The Spirit of Griffiths Stadium
By Charlene Cyr
There are fans. And then there are Huskie fans. Like the husky dogs themselves, theyï¿½re a fiercely loyal breed prepared to brave rain, wind, and even snow to be in the stands at Griffiths Stadium. It ï¿½s fans like these that help the Huskies succeed and, in particular, have helped make Griffiths Stadium the premium sports facility it is today.
The first to have a hand in building Griffiths Stadium were the students themselves. Prior to 1936, Huskie athletes had no field to call their own; instead, they played their games across the South Saskatchewan River at Cairns Field. So in 1935, students took it upon themselves to start raising money towards the construction of a field. A bowling tournament raised $275 of the estimated $25,000 needed. Recognizing their efforts, Dean of Engineering C.J. Mackenzie (LLD'45) stepped in and organized the U of S Stadium Fund Association to build on the students' efforts, soliciting donations from "students, graduates, faculty and well-wishing businessmen of the community."
In the spring of 1936, construction began on Griffiths Stadium at the corner of College Drive and Cumberland Avenue with support once again from students - they did most of the work as a way to earn some money during the difficult Depression years.
The new stadium was opened on October 3, 1936, and became the namesake of the University's much beloved Athletic Director Joe Griffiths (LLD'65).
Fast-forward sixty-seven years past countless wins (and a few forgettable losses) to the year 2003. The 2006 Vanier Cup, the Canadian Interuniversity Sport National Football Championship, was awarded to the University of Saskatchewan - the first time the championship game would be played outside of Ontario. But there were a couple of caveats: the stadium needed artificial turf, as well as lights, before the U of S could host the game.
This time the fans stepped forward.
PotashCorp contributed $5 million toward the stadium upgrades and the area around Griffiths Stadium, including the nearby playing fields, was later named PotashCorp Park in recognition of their generosity.
In 2007, former Huskie David Dubï¿½ and wife Heather Ryan contributed a bronze husky dog statue to welcome fans to Griffiths Stadium. Visitors are encouraged to rub the paw for good luck.
Rhonda Speiss (BComm'96), the company's Manager of Public Relations, emphasized that PotashCorp has a long history with the University of Saskatchewan and was eager to support the upgrades.
"We believe in big commitments," said Speiss. "We see Huskie Athletics as a great bridge between the campus and the community, [and] we're just happy to support it."
Alumni also helped fund improvements to Griffiths Stadium. Ron (BE'62) and Jane (BEd'62) Graham donated $1.2 million to finance a new clubhouse for athletes, which was dedicated in memory of Ron's father, Peter Graham (BE'34), who played football and basketball at the U of S. Ron and Jane are both Huskie Athletics alumni, and went on to contribute an additional $300,000 in football and basketball scholarships as a part of their $5.4-million contribution to Thinking the World of our Future.
"Because of our attachment personally to the University, we thought it was time to give back," Ron said recently.
Another $275,000 was contributed by the Melfort-based radio station, CK750/CJVR, known as the "voice of the Huskies."
The 2006 PotashCorp Vanier Cup was a huge success, attracting more than 12,500 fans to the new stadium on a day where the temperature dropped to a bone-chilling 30 degrees below zero. Another 589,000 fans watched the game on TV. And although the game only lasted a few hours, the upgrades to the stadium and the impact of donors' contributions are now permanent fixture at Griffiths Stadium.
Hugh Vassos (BA'76), chair of the 2006 Vanier Cup organizing committee, said the University could not have hosted the cup without the financial help it received.
"It was important for the image of the University," Vassos said. "We wanted to show the rest of Canada the great sports programming of Huskie Athletics."
In total, donations to the project helped fund a new clubhouse for Huskie athletes and led to the installation of both artificial turf and stadium lighting; new washrooms; a concession stand; additional seating; renovated classrooms and office space; and a new javelin, shot put, and discus area. These improvements to Griffiths Stadium are some of the very visible results of Thinking the World of our Future.
More than 60 years after it was first built, Griffiths Stadium continues to showcase the strong student, alumni, and community support that first made it a reality in the 1930's.
Aerial view of the 2006 PotashCorp Vanier Cup at Griffiths Stadium
Credit: Star Phoenix
Joe Griffiths leading a college cheer in Convocation Hall, 1939, (A-6263)
CK750/CJVR joined the effort to upgrade Griffiths Stadium
W.C. Murray, University President, turns the first sod on Griffiths Stadium in May of 1935 while C.J. Mackenzie and E. Kent Phillips stand on his right. A group of student stand watching, (A-1680)
Black and white photos courtesy of University of Saskatchewan Archives
The Huskies take to the turf for the Centennial Homecoming game, September 15, 2007
Charlene Cyr (BAï¿½00) is a freelance writer, and former Sheaf editor currently living in Prince Albert, SK.