When the history of soccer in Canada is told in the years to come, it can be said that the Voyageurs – a group of passionate supporters across the country – all but willed the Canadian Championship into existence.
Nearly two decades ago, a group of around 50 supporters bandied about the idea of awarding Canada’s top club with a trophy to call its own – the Voyageurs Cup. No longer would the group wait for a tournament around which a trophy could be crafted. Instead, the Voyageurs funded, created and would award the prize themselves, the very same trophy that Canada’s top teams now compete for to earn a CONCACAF Champions League berth.
The Vancouver Whitecaps host Toronto FC Wednesday night in the first leg of the 2018 Canadian Championship final at BC Place. It’s the 11th iteration of the tournament, and 52-year-old Winnipeg-based supporter Dwayne Cole – the trophy’s original creator and organizer – is beyond proud that the group’s vision has finally come to fruition.
“This was always what we, the Voyageurs, wanted,” Cole told CanPL.ca in a phone call ahead of the final. “We wanted it to be a Cup competition that could include as many clubs as possible. When I hear some of these teams (like A.S. Blainville and the Oakville Blue Devils) competing, I think that’s fantastic.”
Cole played a big role in what has flourished into Canada’s premier domestic competition, having spearheaded the physical creation of the trophy that teams from across the country – and across multiple leagues – now contest.
Crafted in a local shop in Winnipeg, the Voyageurs Cup has been awarded to Canada’s top team since 2002, though the Canadian Championship in its current form first kicked off in 2008 with just a handful of teams. This year, six teams from four different leagues contested the trophy, and for Cole – who proudly declared “I’m Valour FC member No. 462” when asked about the CPL’s role in the competition – this rapid growth brought back fond memories of how it all began.
“It all happened on the Voyageurs Forum,” Cole recalled. “It was people floating around different ideas, banter back and forth. That’s how the Voyageurs operated with everything. The idea came up, people voted on it, and the talk was what the cup was going to look like. This particular design was chosen, and then the whole financial thing came up. I organized all the money. It was basically all donations, and some people donated just a few bucks and others donated hundreds.
“It wasn’t just about making the trophy. The main issue was how are we going to pay for it to go across Canada if we have a good size trophy? We made it purposely lightweight, and a custom-made solid oak case that was heavy duty enough to protect the cup, because it was going to be shipped coast to coast.
“We, the fans, just said, ‘let’s do it,”’ he continued. “It wasn’t going to happen otherwise. That was really the driving force behind the Voyageurs Cup – we needed a Canadian champion.”
Next year, Canadian Premier League clubs will also compete for the Voyageurs Cup, more than doubling the number of participants. While the CPL is still in its formative years, the increase in competition – both in quality and quantity – is “exactly” what Cole said the Voyageurs had in mind when they first introduced the trophy in 2002.
As for the future? Cole hopes even more teams from Canada’s amateur and semi-pro levels can be involved, too.
“Ultimately, it would be great to envision something like what the FA Cup is in England happening over here,” he offered. “When you start getting teams from different leagues and different levels, that’s what the domestic cup competition should be.”