would make only brief appearances during the regular season. At this time, both franchises were facing financial hardships, and many experts were predicting the demise of all Canadian teams except the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. These fears were proved partially justified, as both the Quebec Nordiques and the Winnipeg Jets relocated to American cities, in 1995 and 1996 respectively.

It took well over a decade for either team to return to anything near the form they had exhibited in the 1980s. The Flames advanced to the Stanley Cup finals in 2004, falling in seven games to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Flames became the first team in the modern era of the NHL to defeat all three divisions winners en route to the Stanley Cup final. The next Stanley Cup final, (played in 2006 due to the NHL lockout of 2005) saw the Edmonton Oilers fall in seven games to the Carolina Hurricanes. The Oilers became the first 8th seed in NHL history to advance past the semifinals, let alone make it to the Stanley Cup final. With the resurgent success as a result of these playoff runs, the rivalry has somewhat reignited.

The 2009–10 NHL season marked the first time either team has won every game between the two, the Flames were 6-0 in regular season games against the Oilers. It also marked the first trade between the two rivals, on March 3, 2010.[3]

Oil Kings vs. Hitmen

The Hitmen face the Edmonton Oil Kings in Calgary.

Although not nearly as intense, the Western Hockey League intends to develop one for the Edmonton Oil Kings and Calgary Hitmen. The junior clubs are owned by the Oilers and Flames respectively. Both cities have had several franchises throughout the WHL's history. The original Oil Kings franchise faced the Calgary Centennials from the league's founding in 1966 until the Oil Kings relocation to Portland in 1976. The Calgary Hitmen were formed in 1995, followed a year later by the Edmonton Ice. The Ice never gained a foothold in Edmonton, and left for the Kootenays after two years. The Hitmen survived their initial struggles to grow into one of junior hockey's biggest drawing teams. The modern Oil Kings joined the WHL as an expansion franchise in 2007.

It should be noted that there are currently five Alberta-based WHL teams. In addition to Calgary and Edmonton, there are also the Medicine Hat Tigers, Lethbridge Hurricanes, and Red Deer Rebels and they all play together in one division, making for many intense intra-provincial battles.

Eskimos vs. Stampeders

The rivalry between the cities' professional CFL football teams is equally intense, and predates the Oilers-Flames feud, at least back to the 1938 season of the Western Interprovincial Football Union. The Edmonton Eskimos and the Calgary Stampeders face each other several times each season, most notably in the annual Labour Day Classic in Calgary, followed by the rematch four days later in Edmonton. The two teams also frequently meet in the West Final. Between 1990 and 2003, the two teams clashed nine times to decide who would represent the West in the Grey Cup, and at least one Alberta team was in the game each year. Overall, the Eskimos have 13 Grey Cups, while the Stampeders have 6.

Rush vs. Roughnecks

Box Lacrosse has seen significant growth in Alberta in recent years, with the Calgary Roughnecks joining the National Lacrosse League in 2001, followed by the Edmonton Rush in 2005. The two teams are poised to form another Alberta rivalry as the two cities have in many other sports. The Rush took out ads in Calgary newspapers before their first ever meeting saying the Rush would "Open a Can" on the Roughnecks. This backfired as the Roughnecks defeated the Rush. The Roughnecks tried this tactic against Edmonton before the April 5, 2008 game by taking an ad in the Edmonton Sun saying that Edmonton was a "City of Losers" instead of a "City of Champions". Just as it had for the Rush, the plan backfired as the Rush won 11-9. Calgary won the Champion's Cup in 2004 and 2009. Edmonton has yet to qualify for a playoff berth.

University of Alberta vs. University of Calgary

Another prominent rivalry exists between the major universities in each city, notably the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, and the University of Calgary. This dates back to the early 20th century, when Calgarians were put off by the building of the University of Alberta in Edmonton in 1908. As the story goes, the location of the university was to be decided along the same lines as that of Saskatchewan. (The province of Saskatchewan shares the same founding date as Alberta, 1905.) Saskatchewan had to please two competing cities when deciding the location of its capital city and provincial university. Thus, Regina was designated the provincial capital and Saskatoon received the provincial university, the University of Saskatchewan. The same heated wrangling over the location of the provincial capital also took place in Alberta between the cities of Calgary and Edmonton. In the end, Edmonton was designated as the capital of Alberta. A city south of Edmonton did end up with the provincial university. However, it was not Calgary. Instead, the city of Strathcona, located south across the river from Edmonton, received the provincial university. The municipalities of Edmonton and Strathcona were later amalgamated in 1912 into what is now known as the city of Edmonton. To this day, Calgarians feel frustrated by this political sleight of hand. [1] Calgary was not granted a university until 1966. Competitions between the two universities have taken place over who has possession of a painted rock. The University of Alberta has consistently ranked much higher than the University of Calgary in most national and international rankings of Universities.

Trappers vs. Cannons

Alberta's most prominent baseball rivalry existed between the Calgary Cannons and Edmonton Trappers of the Pacific Coast League. The Cannons existed from 1985 to 2002 while the Trappers existed from 1980 to 2004. The rivalry never reached the same level as it did in other sports, however, and ultimately both teams relocated to the United States (the Trappers to Round Rock, Texas and the Cannons to Albuquerque, New Mexico). The Trappers captured four PCL championships during their existence, while the Cannons won none.

Today, the two cities compete in the Golden Baseball League as the Calgary Vipers and Edmonton Capitals.

