With about 80,000 students, the University of Toronto has long been regarded as one of the world's most prestigious universities. And for just as long, Varsity Stadium has been a home to football at every level. Several very notable events have taken place at Varsity Field over the years. In fact, the first game that wasn't rugby and wasn't soccer - that is the beginning of gridiron football - was played nearby on campus. Several famous Grey Cup games including the first ever championship as well as the 1950 'mud bowl,' which was quite possibly the most well-known Grey Cup game ever played, have happened at Varsity. It has also played host to the Vanier Cup of Canadian Interuniversity Sport.
Having been renovated six times since its original construction in 1898 and demolished and rebuilt in 2002, there have been enormous fluctuations in capacity and design at the stadium. Continued investment from the government as well as the university in preparation for the upcoming 2015 Pan Am games have brought about construction of a new high-performance athletics centre next door, while the stadium itself continues to improve. Meanwhile, the Toronto Varsity Blue football team is finally turning around after years of futility - narrowly missing the 2013 Ontario playoffs, but with many promising young players. The Toronto Argonauts have also begun to play preseason games at Varsity, to much acclaim and box office success.
Having hosted so many important football games over the years, and continuing to be the home of the sport it helped create, Varsity Stadium is one of the best-known, and the most important stadiums in the sport.
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At first glance there does not appear to be that much on offer at Varsity Stadium. There is one concession stand selling hot dogs, chocolate, and pop. There are also a few vending machines scattered throughout the concourse. Also inside the stadium is a beer garden with television screens selling a variety of national and regional brands.
What sets this stadium apart is actually just behind the south fence of the stadium. A handful of food trucks often set up shop and offer cheap, tasty, and unique foods for fans to enjoy. The stadium wisely allows in-and-out privileges for fans with their hands stamped upon entry. A quick walk around the field and you will be confronted with six or seven different trucks ranging from a poutinerie, smoked meat truck, mobile smoker, sausage stand, cupcakery, and more.
Caplansky's Deli, frequently renowned as the best smoked meat in the city, usually brings their truck, Thunderin' Thelma to the game. Try the maple-bacon doughnuts! Of course, being able to walk out of the stadium as you please, you may also visit the numerous restaurants and cafes on Bloor Street and there is a Tim Horton's across the street.
The stadium feels incredibly intimate yet is open-air to the surrounding city life. There are lots of interesting and interactive games at halftime and the crowd-leading team does a very good job of lifting the atmosphere.
The pom team is friendly and sociable to fans, and has a number of intricate and well-rehearsed dance routines. The stadium announcer is energetic and professional and the scoreboard is very clear with frequent replays and vignettes. It is one of only a handful of Canadian university fields with videoboards and the one here is the best.
The most unique addition to the stadium atmosphere comes from the engineers. Showing up en masse to many home games, the engineers are famous for their shenanigans. Known as Skule, they come out either painted purple or dressed in some of their creative and homemade outfits, but always wearing their yellow hard hats. It is the task of arts students to try to steal these hats and the engineers have devised brilliant but dangerous defence mechanisms in their hats. The flamethrowing hat of a few years back is well-known among U of T students.
The engineers also have their own band, uniquely named the Lady Godiva Memorial Bnad [sic]. What makes the Bnad special is that there is no talent required to join. Despite that, the music is actually quite good and a number of alumni can be expected to come out and play along to some of the "moosic". It should be noted, though, that 'Teh Bnad' [again sic] see their role as 'crashing' the games and they tend to do their own thing. If you are hoping to follow the game closely do not sit near them!
One more word of warning, the engineers treasure Ye Olde Mighty Skule Cannon, which is indeed a working cannon. The engineers will not hesitate to fire off their cannon during the game, but the university has persuaded them to usually only fire it off at the start of play before the game and after halftime.
There are banners commemorating the Vanier and Grey Cups that have taken place over the stadium's history. The Toronto Argonauts also come out frequently, maintaining close ties with the Blues, and sell discounted tickets to Argonaut games. After every Blues touchdown, the school fight song, "The Blue and White" is played.
Varsity Stadium is located at the northern edge of the sprawling St. George campus and at the edge of glitzy Yorkville. Next door is the brand new Telus Centre for the Performing Arts, the Royal Academy of Music, the National Ballet School, and the Royal Ontario Museum with its jagged Crystal addition.
The stadium is close to all the major downtown attractions and is across the street from the Hotel InterContinental. Just east on Bloor are the Queen Alexandra Gates. South through them from Bloor St. is Philosopher's Walk, a tree-lined path that leads to the historic heart of campus. Incredibly beautiful architecture abounds at U of T, and at the south end of the walk are gothic Trinity College, ivy-covered Hart House, the fascinating University College, the domed Convocation Hall, and the Soldier's Tower, who's carillon is rung on important school occasions. A stroll through campus will reveal why so many movies set at universities are filmed here - the place truly looks like a university, just as one would imagine it.
The fans that do come out to matches are usually loud and passionate. The problem is that there are not enough of them. In terms of Canadian university football, the average 3,000-person crowds are good, but for a school with so many students, there should be more support. Being in a big city, a large number of students are commuters. Coupled with the particular academic rigor of the school, it is understandable that there is less spirit than at schools like Queen's and Western. In residence, school spirit tends to be stronger and most of the fans at the games live on or near campus.
There is no free parking on site, but there is a Green P municipal garage across the street. Public transit is still the best way to access the game, and the St. George subway station is across the street, servicing both the north-south University line and the east-west Bloor line. There is plenty of bike parking, and Bixi bike rental stands are nearby.
There is only one washroom for each gender, but that is fine for the crowd size, and there are not usually backups.
Tickets are affordable and students from U of T get in for free as do children under 8. Youth and seniors pay $5 online or $7 at the gate, and the adult ticket price is $10 online or $12 at the gate. In-stadium concessions are under $5 and meals to go from the food trucks will generally run you $5-$10. University of Toronto apparel is average in price and there are great deals to be had on Argonauts' tickets. This is money well spent.
One point for the friendly staff with great deals on CFL tickets.
The origins of gridiron football can be traced back to the University of Toronto, which is definitely worth an extra point.
Seeing football played in such a historic and well-known stadium is a great experience. Experiencing such history whilst watching the game in a new, state-of-the-art venue is incredible. So many Canadian football fans have fond memories of Varsity and today it is a great place to watch 'Big Blue' as, like their stadium, they have rebuilt from the ground up and are poised for many great years of football ahead.
The University of Toronto is home to around 75,000 students. It has long been regarded as one of North America's most prestigious universities. And for just as long, Varsity Stadium has been a home to football at every level. Several very notable events have taken place at Varsity Field over the years. In fact the first ever documented game of gridiron football, which took place in 1861, was held near the current site of the stadium.
Several famous Grey Cup games including the first ever championship as well as the 1950 'mud bowl,' which was quite possible the most well-known Grey Cup game ever played, have been played at Varsity Stadium.
Having been renovated six times since its original construction in 1898 and demolished and rebuilt in 2002, there have been enormous fluctuations in capacity and design at the stadium. Continued investment from the government as well as the university in preparation for the upcoming 2015 Pan Am games have brought about plans for a new high-performance athletics centre across the street and further renovations to the Varsity Stadium meaning it will continue to be a great place to watch football, and other sports, for a long time.
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