Though few in R-Nation know it, Montreal’s Autostade holds a special place in Ottawa’s CFL history.
Built in anticipation of Expo 67 as a venue to host rodeos and music festivals, the unsightly stadium was a collection of 19 separate sections arrayed in a circle around the grass field. As a result of the unique design, the Autostade quickly became famous for gusty winds that tore through the stadium, freezing both spectators and players alike.
In his memoir “Never My Dream,” legendary Rough Rider and 17 year veteran Moe (The Toe) Racine described the stadium as “The worst place I ever played in all my years of football. It was always windy, usually colder than most places in the fall and was just plain ugly.”
Despite only officially opening in 1967, the first CFL game played at the Autostade was on Nov. 19th, 1966, when the Ottawa Rough Riders hosted the Hamilton Ticats for the second game of a two game total point series that decided the East Final.
While many thought the Toronto Argos had it rough last season, playing several home games in other cities, in 1966 the Rough Riders hosted the East Final in Montreal as renovations on the North Side stands and the construction of the Civic Centre (now known as TD Place Arena and home of the OHL’s Ottawa 67s), prevented the game from being played at Lansdowne Park.
The 1966 East Final was a breakthrough moment for the Rough Rider franchise. After being bounced from the playoffs by their Ontario rivals the previous three seasons, the 20,000 fans on hand watched Ottawa rout the Ticats 42-16 as they snagged a CFL record 8 interceptions and punched their ticket back to the Grey Cup.
Another note worthy takeaway from that opening game in the Autostade is that it marked the first time the CFL used its current goal posts; a single curved shaft with the wishbone posts.
Interestingly enough, the Rough Riders’ playoff success at the Autostade doesn’t end there. The 57th Grey Cup was a battle between the Eastern and Western Riders but is perhaps better remembered as Russ Jackson’s last game.
On a blistering cold day at the end of November, during the height of the FLQ terrorism tensions, 33,172 fans, protected by hundreds of police, packed into the Autostade to witness Jackson throw for a Grey Cup record 4 touchdowns as Ottawa rolled to their second consecutive championship.
The field was so slippery and icy that players from both teams used broomball sneakers in an attempt to have better traction on the field.
The Autostade Grey Cup wasn’t just Jackson’s swan song, it was also the last time Frank Clair coached the Rough Riders, as in the off-season he transitioned from the sidelines to the front office, becoming Ottawa’s GM.
That’s why despite being demolished in the late 1970s, the empty parking lot that was once the Autostade lives on as an important part of Ottawa’s storied CFL history.