The colourful history of Ottawa’s CFL mascots

For a league that prides itself on a rich, colourful history (and rightly so), there’s a serious dearth of information regarding its history online.

Even the CFL’s own website doesn’t offer any statistics before the 2004 season, which is simply unfathomable in our current information era.

So imagine the difficulty I faced in turning up any kind of reliable information on the various mascots that have strutted their stuff along the sidelines at Lansdowne, the site of pro football in the nation’s capital since the 1870’s.

To compile this piece, I tried searching through newspaper records and dove deep into Google, but still wasn’t able to come up with much reliable information. Ultimately, what made this piece possible was speaking with a couple of trusted long-time season ticket holders, members of R-Nation who were in the stands through the Rough Rider and Renegade eras and remain Redblacks season-ticket holders to this day.

Their input along with the incredible galleries and archives of Scott Grant, the legendary photographer who has spent over five decades documenting practices, games, champions and the hundreds of players who have sported Ottawa’s red and black colours, made this piece possible.

Okee the Cowboy

Okee Ottawa Rough Riders mascot. Photo courtesy Scott Grant

Huge cowboy hat? Check. Vest? Check. Jeans and chaps? Check. Colt Peacemaker? Check.

Okee might have been fully outfitted as a cowboy, but with his big, bushy beard, one can’t help but think of Animal from the Muppets.

It’s hard to pin down exactly when Ottawa’s version of Yosemite Sam started appearing at Rough Rider home games but Grant notes that the only picture he has of him is in black and white, which means it was certainly before the 1981 season. That easily makes Okee the first documented mascot in Ottawa football history.

Ruffy the Beaver

Despite coming up blank both online and in Grant’s archives, multiple members of R-Nation who attended games in the 1980s recall Ruffy the Beaver around the stadium. The above picture is from Grant’s Facebook memories and might be legitimately the only one of Ruffy on the internet. One fan seemed to believe that Ruffy was introduced around the same time the Rough Riders upgraded their scoreboard in the 1981 season.

One thing that everyone agreed on though, was that the man behind the costume often showed up drunk and obnoxious, with various people mentioning they recalled seeing Ruffy engaged in fisticuffs with fans and media members. One incident involving a D-fence sign being used as a weapon and another resulted in Ruffy being carted off the field with a neck injury as he slipped attempting to climb into the stands. No surprise, he was eventually fired.

Rooter the Rooster (1987-1996)

Ottawa Rough Riders Mascot 1987. Photo John Bradley

What you see is what you get with Rooter. This mascot appeared on scene in 1987 and stuck around until the Rough Riders folded in 1996, the 120th season of existence.

Rooter was a rooster, decked out in a Rider jersey with the No. 1 and a helmet with the iconic white ‘R’. Topping it off was the rooster’s red comb, running down the middle of the helmet, mohawk style.

Rooter made his debut shortly after the Rough Riders were sold from CHUM (now CFRA Radio) to the Ottawa Rough Rider Limited Partnership; a mix of wealthy Ottawa families and local businessmen.

As part of their bid to raise money for the purchase, the Partnership sold $25 memberships shares to a fan club called the Rider Rooters. The shares were sold at monthly events called Rooter Roosts in pubs across town.

That’s where, the mascot, Rooter the Rooster was born and gets his name from.

Ruffy the Beaver (2002-2005)

Ruffy Ottawa Renegades mascot 2005. Photo F. Scott Grant

Although Ruffy the Beaver might not have been an original mascot in the nation’s capital, the owners of the Renegades at the time claimed they choose the name and species of their mascot due to the fact the name Ottawa Beavers polled well in fans before the Renegades moniker was chosen.

Overall, Ruffy was a beacon of calmness in a franchise best remembered for off-field turmoil. Ruffy wore a jersey with the No. 0 and was your run-of-the-mill generic beaver. He would not scare little children, unlike the beads being passed around on the upper South Side.

The red bandana Ruffy wore may or may not have been inspired by kick blocker extraordinaire Gerald Vaughn’s incredible swag.

Big Joe (2014-present)

Before Big Joe even set foot at TD Place, he was surrounded by controversy. Originally the mascot was intended to pay homage to Ottawa’s lumber history and invoke Bytown folk heroes such as Big Joe Mufferaw. In fact, that was the mascot’s original name, and the thought was to base him off of the fictional lumberjack made famous by Stompin’ Tom Connors, who in turn, got the character from Bernie Bedore’s children’s books.

But the problem was that Big Joe Mufferaw was inspired by Joseph Montferrand, a French-Canadian logger who lived during the early 1800’s. Many in Ottawa’s francophone community felt it was disrespectful to reduce his memory to a mascot, so ultimately OSEG settled on Big Joe.

Aside from outrageously thick forearms and a jawline as chiseled as the Canadian Shield, Big Joe is best known for the large axe he carries.

Bonus

Aside from the above mentioned mascots, all of whom boasted the staying power of at least a few seasons, there have also been a few random fluffy characters who have made an appearance.

In 1988 there was a large Big Bird in disguise look-a-like chicken who flew the coop from San Diego to heckle the refs and make sure their eyes were working properly. Spoiler alert, they were not, as the home crowd was sure to let them know. Ted Giannoulas, the man in the suit, was born in Canada before moving to San Diego as a teen and made a career touring the world entertaining crowds in his chicken getup.

San Diego Chicken mascot with eye chart 1988. Photo John Bradley

And in 1992 someone at the Westin Hotel thought it was a wise allocation of their advertising budget to hire an unidentifiable lumpy mascot to strut around at half-time. Things might have gone a bit smoother had the mascot actually been able to see past the wig covering his eyes.

Ottawa Rough Riders mascot 1992. Photo John Bradley
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Santino Filoso is originally from Ottawa and has written about the Redblacks since 2013. He is the only CFL writer currently living in Brazil (as far as we know).