“Disc sports are Canadian sports. No country can claim an earlier disc sports identity then Canada”.
Tin-Lids, Frisbee and Flying Discs.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the Frisbee, designed from the tin pie pan and eventually named after a bakery hit the market as a new fun plastic flying toy in cities and towns across North America. Many innovations in Frisbee play and disc sports were being invented and developed in both the U.S. and Canada in the early years of what was then known as ‘playing Frisbee’. A few pioneers developed the playing skills and then presented the events and competitive formats for early disc competitions. This was the beginning of today’s modern disc sports.
Canada’s Frisbee and Disc Sports History.
“The earliest record of a flying disc sport was disc golf, beginning in Canada 1926”.
The world’s first flying disc sport was disc golf, invented and played in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, Canada in 1926. Ronald Gibson and a group of his Bladworth Elementary School buddies played a game of throwing tin lids into 4 foot wide circles drawn into sandy patches on their school grounds. They called the game Tin Lid Golf and played on a fairly regular basis. However, after they grew older and went their separate ways, the game came to an end. We don’t have the historical connecting dots from 1926 Tin Lid Golf to the beginning of modern disc golf or disc sports, but it doesn’t mean they weren’t there. For all we know, someone from Bladworth Tin lid Golf may have moved to the East Coast of the US, for whatever reason and started the pie tin tossing at Yale and other universities, we just don’t know. Frisbee and modern disc sports competitions began in the early 1970s in Canada and the US. Many innovations in competitions and tournament formats were being discovered and established in both countries at the same time. Because of Canada’s early introduction and interest in disc sports, Canadian disc athletes and teams, throughout disc sports history, have been recognized as the best in the world in various individual and team disc sports.
Modern Disc Sports – Canada 1970.
Since the 1970s, many people across Canada and the U.S. have made contributions to Frisbee and disc sports. Along with Tin Lid Golf in Saskatchewan, another significant recorded history for the beginning of modern disc sports began in Canada. In 1970, Jim Kenner and Ken Westerfield moved from Michigan to Ontario. Becoming residents of Toronto, they would use Queen’s Park in the city downtown area as their playing headquarters for developing their Frisbee play. Activities included object disc golf and freestyle. Westerfield and Kenner began developing Frisbee shows, competitive events and programs at recreation centers and schools in Canada and the U.S.
In 1971, during a time of hippies, yippies and counter-culture, Jim and Ken did as many young people would do, spend the summer hitchhiking across Canada. Spending weeks on the road with a few dollars each, sleeping bags and a Frisbee, they gained some fame, performing improv Frisbee street shows in the cities and towns along the way. Beginning in 1972, after submitting a proposal to Irwin Toy (Frisbee manufacturer in Canada), they were hired by Irwin, at a time when Frisbee was still considered a toy, to perform as Frisbee Professionals promoting the Frisbee across Canada. Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner also teamed up with Humber College professor, Andrew Davidson and Jeff Otis, event coordinator for the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE), to produce the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships at the Canadian National Exhibition. This event began in 1972 with Guts and Distance and in 1974 they added Freestyle and Accuracy. In 1975, Ken and Jim moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships from the CNE to the Toronto Islands, where disc golf, ultimate and the individual field events were added to the original events. Westerfield and Kenner from 1971, spent several years touring Canada as Frisbee pros for Irwin Toy. Each summer their tour would end in Vancouver where they would spend the rest of their summer freestyling on Vancouver’s beaches, including Kitsilano and doing nightly Frisbee shows on the streets of historic Gastown. In 1974, they decided to add another tournament to their Canadian Frisbee promotions, the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships on Kitsilano Beach and in Stanley Park. Ken and Jim ran Frisbee activities across Canada including major tournaments in Toronto and Vancouver. These tournaments were at the beginning of disc sports and two of the earliest competitions on the U.S. and Canadian tournament trail for the first touring competitive disc athletes.
Earliest Disc Sports Annual Tournaments in Canada and the U.S.
Guts, freestyle, disc golf, ultimate, double disc court (DDC) and a number of other Frisbee individual events like accuracy, distance, MTA, TRC, and discathon were disc sports first events. The first disc sports multi-event tournaments were, the IFT Guts Frisbee competitions in Northern Michigan, the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, ON (1972), the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Vancouver, BC (1974), the Octad, New Brunswick, NJ (1974), the American Flying Disc Open (AFDO), Rochester, NY (1974) and the WFC, Rose Bowl, Pasadena, CA (1974). These were the earliest Frisbee competitions to introduce the Frisbee as a new disc sport, up until these tournaments, the Frisbee was used as a recreation and generally considered to be a toy. Not only did these early multi-event tournaments present all of the first disc sports to the world, the tournament directors for these tournaments were also the founders of the disc sports.
