The Canada 150, Prologue: The Promotions

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On July 1st, the nation of Canada celebrates it’s 150th birthday (obviously Canada’s original nation of indigenous peoples were around for over 14,000 years prior to the colonization, but we needed a much smaller number for this series). In honour of Canada’s historic birthday, we’re running an 11-part series called The Canada 150, looking at the 150 most influential Canadians in pro wrestling history, from wrestlers to announcers, both men and women. Each part will contain a brief look at 15 names, encompassing 150 names altogether. This list will be alphabetical by last name, as a list of this size would be far too subjective and the focus should be on the names listed, not the ranking of them. The first part, this prologue, will first take a look at 15 Canadian wrestling promotions – both past and present – that have contributed to Canada’s lasting impression on international professional wrestling.

Photo: WWE

THE CANADA 150:
15 WRESTLING PROMOTIONS FROM 1930 TO NOW

MAPLE LEAF WRESTLING (1930-1986)

From a 1964 Maple Leaf Wrestling program

Canada’s oldest promotion (although now defunct) began in 1930 when local boxing promoter Jack Corcoran decided to enter the professional wrestling business. It began as an extension of Corcoran’s boxing promotion, Queensbury Athletic Club, before becoming it’s own separate brand. Once he gain exclusive booking with the brand new Maple Leaf Gardens in 1931, it became Maple Leaf Wrestling and became the top promotion in Toronto. In 1939, Corcoran was bought out by his assistants, the Tunney brothers, Frank and John (sadly, John would die shortly after). Maple Leaf’s biggest star, Whipper Billy Watson, would become one of Canada’s first World Heavyweight Champions. In 1978, Frank Tunney formed an alliance with Jim Crockett‘s Mid-Atlantic, co-promoting with the NWA. Following Frank’s death in 1983, his nephew Jack Tunney (John’s son) and his own son, Eddie would take over. Jack’s first order was to dissolve his partnership with the NWA and in 1984, he allied Maple Leaf with Vince McMahon Jr. and his WWF. Jack Tunney would become Vince’s first on-air president of the WWF (a title he would hold until 1995) and Maple Leaf was soon absorbed the WWF (with its Canadian broadcast keeping the Maple Leaf Wrestling moniker). For over 50 years, Maple Leaf Wrestling was the official Canadian home for such wrestling icons as Bruno Sammartino, The Sheik, Gene Kiniski, Sweet Daddy Siki, and Ric Flair. If they were anybody anywhere, they wrestled at Maple Leaf Wrestling at the Maple Leaf Gardens.

Ad for a 1983 Maple Leaf Wrestling Card

INTERNATIONAL WRESTLING ASSOCIATION (1935-1975)

Poster for a 1952 IWA card

An institution in Montreal, Quebec, the International Wrestling Association (IWA) was originally started by Eddie Quinn in 1930. His big break came in j1939, when he secured the Montreal Forum as his home arena. He brought in some of the greatest stars of the USA, like Yukon Eric (who became a Canadian citizen in the 1960’s) and Gorgeous George, plus Canadian stars like Killer Kowalski. By the 1960’s, it was taken over by Johnny Rougeau, one of Montreal’s biggest stars and promoters (nephew of early star Eddie Auger and brother of Jacques Rougeau Sr.) and soon the Rougeau family became wrestling royalty in la belle province (Jacques’ sons Jacques Rougeau Jr. and Raymond Rougeau later became big stars with the WWF). By the mid-1970’s IWA (now known as All Star Wrestling) collapsed during a territory war, with several other promotions taking over the IWA’s French audience. The IWA was revived in the 1980’s but was soon bought out by the expanding WWF.

Poster for one of the IWA’s final cards in 1986

STAMPEDE WRESTLING (1948-1989)

Hart Brothers Bruce, Bret and Keith, circa 1983

Perhaps Canada’s most famous wrestling promotion, Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling was the promotion established by Hart family patriarch Stu Hart. It was originally based out of Edmonton, where it was founded as Klondike Wrestling in 1948. In 1952, he bought out Larry Tillman‘s Alberta promotions to merge them into Big Time Wrestling (later renamed Wildcat Wrestling) before finally adopting its most notable moniker, Stampede Wrestling, in 1967. Stampede Wrestling became an institution of Canadian television and a training ground for many notable international wrestlers, largely due to Stu Hart’s reputation as one of the world’s most formidable grapplers. Up until 1982, Stampede was an NWA affiliated territory, until it switched to Vince McMahon and the WWF. In 1984, Vince bought Stampede from Stu Hart, acquiring many of their top young talent, such as Bret ‘Hitman’ Hart, Honky Tonk Man, Jim ‘The Anvil’ Neidhart, Bad News Allen (later Brown) and the British Bulldogs. Vince sold the rights to the promotion back to the Hart brothers, Bruce and Ross, a year later, but it folded in 1989. it had a brief revival in 1999, but never again achieved the international impact it achieved under Stu’s guidance.