Hosting international Events

The rivalry also extends outside of team sports to international events. Both cities have hosted numerous national & international championships and other tournaments. Both cities have hosted extremely large world-class events. Edmonton hosted the 1978 Commonwealth Games, the 1983 World University Games (Universiade), the 2001 World Championships in Athletics [2], and the 2005 World Master Games. Edmonton also has a circuit on the Champ Car World Series, the Edmonton Grand Prix.

Calgary hosted the 1988 Winter Olympics, the 1996 International Rotarian Convention [4], and the 1997 World Police and Fire Games. Calgary is also an annual stop for many winter sport organizations, including ISU speed skating, FIBT bobsled and some FIS skiing events. Calgary is also home to the Calgary Stampede rodeo, while Edmonton hosts the Canadian Finals Rodeo as well as Capital Ex.

The constant one-upmanship of the two cities in this field has receded in recent years, and they cooperated in successful joint bid to host the 2012 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Previously, the province hosted the event in 1995. In that year, the city of Red Deer, which is exactly half-way between Edmonton and Calgary, was the primary venue. Edmonton and Calgary each hosted a few games as well.

In 2007, Edmonton started assessing the viability of hosting Expo 2017. The Edmonton City Council approved the building of a bid on April 15, 2009. Later in April, Calgary announced its coming bid to host Expo 2017, though it had not expressed any interest beforehand. In July of the same year, a disagreement occurred when Edmonton received provincial funding for its bid, while Calgary did not.

Political leanings

The origins of and effects of the political leanings of the two cities are intertwined with and as old as the rivalry itself. When the CPR shifted its route southward, Canada was governed by the Conservatives who had generously supported the railway - this helped entrench a loyalty to the Tories in Calgary that persisted even during the early days of Confederation when most of Western Canada was solidly Liberal. However, when the Liberals gained power they championed not one but two more transcontinental railways, both of which passed through Edmonton. The result was boom times and massive immigration in and around Edmonton, which quickly displaced Calgary as Alberta's largest city and became solidly Liberal. As a direct result of these leanings, the Liberal government in Ottawa designated Edmonton the provincial capital in 1905.

These political leanings have persisted over the years. Although Calgary's last two mayors have been known to be Liberals, Calgary has long been considered to be the most conservative major city in Canada. Only three Liberals have ever been elected to the House of Commons from Calgary-based ridings, and none for more than one term. Although Labour and Social Credit made inroads in the 1920s and 1930s, it was the Progressive Conservatives who dominated federal elections in Calgary, with few exceptions, until the Reform Party swept the federal Tories out of Alberta in 1993. Reform and its successor, the Canadian Alliance continued to dominate in Calgary (and Alberta) until merging with the PCs to form the Conservative Party of Canada, which continues to dominate in Calgary's eight ridings. One of these ridings is held by the current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.

Meanwhile, the stronger government and university presence in Edmonton has helped to keep the city on the political left, at least by Albertan standards. In federal politics, Edmonton remained friendly to the Liberals in early decades, although in recent decades Edmonton's federal ridings have tended to follow the trend set by the rest of Alberta, usually electing Social Credit, PC, Reform, CA and finally Conservative MPs although usually by much reduced pluralities than those found in Calgary. However, the federal New Democratic Party won Edmonton East in 1988 for one term. The Liberals then achieved their first real success in Edmonton in decades in 1993 when four Liberals were elected compared to three Reformers. Two of these Liberals, Anne McLellan (who was Deputy Prime Minister in the early 2000s) and David Kilgour managed to win re-election in Edmonton three times each before being defeated and retiring, respectively in the face of the Tory sweep of Alberta in 2006. In 2008 New Democrat Linda Duncan won Edmonton Strathcona, the only opposition seat in the province.

In provincial politics the political differences are more noticeable. The Social Credit Party of Alberta dominated most of Alberta's ridings, including Edmonton and Calgary, for most of the time it governed from 1935 until 1971 When the Progressive Conservatives under Calgarian Peter Lougheed won election in 1971, they would go on to dominate nearly all Albertan ridings themselves until 1986, when the Alberta New Democrats and Alberta Liberal Party made a breakthrough in Edmonton. Since then, the provincial Tories have continued to win a majority of seats in every election both provincewide and in Calgary but gained a majority of Edmonton's seats only once (in 2001) while the party had a Calgarian as leader. In 1989 Lougheed's successor (former Eskimos quarterback Don Getty) was defeated in his Edmonton district and forced to run outside the city in a by-election. Getty's successor Ralph Klein was a former mayor of Calgary who defeated a former mayor of Edmonton, Liberal Laurence Decore in the 1993 election. The previous Liberal Leaders of the Opposition, tended to represent an Edmonton district while the provincial NDP leader Brian Mason is a former Edmonton city councillor. During the 2006 Tory leadership race Calgary-based candidates Ted Morton and Jim Dinning both fared poorly in Edmonton, which contributed to the victory of Ed Stelmach. Stelmach's victory continues a pattern under which since Lougheed assumed the premiership in 1971 the Tories have had their successive leaders (and premiers) alternating between Calgary and Edmonton-area ridings (Stelmach represents Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville which borders Edmonton's eastern city limits). Stelmach was able to make gains in Edmonton at the expense of both the Liberals and NDP during the 2008 election, while the Liberals made gains in Calgary. As such, the majority of the members of the official opposition now represent Calgary ridings as does the current Liberal leader, David Swann.


  1. ^ "ESPN - Bile back in Battle of Alberta - NHL". Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  2. ^ Edmonton Public Library's History of Edmonton
  3. ^ "Flames Welcome Trade-deadline Acquisitions". The Canadian Press. 2010-03-04. Retrieved 2010-03-04. 
  4. ^

External links


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