First Disc Golf and Competitions – Toronto and Vancouver 1970 – 1976.
Beginning in 1970, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner, years before the idea of disc golf courses and the forming of the DGA or the PDGA, played Frisbee golf daily on an 18 object hole course they designed in Queens Park. This course was one of three courses that are considered to be the world’s first object disc golf courses that led to modern disc golf in Canada and the US. The other two courses were Rochester, NY (Jim Palmeri) and Berkeley, CA (Berkeley Frisbee Group).
Around 1973, Canadian Gail McColl (Disc Golf and Freestyle Hall of Fame inductee, co-founder of Discraft) and other freestyle and disc golfing friends of Ken and Jim’s, became regular players at the park.
Westerfield and Kenner added disc golf to their other tournament events at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands and their Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (NAS sanctioned event) in Stanley Park. Vancouver, BC. Kenner and Westerfield ran the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships from 1974 to 1977. Jim Brown of Vancouver took over tournament responsibilities beginning in 1978.
These were the first disc golf tournaments in Canada, beginning as object courses, then later on Toronto Islands, the Canadian Open used permanently placed disc pole holes.
Through the 1970s and 1980s, in addition to the disc golf events at the Canadian Open, Westerfield produced many other Irwin sponsored disc golf tournaments on the Toronto Island disc pole hole course. The Disc Golf Challenge (1983 – 1987) and the Toronto Island Open (1984 – 2012). Ken started this disc golf tournament and it ran with several more directors until 2012. In 1987, Ken Westerfield as tournament director with sponsor Irwin Toy and Bob Blakely (Canadian Frisbee Association), produced the PDGA World Disc Golf Championships on Toronto Islands. This was the first and only time this world championship has been held outside of the United States.
Ultimate in Canada 1975.
Ultimate made its first international appearance at the 1975 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto. This was the beginning of introducing ultimate Frisbee to Canadians in the way of demonstrations added to the other tournament events.
Canadian Open tournament co-director Ken Westerfield would organize and play in these early demonstrations with some of the ultimate founders called (Johnny Appleseeds), graduates from Columbia High School and other disc athletes that were there to compete in the other events at the Canadian Open competition. In the mid-1970s, Westerfield also played touring team league ultimate in the Northern California Ultimate Frisbee League (NCUFL). Ken, retiring from competing in U.S. ultimate, freestyle, disc golf and over-all NAS competitions, continued to organize and produce local disc events in Toronto. Because of his love of ultimate, he began organizing ultimate Frisbee events in Toronto.
In 1979, Ken Westerfield with the help of Irwin Toy’s Bob Blakely (CFA) and Chris Lowcock created the Toronto Ultimate Club. Westerfield started weekly ultimate pick-up games on Kew Beach with beach freestylers Patrick Chartrand, Stuart Godfrey, Gary Auerbach and Jim Lim. Ken, using his tournament registration contact list, sent team participation invitations to Wards Island, West Toronto, North Toronto and his own team the Beaches. These were the first four teams with each team taking turns hosting Wednesdays weekly league game nights at their home locations. The league starting night was at Kew Beach. Westerfield, using Bob Blakely’s office copy machine and mailing facility at Irwin Toy, would produce a weekly newsletter highlighting the games and scores for each team as well as their league standings through the playing season. The Toronto Ultimate League developed and was renamed the Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC), which now has 3300 active members and over 250 teams playing the year-round. This was the first ultimate league in Canada and now one of the world’s oldest. In 1988, Westerfield retired from playing ultimate and organizing disc events, Chris took over all league responsibilities and successfully ran the TUC for many years after that. Ken Westerfield and Chris Lowcock were inducted into the inaugural class of both the 2010 Toronto Ultimate Club Hall of Fame and the national Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame.
Freestyle Competitions – Toronto and Vancouver 1974.
Freestyle is an event where teams of two or three players perform a routine that consists of a series of creative throwing and catching techniques set to music. The routine is judged on the basis of difficulty, execution and presentation. The team with the best total score is declared the winner.
