Vagabond Bombers finally find a home

KIRK PENTON -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

The Winnipeg Blue Bombers have had just two primary homes in their 75-year history.

When the franchise was in its infancy, the Winnipegs, as the team was known, bounced around River Park, Carruthers Park and Wesley Park, which was located on Balmoral Street.

Sportswriter Vince Leah, in his book A History of the Blue Bombers, noted that Wesley Park "had very little grass but was most accessible in contrast to River Park at the south end of Osborne Street, where football held forth in the 1920s."

Fortunately, they soon found a permanent home. A man by the name of Charlie McFadyen was building Osborne Stadium, located where Great West Life currently sits just west of the Manitoba Legislature.

The Winnipegs soon became the Blue Bombers, and the team began playing its home games at the quirky park. There wasn't any turf in the beginning at Osborne Stadium, and the end zones weren't regulation size. Leah wrote that, if his memory served correct, the distance between the goal-lines was only 100 yards.

Turf was eventually laid down, and the Bombers remained there until the construction of Winnipeg Stadium in 1953 -- way out on the edge of town.

As you know, the Bombers are still at the dilapidated park 52 years later, although discussions about another new facility -- again located on the outskirts of the city -- are in full swing.

The 50-year anniversary of Winnipeg Stadium -- now known as Canad Inns Stadium -- was celebrated two years ago.

Until the Bombers set up permanent shop at the Stadium, they were based in St. Boniface at the old Canada Packers meat processing plant. The facility featured an athletic field, so the Bombers held their training camps and practices there during the 1950s and '60s.

Legendary quarterback Ken Ploen spent his entire 11-year Bomber career practising at the plant on Marion Street.

"We had dressing rooms and a training room down in the basement of their place," Ploen said. "We showered with guys off the killing floor."

The odour was not always pleasant, and it gave imports quite a welcome to the CFL.

"It was quite an experience, particularly coming out of the University of Iowa or these other players coming out of American universities, where it's a pretty first-class operation," Ploen said with a laugh. "You sign a contract and you say, 'Gosh, I'm a professional football player, and I come to Canada and I go over and I go into a meat-packing plant, showering on the killing floor with these guys.' "

It was a place, however, the players eventually came to love and respect.

"Canada Packers was very good to the football club," Ploen said. "We ate over there. It cost me 75 cents off my paycheque to eat at Canada Packers, and I'm telling you, it was worth every penny."

KEY DATES IN BOMBER HISTORY:

1959 -- Winnipeg defeated Hamilton 21-7 in the Grey Cup, with Charlie Shepard the hero.

1961 -- Winnipeg beat Hamilton 21-14 in the first Grey Cup that ever went into overtime. Quarterback Ken Ploen scored the winning TD on a 19-yard scramble.

1962 -- Winnipeg nipped Hamilton 28-27 in the first Grey Cup to be played over two days because the fog that rolled in over Toronto's CNE Stadium prevented fans from seeing the play. Bomber running backs Leo Lewis and Charlie Shepard scored two touchdowns each.

1965 -- Hamilton beat Winnipeg 22-16 in a Grey Cup sometimes referred to as 'the Wind Bowl' due to the gale-force winds that swept across CNE Stadium. The Bombers conceded three safety touches to avoid punting into that wind and that was the difference in the game.


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