Canadian Football has changed a lot since 1903. The game is unrecognizable from the early twentieth century, and many teams have come and gone. Nowhere is this fact better known than in the nation’s capital, a place that has been the home of three CFL franchises in under thirty years. But one thing that has been an ever constant this whole time in Canadian Football is the home of the sport in Ottawa, whether you know it as Lansdowne Park, Frank Clair Stadium, or its current moniker TD Place Stadium, the stadium has a long and iconic history in not only Ottawa football, but for Ottawa sports as a whole.
As far back as 1903, The Ottawa Football Club, (later better known as the Ottawa Rough Riders) decided to lease land in the Lansdowne area and begin the process of establishing a proper home for football in the city. The Rough Riders had been playing games in the area since the 1870s, and as such, were familiar with the area.
It wouldn’t be until 1909 that the stadium would take shape as a football venue. That year, a 10,000-seat grandstand was constructed. Seventeen years later, the stadium now known as TD Place Stadium would have the honour of hosting its first Grey Cup in 1925, which would see the hometown Rough Riders win Canadian Football’s biggest prize in front of a crowd of 6,900 fans. Around this time, Ottawa added a second stand to give the stadium a look more similar to the one it has today. Whilst the stadium was expanding, Ottawa on the pitch would also go on to have further success, once again winning the Grey Cup at home in 1939 and 1940.
By the 1950s, Lansdowne Park would begin to diversify its tenants. In 1955, the University of Ottawa’s football team, the Ottawa Gee-Gees became tenants of the Stadium, and their tenancy would spark the beginning of one of Ottawa’s greatest sporting traditions, the Panda Game. The Game is an event where Lansdowne Park hosts the annual football game between Ottawa’s two collegiate teams, the Ottawa Gees-Gees and Carleton Ravens. To this day, it is by far the highest attended football game in Canadian college football, and is considered a marquee occasion in the overall Canadian football calendar.
The 50s would see the stadium briefly be home for ‘AAA’ baseball. From 1951-1954, Lansdowne would play host to the Ottawa Giants and then the Ottawa Athletics, farm teams for the New York Giants and Philadelphia Phillies respectively.
The next big development would be in the 1960s, when the stadium was to be transformed. Lansdowne Park would say goodbye to its old turn-of-the-century stands, and welcome in two newly built stands that would include a two-tiered south stand. By the 1970s, the stadium now had a capacity of 30,927.
In the 70s, the stadium housed both the 1975 Vanier Cup winning Ottawa Gee-Gees, and the 1973 and 1976 Grey Cup winning Ottawa Rough Riders, a golden age for football at Lansdowne. In 1984, the natural grass that had been in place was replaced with a new Astroturf surface, that would remain in place until 2001 when it was replaced with FieldTurf.
As the 80s went on, however, the stadium’s fortune would begin to go in a dramatic direction. By 1987, the much anticipated Panda Game was marred with unpleasantness, and this culminated with thirty students being seriously hurt after a railing collapsed. Such a high-profile incident changed the Panda Game atmosphere and crowds dwindled. In 1997, the fixture was moved to the much smaller Keith Harris Stadium, before the Ravens suspended their football programme in 1998.
Meanwhile, the once dominated Rough Riders of the 60s and 70s were struggling off and in the field. The Riders hadn’t reached the Grey Cup since 1981, and because of financial turmoil, the team folded in 1996, bringing an end to the iconic team. The stadium was left with just the Gee-Gees.
The stadium and area around it were owned by the city, and by the late 90s, Lansdowne Park, now known as Frank Clair Stadium, was running at a significant deficit and there appeared to be an inevitable conclusion. Jim Watson, an Ottawa politician, proposed the demolition of the stadium in order to use the space to build residential buildings. The stadium survived, however, thanks to the outcry from Ottawa fans who feared a demolition would end any chance of the CFL returning to the city, and in 2002, they got their wish as the new Ottawa Renegades took to the field.
The return of professional football in Ottawa was very well received with crowds constantly over 20,000 despite the team’s struggles, and Frank Clair Stadium even hosted the Grey Cup in 2004, the first time the city had held the event since 1988. Thanks to the construction of temporary stands, a stadium record attendance of 51,242 was able to enjoy the game.
The revival of professional football was short-lived, however, as once again, financial burdens forced the Renegades to fold after an all-time record of 23-49 in just four seasons of play. By 2008, a new expansion team had been granted to Ottawa, but the stadium was in need of dramatic repairs before a down could be played. The south stand had been deemed to have been structurally unsafe, and the only option was to replace it.
From 2012-2014, the south stand was replaced with a brand new two-tier stand that was slightly curved and has an impressive wooden exterior. The north stand was also redeveloped, and alongside standing options by the sidelines, the stadium had been transformed into a modern 24,000-capacity complex.
Now known as TD Place Stadium, the once tired, aged, and cost-consuming Frank Clair stadium had a dramatic turnaround. In 2013, the Panda Game fixture returned and came back to TD Place in 2014 with the crowds once again being large. In 2015, the stadium was a host stadium for the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, and was the venue for nine games and has since become the home of soccer in Ottawa, being the home of the Ottawa Fury from 2014-2019 and now Atlético Ottawa of the Canadian Premier League.
In 2017, as part of the National Hockey Leagues centenary, TD Place Stadium hosted an outdoor hockey game between the hometown Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens. 33,959 fans showed up to watch Ottawa comfortably win 3-0. As for football? The expansion team Ottawa Redblacks began to play in 2014 and brought success to Ottawa not seen in forty years. In 2016, the RedBlacks won the Grey Cup, bringing the trophy to Ottawa for the first time since 1976. A year after, TD Place Stadium hosted its sixth Grey Cup game.
In late April 2022, it was announced that TD Place will go through even more redevelopment. It is now the turn of the north stand to be transformed through demolition and reconstruction. All going well with the current plans, a new 11,100 seater stand will be built featuring two tiers, and fan decks.
The history of TD Place Stadium, Frank Clair Stadium, or Lansdowne Park, however, is one of constant change. From a small grandstand in 1909 to a modern world-class arena that has hosted professional sporting events at the highest level since its 2014 revival. Throughout the history of Canadian football since the turn of the last century, there has been almost one constant in the sport whether it has a tenant or not, TD Place Stadium.
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