Ad for 1983 Stampede card

ALL STAR WRESTLING (1962-1989)

Gene Kiniski, NWA World Champion, 1966

Ontario had Maple Leaf Wrestling, Alberta has Stampede and Quebec had IWA, but in British Columbia, it was All Star Wrestling (ASW) country. Rod Fenton began running Big Time Wrestling in the Vancouver area in the early 60’s but it soon adopted the name of it’s long running television program, All Star Wrestling, in 1962, with the explosive superstardom of it’s own local hero Gene Kiniski. In 1966, Kiniski beat Lou Thesz for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, putting ASW on the map (with Kiniski assuming ownership in 1968). By the late 1970’s, another Canadian star, Al Tomko, took over the reigns, but his decision to put the focus on himself as the top star (he was pushing 50) began ASW’s decline and eventual closure in 1989. Current NXT and MMA (and former SmackDown Live) announcer Mauro Ranallo got his broadcasting start with ASW late in the promotion’s run.

Program for 1972 ASW card

WEST FOUR WRESTLING ALLIANCE (1973-2000)

Ad for WFWA show

When the AWA took over the local promotion in Winnipeg, veteran grappler Tony Condello began West Four Wrestling Alliance (WFWA) in 1973 to help give Canadian wrestlers more opportunities. In 1991, he gave the first starts to future Legends Chris Jericho and Lance Storm (amongst many more). In 1994, he changed the name of the company to the International Wrestling Alliance (IWA), but by 2000, the promotion ended.

ATLANTIC GRAND PRIX WRESTLING (1977-1992)

AGPW founder Emile Dupree

In the Maritimes, Emile Duprée‘s Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling (AGPW) was the promotion of choice. Dupree himself debuted in 1955 and wrestled all over the world, from Boston to New Zealand, and back home with Stampede Wrestling. In 1977, he began AGPW out of Moncton, New Brunswick. In 1986, Dupree sold AGPW to the WWF as part of McMahon’s Canadian expansion. He’s revived it several times since, with such notable former WWE Superstars as Kurrgan and his own son, Rene Dupree, being AGPW alumni.

LUTTE INTERNATIONALE (1980-1987)

Two of Lutte (Varoussac) founders, Gino Brito and Andre the Giant

Following the Montreal territorial wars in the late 1970’s that effectively ended IWA (All Star Wrestling Montreal) and its competitor, Grand Prix Wrestling (the Vachon’s promotion, not AGPW), three French wrestlers – Frank Valois, Andre The Giant and Gino Brito – joined forces to create Promotions Varoussac (the last part was a combination of their real last names – VAlois, ROUSSimoff, and ACcoccella) in 1980 as Montreal’s new premiere promotion. Their promotion soon became one of Canada’s top three promotions (alongside Stampede and Maple Leaf) in the early 1980’s. Andre was by far the company’s biggest star – he was arguably the most popular wrestler in the world at this point – and Montreal was his second home. With Brito’s connection to the AWA and Andre’s long years of work with the WWWF, Varoussac brought in some of the world’s top stars. In 1984, Andre the Giant signed exclusively with Vince McMahon and WWF, selling his ownership stakes to top stars Rick Martel and Dino Bravo (both of whom worked part time with the WWF as well). With the new ownership stable, the company was rebranded Lutte International (translated to International Wrestling). When Andre left the company, McMahon ended his arrangement with the company and in 1987, WWF gained exclusive control of the Montreal Forum, effectively reducing Lutte to indie status in Quebec (where previously it would outdraw WWF). Martel and Bravo returned full time to the WWF, along with other Lutte talent like King Tonga (aka Haku/Meng) and the Rougeau Brothers. Brito was left with the shell of it’s former self, closing it’s doors in 1987. Brito would find work with the WWF as it’s Montreal promoter until the early 1990’s.

BORDER CITY WRESTLING (1993 to present)

The entire Team Canada squad (D’Amore, Eric Young, Petey Williams, A1, Bobby Roode, and Johnny Devine) came from BCW (Photo: Impact Wrestling)

Windsor, Ontario had history in wrestling before – it was a hotbed for Detroit’s The Sheik and his NWA affiliate, Big Time Wrestling, for years in the 1970’s and 1980’s. And in the late 70’s and early 80’s, “Crybaby” George Cannon aired his Superstars of Wrestling show out of Windsor (featuring Big Time, IWA and others). But in 1993, Windsor got its first major promotion with Border City Wrestling (BCW), founded by “The Canadian Destroyer” Doug Chevalier, Chuck Fader and Scott D’Amore. Over the past 20 years, BCW has become a training ground for some of the top stars in the game today – including current NXT Champion Bobby Roode, former Impact World Champion (and NXT Superstar) Eric Young, current IWGP Junior Heavyweight and ROH Television Champion KUSHIDA, current Impact Knockouts Champion Rosemary, and current Impact Grand Champion Moose (to name a few). Scott D’Amore is now the Vice President of International Relations with Impact Wrestling (where he worked from 2003 to 2010 in creative and on-screen), but continues to run shows with BCW to this day.

