Our League, Our Country puts true Canadiana into pictures while eliciting forever memories

Photo courtesy: Johany Jutras -- www.johanyjutras.com

Just holding it in my hands made me feel more Canadian.

Our League, Our Country is a rare combination of pictures and stories from the CFL. It puts the history and tradition of the three-down game at your fingertips and brings back memories from the past.

It took me back to when I became a fan of the league. The Toronto Argonauts were the team of choice because Doug Flutie captured my imagination. Flutie was a superhero on the field with the football in his hands. He was small, mighty and had the characteristics of a proper role model. Flutie led the Argos to back-to-back Grey Cups in 1996 and 1997 and earned the CFL’s Most Outstanding Player both years.

Meeting Flutie in person will always be etched in my mind. Prior to a game at SkyDome, Flutie came over in a cropped muscle shirt to chat and sign a small football. His hair was flowing, six-pack abs popping out, as onlookers watched him effortlessly place his throws all over the field that day. The ball he signed was thrown around at my childhood house on the farm for years — the signature eventually wore off from so much use, but the memory of the moment lasts forever.

Justin Dunk on the left, brother Adam Dunk on the right.

That was the first recollection of the CFL that came rushing back for me when I read Johany Jutras’ book for the first time. I had seen copies and pictures of it before, but never actually held one in my hand and read it front to back. The anticipation of knowing the book was on its way was bested by the arrival — flipping through the pages brought about a patriotic feeling.

It’s uniquely created by a Canadian based on a league that has the maple leaf in its logo.

Jutras was 28 years old when she sold everything she owned to fund her own ‘Grey Cup or bust’ dream, travelling coast-to-coast on an 80-day road trip. Literally, she drove from one CFL city to the next with visions of a never-before-seen project — her book is one of a kind. After the cross-Canada trip, Jutras returned home with $200 in her bank account, and it was all worth it for the creation of a lifetime.

She spent one week with each of the nine CFL franchises and worked her way behind the scenes on the ground — and high above in the sky — for exclusive photos of every beloved team. The fan pages at the end of each chapter display the radically Canadian support of the league. That sense of togetherness which has been lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic hits straight in the feels.

The travel, the tailgates, the buzz in the stadium before kick-off, the roar of the crowd after a touchdown, the sights on the sidelines, the locker room views, the family ties, the rivalries, the Labour Day Classics — the essence of the Canadian Football League packed into one beautiful package. And it’s all made in Canada, just like the passion for Canadian football has created over 100 years of Grey Cup champions.

The CFL as we know it might never be the same after the virus kept the coveted cup on its base in 2020. It has changed lives in Canada and around the world and Jutras was affected as well. She had planned on making a second edition of Our League, Our Country in 2021 with publication scheduled for the kick-off of the 2022 season. That was put on Canadian ice because of the coronavirus.

She had already bought a recreational vehicle which was supposed to be for travelling to each CFL city. However, the RV will only move from Drummondville, Quebec for her personal projects. It will be Jutras’ home for the next six months whether football is played north of the border or not. That’s her level of commitment to showing off the distinctly Canadian league.

Jutras made me remember how and why I fell in love with the CFL at a time when its future is uncertain. Flutie flinging footballs on television was what drew me in, but it was the interaction with a living legend that created a real connection.

Once the book is in your possession, the standout memories will come to mind, it was an instant feeling that I won’t forget as new ones hit each time the pages are turned.

Justin Dunk is a football insider, sports reporter and anchor.