Image of Rugby Game McGill vs. Harvard

An 1874 rugby match between McGill and Harvard.

Canadian and American football evolved from the game of rugby, developed by William Ellis in 1823 at Rugby College in England. Rugby flourished in the United Kingdom among the middle and upper classes, some of whom came to Canada, bringing their beloved sport with them. The earliest recorded game was between members of an English garrison in Montreal and McGill University students in 1865. The game caught on quickly and Quebec earned a reputation for rugby prowess, causing Harvard University to challenge McGill to a two game series in May of 1874. By this time McGill students played with an egg-shaped ball while Harvard students played a variation of English soccer with a round ball that could be picked up and run with, known as the Boston game. The first game was played with Harvard rules, the second with McGill rules. The result was that Harvard enjoyed McGill’s rugby more than their own game and brought it back to the United States where it evolved into American football.