Freestyle in the beginning, before the invention of the nail-delay, catching possibilities would depend on the throw you were given, it was always spontaneous and unpredictable. Play of this type of freestyle was performed with two players standing 30-40 yards apart, the throws were fast and varied and the catches were right off the throw, except for the occasional kick or slap-up and rarely a pause between the catch and the return throw. At advanced levels, the throws and catches becomes a smooth flow once you have mastered the basics.
For years, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner had been playing a fast-flowing trick throw and catch freestyle and already touring as Frisbee Professionals. In 1973, Westerfield and Kenner, wanting to see if there were other Frisbee freestylers, decided to add their idea of a Frisbee Freestyle competition to the 2nd Canadian Open Frisbee Championships in Toronto, but due to a lack of competitors, the freestyle event was canceled. Unknown to Westerfield and Kenner at the time, there was the beginning of a growing Frisbee freestyle interest in the United States centered in Berkeley, New York, Ann Arbor, New Jersey and Chicago. In 1974, at the 3rd annual Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Westerfield and Kenner introduced the first freestyle competitive event called Freestyle which was attended by players from each of the above-mentioned areas and they won it.
The Decade Awards 1970-75 Top Freestyle Routine: Ken Westerfield/Jim Kenner Canadian Open 1974:
“Considered the greatest speed-flow game of all time. Ken and Jim put on a clinic to cap off a blistering hot final by all of the teams. They featured a rhythmic and dynamic style with concise catch and throw combinations. These two gentlemen are credited with creating formal disc freestyle competition. The 1973 Canadian Open did not have freestyle as an event, the end result made history”.
Later that same year, in 1974, Kenner and Westerfield organized the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974-1977) at Kitsilano Beach. Along with other Frisbee events, they included their second big freestyle competition where Bill King, Jim Brown and John Anthony made their first competitive appearance. The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships (1974), was the beginning of freestyle. In 1975, the tournaments in the U.S. began including Ken and Jim’s freestyle competition as one of their events. For the rest of that decade and into the 1980s, freestyle became the most popular event at multi-disc event tournaments worldwide.
Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner were both inducted into the inaugural Pioneer Class of the Freestyle Players Association Freestyle Disc Hall of Fame.
Frisbee Becomes a Sport.
After touring for Irwin Toy for a few years, Westerfield and Kenner approached Molson Breweries in 1974 with the idea of performing Frisbee shows at basketball halftimes in Canadian universities as the Molson Frisbee Team. Always looking for unique ways to get into the university market, they accepted their proposal and were more than impressed with the results. The next year, Molson’s used their show exclusively to introduce a new brand of beer called Molson Diamond. In 1975, with Molson’s sponsorship, Westerfield and Kenner moved the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, from the Canadian National Exhibition to the Toronto Islands. Molson’s would continue to sponsor their Frisbee shows and events for several years. Along with promoting Molson products, this would help Westerfield and Kenner to promote their new disc sports everywhere
In 1975, Ed Headrick asked Dan Roddick to head up the IFA at Wham-O. Ed also asked Ken Westerfield to head the Canadian Frisbee Association for Canada, Ken turned down the job and felt that his efforts would be better served outside an office. Irwin Toy, located in Toronto, did eventually establish the Canadian Frisbee Association. In the years that followed, the Canadian Frisbee Association would have several directors. In the 1980s, Bob Blakely would become head of Irwin’s Frisbee promotions and director of the CFA. Bob Blakely was Canadian Frisbee Association’s first player/director and already involved in disc sports. Bob successfully organized show tours, appropriated funds and support for tournaments and teams, He also promoted and coordinated the Jr Frisbee Program across Canada. Blakely and Westerfield were good friends and became a perfect team for further promoting Frisbee and disc sports across Canada in the 1980s.
In the late 1970s, organized disc sports were becoming popular across Canada and the United States. Jim Kenner and Gail McColl moved from Toronto to London, Ontario and founded their disc manufacturing company called Discraft.
Ken Westerfield and Mary Kathron, dividing their time between Toronto and Santa Cruz, California started a Frisbee show called Good Times Professional Frisbee Show, performing in Canada and the United States at universities and sporting events. Also, there were several sponsored Frisbee touring shows coordinated by Bob Blakely as the CFA Director at Irwin Toy with Orange Crush, Air Canada, Lee Jeans and Labatt’s Breweries. Orange Crush even provided logo painted vans and motorhomes with several touring Frisbee teams to do shows at fairs, sporting events, shopping malls and schools across Canada. Bob Blakely, Ken Westerfield, Mary Kathron, Ron Leithwood, Mike Sullivan, Brian McElwain, Kevin Sparkman, Stuart Godfrey, Pat Chartrand, Peter Turcaj, Gary Auerbach, Jim Brown, Bill King and John Anthony were the touring freestyle performers in the series and became the foundation upon which disc sports popularity continued to grow in Canada.