ECCW (1996 to present)

Photo: ECCW

Originally known as Extreme Canadian Championship Wrestling and an NWA affiliate when it was started in the late 1990’s, by the time it was renamed Elite Canadian Championship Wrestling in 2012, it had long since ceased that alliance. Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia, ECCW effectively replaced both All Star Wrestling and Stampede Wrestling as Western Canada’s premiere promotion (still running today) and effectively launched the careers of many of today’s top stars, including Kyle O’Reilly, Natalya, Tyler Breeze, Tyson Kidd, Davey Boy Smith Jr (DH Smith), Jack Evans, The Singh Brothers (aka The Bollywood Boyz), Taya Valkyrie, Nicole Matthews and many more, as well as early training grounds for WWE Superstars Becky Lynch and Emma amongst others.

PRAIRIE WRESTLING ALLIANCE (2001 to present)

Photo: PWA

The Prairie Wrestling Alliance, based out of Edmonton, Alberta, remains one of the Prairie provinces strongest promotions, still going after 15 years. Alongside ECCW, the PWA offered another Western Canada option for many of the Western Canadian indie wrestlers, such as WWE Champion Jinder Mahal, the Hart family offspring, Johnny Devine, and others, as well as a gateway to Ontario and the East.

GREAT NORTH WRESTLING (2007 to present)

Photo: GNW

Great North Wrestling (GNW) is owned and operated by Canadian indie wrestler Hannibal (also known as Devon Nicholson, the indie wrestler involved in the lawsuit against Abdullah the Butcher for contracting Hep-C from a match) and works out of Northern Ontario, around Pembroke. Known for combining top indie (international and local) with Legends, their shoot interviews (on HannibalTV) are legendary.

C4 (2007 to present)

Photo: C4

Capital City Championship Combat – better known as C4 – has been Ottawa’s premiere promotion since 2007. Such Canadian stars as “Speedball” Mike Bailey, The Super Smash Brothers and Space Monkey are regulars amongst the plethora of local talent from Ontario and nearby Quebec. C4 has become a regular stop for most of the top touring indie talent going through from the West through to Quebec and the Maritimes.

ALPHA-1 WRESTLING (2010 to present)

Photo: Alpha-1

Based out of Hamilton, Ontario (just south of Toronto), Alpha-1 (or A1) is the home promotion for one of indie wrestling’s biggest heels, EVOLVE star Ethan Page. Alpha-1 continues to push the boundaries of indie wrestling in Ontario (and Canada), bringing in some of the world’s top international talent, while also showcasing strong local independents.

SMASH WRESTLING (2011 to present)

Photo: Smash Wrestling

While they may be one of the new kids on the block (comparatively speaking), Smash Wrestling has made up for it in droves. They are the most followed Canadian indie promotion on Social Media and have gone from an upstart Toronto promotion to touring Southern Ontario, from the 416 to London, Sarnia, St. Catharines and beyond. They were the Canadian home for such stars as Johnny Gargano, Rosemary, Allie, and more, and continue to push some of Canada’s top indie talent on a regular basis (their current champion is Canadian icon Tyson Dux).

NOTE: This is FAR from a complete list of past promotions or present promotions. No disrespect is intended for not including any promotion on the list of 15, but for space restraints, the list had to be narrowed down. Feel free to post links or stories for any promotion not listed, or share your favourite stories of any promotion – listed or not – for other fans to enjoy!

CHECK OUT THE REST OF THE SERIES:

The Canada 150, Prologue: The Promotions 

The Canada 150, Part 1: Abdullah The Butcher to Gino Brito

The Canada 150, Part 2: “Bulldog” Bob Brown to Johnny Devine

The Canada 150, Part 3: Paul Diamond to Rene Goulet

The Canada 150, Part 4: The Great Antonio to Gene Kiniski

The Canada 150, Part 5: Ivan Koloff to Santino Marella

The Canada 150, Part 6: Rick Martel to Kyle O’Reilly

The Canada 150, Part 7: Carl Ouellet to Bobby Roode

The Canada 150, Part 8: Rosemary to Space Monkey

The Canada 150, Part 9: KC Spinelli to The Tolos Brothers

The Canada 150, Part 10: Tarzan Tyler to Sami Zayn

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