The History of Wrestling in Canada

1956-57 Senior Wrestling Team

1956-57 senior wrestling team. Courtesy of UWO Student Council.


Watch this slideshow for a photographic overview of Western wrestling teams. Courtesy of Metras Museum, Western Archives and UWO Student Council.




Professional wrestling has a long history. In the 1800s, it was a popular spectator sport in Europe and quickly made its way over to Canada with the flood of European immigrants. Wrestling events appeared in Canada as early as 1837 and the Toronto Daily News advertised wrestling matches as early as 1901. These matches could be classified more as brawls, due to their lack of uniformity and rules.

Wrestling started as a workingman’s sport. The sport also has strong ties to European culture. Most of Canada’s oldest universities - McGill, Toronto, and Queens - were founded by Scottish immigrants. These founding fathers brought with them their long traditions of sports including wrestling. Wrestling transformed from a workingman’s sport to a sport of the privileged during the early 1900s. The Great Depression created more leisure time, so during this period many athletic clubs developed, including the YMCA and this allowed a greater number of people to participate.

Due to the strong following of wrestling at the YMCA level, many athletes tried to compete in Olympic games, however, Canada had not adopted standardized rules and regulations so many of these athletes could not compete at this level. This quickly sparked the creation of intercollegiate wrestling.

The assault-at-arms became a popular organized sporting league. In the beginning it included a large variety of sports, but as early as 1909 it had been streamlined into just three sports: boxing, fencing, and wrestling. This para-military formation remained in effect until 1948 when wrestling split from boxing and fencing within the assault-at-arms and Western adopted the American collegiate rules.