On the West Coast, Scott Lewis started the first organized disc sports in BC, inventing his own game called Frisbee Football and organizing several dozen people to play it regularly from 1974-1976 at Willows Beach in Victoria. In 1985, Jim Brown of Vancouver founded the Westwind Disc Society, which morphed first into the Vancouver Disc Sports Society and later the BC Disc Sports Society. This was the first provincially-recognized disc sports organization. See more on disc sports in Vancouver…
Jean Luc Forest and Mike Jones were the co-founders of Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports. MODS became the first Canadian Ultimate Organization to incorporate in Feb of 1988. MODS was also the first to achieve Provincials Sports Organization status. See more on disc sports in Manitoba…
Frisbee and Disc Sports Timeline for Canada.
1926 – World’s first flying disc sport is disc golf invented in Canada. The first game was held in Bladworth, Saskatchewan, using tin lids.
1970 – Queen’s Park, Toronto, first designed object disc golf course and freestyle play. (the beginning of modern disc golf and freestyle)
1972-1976 – Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner meet with Ed Hurst of Irwin Toy with their idea of promoting the Frisbee. Ken and Jim become the first touring Frisbee Professionals.
1972-1985 – The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto, the introduction of modern disc sports. Sponsors over the years include Molson’s, Orange Crush, Labatt’s, Root’s and Irwin.
1974-1977 – Molson Brewery begins promoting disc sports events and Frisbee shows with Kenner and Westerfield as the Molson Frisbee Team.
1974-1977 – The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships. Western Canada’s first Frisbee competitions and the introduction of modern disc sports. World’s first freestyle competitions at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto and the Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, Vancouver, BC.
1975 – Irwin Toy creates the Canadian Frisbee Association to promote Frisbee sport and sales. In the 1980s, Bob Blakely becomes the first player to head the CFA.
1975 – The Canadian Open Frisbee Championships introduces ultimate.
1975-1978 – World Class Frisbee signature disc for Canada.
1976-1977 – First disc golf tournaments in Canada – Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto Islands and The Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships. 1977-1985 – Several Frisbee teams tour Canada with sponsors Orange Crush, Air Canada, Lee Jeans and Labatt Brewery.
1979 – Discraft begins manufacturing disc in London, Ontario.
1979 – The Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC) begins.
1980 – First official disc golf pole hole courses are designed and installed. Played as an object course since 1975 – 18 disc pole holes were installed on Wards Island, Toronto, ON and 9 disc pole holes on Pender Island, BC. In 1976, Winskill Park, Tsawwassen, BC, had a 9 hole disc golf course. The poles with baskets were homemade by locals. In the 1990s they were replaced with official Mach II disc pole holes.
1984 – The beginning of two PDGA disc golf tournaments. The Disc Golf Challenge and the Toronto Island Open (1984-2012)
1985 – Disc Involvement Society of Canada (DISCANADA) that included a publication.
1985 – The Labatt’s World Guts Championships, Toronto, Ontario (Toronto Islands).
1985 – Westwind Disc Society – the Vancouver Disc Sports Society
1986 – Ottawa and Vancouver’s ultimate leagues begin.
1987 – Winnipeg Ultimate League begins.
1987 – The World Disc Golf Championships (PDGA), Toronto, Ontario (Toronto Islands)
1987 – Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC), Ottawa, Ontario.
1988 – Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports,(MODS). First Provincial Sports Organization founded.
1991 – WFDF World Ultimate Club Championships in Toronto.
1993 – Canadian Ultimate Players Association begins.
Directory of Ultimate Frisbee Clubs across Canada.
Disc Golf Course Directory in Canada and the World.
The Flying Disc Museum, Frisbees, disc sports, posters, magazines, history, collectibles.
Note: This information was referenced and time-lined from disc sport historical and biographical articles including U.S. and Canadian Disc Sports Hall of Fame inductions, Disc Sports Player Federations and other historical resources. This article was researched, written and compiled by Frisbee and disc sports historians. The history in this document may change as events and people are added. Linking or reproduction in whole or part with proper crediting is permitted (discsportshistory.com). For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Top photo: Mark Lloyd, Toronto Rush, AUDL.
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