An Unforgettable 40 Years of Professional Football - August 1938 to August 1978
On August 27, 1938, amid much fanfare and excitement Clarke Stadium was officially opened. A crowd of 2,500 exuberant spectators watched as the Edmonton Eskimos unceremoniously went down in defeat to the Calgary Broncos, 35 - 1. Just eight years earlier, Fightin’ Joe Clarke, one of Edmonton’s most colourful Mayors, arranged with Prime Minister MacKenzie King to lease a 26-acer parcel of the old penitentiary grounds as the site of an athletic park. Fightin’ Joe had secured a 99-year lease for the land from the federal government at a cost of a dollar a year. The first program was printed up by the I.O.D.E. for the opening and sold for 15 cents each. This was to be “...one of the finest football fields in all of Canada.”
Over the next few decades, the stadium underwent many changes. The Second World War stopped the Eskimos from playing pro football but other amateur sports including soccer, lacrosse, and track and field continued without interruption. Tent concession booths gave way to permanent wooden structures at each corner of the stadium. More and more bleachers were gradually added to the park until there was room for 14,000, sitting and standing fans. A special section was set aside in the bleachers for the “Knothole Gang” of children; for a mere 25 cents, a child could attend any Eskimo home game.
Clarke Stadium was a place of dreams and unforgettable football. Men such as Frankie Morris, Jackie Parker, Normie Kwong, Johnny Bright, Tommy-Joe Coffee, John LaGrone, Jim Thomas, Rollie Miles and Don Getty left their mark on the field. As coach Ray Jauch said, “A lot of players’ blood and sweat was spilled during those years, but the thing I’ll remember best was when it was raining... and the fans would duck under the stands like drowned orphans. Then we’d make a comeback and they’d come out again.”
Forty years later on August 23, 1978, some 25,000 fans watched the final fames between the Eskimos and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. This time, the Eskimos didn’t disappoint and won 14 - 8. After the game, the wet weather covered up many moist eyes and the floodlights in Clarke Stadium were switched off for the last time for professional football.