Interesting Canadian university sports
Interesting university sports
From riding broncos to playing video games, these unconventional Canadian university athletics have something for everyone.


What has six players on skates, a rubber ring, and a proud Canadian history? Ringette, of course! Invented in the 1960s in North Bay, Ontario by Sam Jacks (who also invented floor hockey), ringette was originally intended as a form of ice hockey suitable for girls. More than half a century later, it has a small but devoted following across the country, and varsity teams from Vancouver to Charlottetown. Similar to ice hockey in many ways, ringette is notably different in its puck (a rubber ring) its sticks (straight) and for its somewhat gentler approach to play (intentional contact is against the rules). While ringette was originally restricted to female players, in recent years it has seen an uptick in interest from men as well.


Schools for witchcraft and wizardry may be the stuff of young adult fiction, but the sport of quidditch—which requires players on broomsticks to catch a floating golden orb—is very much a real thing on Canadian university campuses. Since its Canadian debut on a campus in Montreal in 2008, universities in BC, Alberta, Ontario and Quebec now host varsity teams under the governance of Quidditch Canada (yes, really). A cross between dodgeball, basketball and flag football, according to the official rulebook, “three Chasers and one Keeper must work together to pass the quaffle [a volleyball] through their opponent’s set of hoops.” Add in the fact that all players are “riding” small brooms, and the caveat of the “golden snitch” (a player dressed in yellow, who can end the game in favour of whichever team grabs their yellow “tail” first) and you start to get the picture.


People have been duelling with swords for hundreds of years, and while sword fighting has (thankfully) gone out of fashion as a form of settling disputes, fencing remains an olympic sport with an enthusiastic following on Canadian university campuses. Tracing its history back to 1700s aristocracy, the sport of fencing is a competition where players score points by hitting their opponent on the body with their “weapon” (an epee, a foil, or a sabre). One of Canada’s foremost university fencing competitions takes place each year in Ontario, with both men’s and women’s championship titles awarded.


This sport, known colloquially as “ultimate frisbee”, was pioneered in the late 1960s at a high school in New Jersey and, after spreading to nearby university campuses, soon expanded around the globe. With a game play style similar to football, but using minimal equipment, each team must work together to land the flying disc in the opposing team’s zone. Ultimate Frisbee maintains a strong presence on university campuses in the United States and Canada, with a reported 12,000 athletes on 700 collegiate teams throughout North America.


While it may be surprising to learn that there is a collegiate rodeo circuit, it will be less surprising to learn that it’s centred in the horse-loving Canadian west, with member schools located in Alberta, Saskatchewan and British Columbia. Open to men and women, the Canadian collegiate rodeo circuit features the same major rodeo events as the pros, including team roping, barrel racing, goat tying, breakaway roping and pole bending. These events, which originated as demonstrations of essential skills for ranch hands, remain athletic feats in their own right, requiring immense coordination and skill on horseback. As with many collegiate sports, there are also scholarships available for rodeo.


Are video games really sports? While they may not require the same kind of athleticism as traditional sports like football or hockey, eSports teams are a growing trend on university campuses throughout Canada and around the world. While the global epicentre of eSports is Asia, the Canadian capital of collegiate eSports is Vancouver, with over 800 players at one campus club alone. In Ontario, meanwhile, one university even offers an eSports scholarship and another has recently built a 3,000 square foot gaming arena with room for over 100 spectators. Unlike many collegiate sports, eSports can also be extremely lucrative. The winners of one recent tournament took home prizes of $9,000 per player, along with the tantalizing prospects of going pro—which in an industry with over a billion dollars in revenue each year can be a very good deal indeed.

Jeremy Freed is a freelance writer and editor based in Toronto. His writing about fashion, travel, food and design appears in Sharp, Harry and re:Porter magazines, among many others.

Jeremy Freed is a paid Sonnet spokesperson.

Canadian university alumni, start saving with an exclusive Sonnet discount.