Ultimate Disc Sport History.
“Ultimate wasn’t invented, it was discovered.”
There is more to the history of ultimate than the Jared Kass and Joel Silver story. Ultimate history that is available online is notably incomplete and dated and hasn’t been changed to reflect a history that has been discovered in the last twenty years, even on official sites. These are the events and players that shaped pioneering moments in the early days of ultimate disc sport in Canada and the U.S.
“Ultimate isn’t just the winning score or how well your team plays, it’s also about your competitive conduct while playing the game.”
Like Tin Lid Golf (1926), there are recorded accounts of ultimate-like games being played with metal pans and other flying items since the early 1900s, much earlier then our recent Frisbee historical records. Early disc games were being played recreationally by ball-minded athletes called Frisbee football in many places in North America. It seemed inevitable that ultimate in some similar form, maybe by a different name, would become a popular disc sport. Easy to imagine since both disc golf and ultimate are sports with similar competitive playing concepts as very established ball sports. The only thing unique is the flying plastic disc that flies much better than a ball or a tin lid, and the spirit of playing conduct for all disc sports, including ultimate. (from the History of Ultimate)
Ultimate Disc History in Canada.
“The strongest among the weak is the one that doesn’t forget their weakness.”
In the 1960s and 1970s, there were pockets of Frisbee play happening in cities and towns across North America. In this article, these are the players and their contributions that would share a common events history in the early days of ultimate in Canada.
In 1970, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner, sponsored by Irwin Toy, began introducing disc sports across Canada. Ultimate Frisbee made history with its first official appearance and Canadian debut at the annual 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 ultimate Frisbee demonstrations with promoters called Johnny Appleseeds and other disc athletes who were there to compete in the events at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships. Westerfield also played ultimate while competing in the mid-1970s in the U.S. and touring team league ultimate in the Northern California Ultimate Frisbee League (NCUFL) (1977-78). In 1979, retiring from competing in freestyle, disc golf, ultimate, and overall NAS competitions in the United States, Westerfield continued to organize Frisbee show tours and disc sports competitions in Canada. Because of Ken’s love of ultimate and his desire to play again, began organizing Canada’s first ultimate league in Toronto. In 1979, Westerfield with the help of Irwin Toy’s CFA director Bob Blakely and Chris Lowcock began recruiting players for a Toronto Ultimate League (Club) (TUC).
Westerfield started the league with weekly ultimate pick-up games on Kew Beach with beach freestylers Patrick Chartrand, Stuart Godfrey, Gary Auerbach and Jim Lim. Christopher Lowcock, introduced to disc sports by his brother Les, became part of this group. Westerfield, Lowcock and the others would recruit more players as they passed by along the boardwalk, Weekly ultimate pick-up was becoming very popular. Referencing his player competitor contact list from past tournaments, Ken sent out team league invitations, with ultimate playing instructions, to form teams representing Wards Island, West Toronto, North Toronto, and his team Beaches to join the Toronto Ultimate League. These were the first four teams, with each team taking turns hosting Wednesday weekly league game nights at their home locations. The league starting night was at Kew Beach, next to the boardwalk. After almost ten years of early Canadian national Frisbee programs and popular multi-event competitions on the Toronto Islands, Toronto was more than ready for an ultimate league. The next year there were six teams and then ten. The league grew substantially from that period. 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 the league standings through the playing season. The Toronto Ultimate League continued to develop and was renamed the Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC), with 3300 active members and over 250 teams playing year-round. This was the first ultimate league in Canada, and is now one of the world’s oldest.
The Toronto Ultimate Club was a founding partner for the Toronto Rush, the first Canadian professional ultimate team in the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). The success and impact of the Toronto Ultimate Club (TUC), as a premier organization for ultimate in Canada since 1979, has never been more evident in Canada and the U.S. than when in 2013 mostly TUC players made up a team called the Toronto Rush and joined the AUDL. Until then, all the AUDL teams were American with U.S. players. Toronto Rush, with Canadian players, won every game in their first season, including the AUDL Championships and has the best record with the most wins in AUDL professional ultimate history.
In 1988, Westerfield retired from playing ultimate and organizing all of his disc events. Chris Lowcock, already involved in the league’s development, took over all the league responsibilities and successfully ran the TUC until 1991. Chris also hosted the 1991 World Ultimate Club Championships in Toronto. Ken Westerfield and Chris Lowcock were inducted into the inaugural class of both the Toronto Ultimate Club Hall of Fame and the Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame.
Note: This information is from Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame, TUC and Wikipedia.
Vancouver and Victoria, British Columbia.
From 1971 to 1977, Ken Westerfield and Jim Kenner were sponsored by Irwin Toy, (a Wham-O licensee for manufacturing Frisbee’s in Canada) to tour as Frisbee professionals across Canada to promote Frisbee play and all the disc sports. The Calgary Stampede and the Edmonton Klondike Days were just some of the annual events for their Frisbee show. Each year their tour would end in Vancouver, where they would spend the rest of their summer freestyling on Kitsilano Beach and performing Frisbee shows nightly on the streets of historic Gastown. In 1974-76, Kenner and Westerfield presented early disc sports competitions on Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. This is where Vancouver’s Jim Brown, Bill King and John Anthony competed in their first Frisbee and freestyle competition. The ‘Pep Boys’ as they were later called on the U.S. and Canadian competitive Frisbee tour circuit, would become a top competitive freestyle team and key figures in the development of disc sports in Canada.
In 1977, Ken and Jim also hosted a Wham-O/ Irwin sponsored NAS tournament that brought all the best disc throwers in the world to Vancouver’s Stanley Park. Westerfield and Kenner with their events, publicity, beach and street shows, helped to set the stage for organized disc sports in BC.
Scott Lewis began organizing disc sports in BC, inventing his own game called Frisbee Football with several dozen people to play it regularly from 1974 to 1976 at Willows Beach in Victoria. He then became involved in running overall tournaments and creating disc golf courses in Victoria, culminating in 1982 when he founded the University of Victoria Disc Sports Club. After being exposed to the sport while competing in overall tournaments in California, Scott started the first ultimate team in BC, the Flying Islanders. “To put it simply, Scott devoted an enormous amount of time and energy to the development of disc sports and ultimate in British Columbia.” – Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame. 1982 saw the beginning of regular weekly pickup games at Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver. In 1984 the Flying Islanders made the first road trip in BC history, traveling to Seattle to compete in a tournament. On the weekend of June 29-30, 1985, Jim Brown organized the first ultimate tournament in western Canada, held at Jericho Beach. It featured two Vancouver teams plus one each from Victoria and Calgary. The Vancouver Ultimate League was founded in September 1986. The first meeting was attended by Carlo Giuliano, Myrna Monck, Darryl Grigg, Jennifer Newman, Jo Playfair, Adam Berson, Doug Grant, Jim Brown, and Julia Daley. These people gathered to organize a league, ironically, because they didn’t have a reliable turn-out for their pick-up games. The solution was to divide themselves into 3 teams and appoint 3 captains. It was those captains that did the hard work of team recruitment and getting the league started. They took on the responsibility to get a team on the field for each scheduled game. Darryl was captain of the Fringe, Adam was captain of the Nerf Terf Burners, and Jo Playfair was captain of the Flaming Red Sallies. They were the people that got the league started. Adam “Elvis” Berson, Jim Brown, and Scott Lewis were all inducted into the Ultimate Canada Hall of fame.
Note: This information is from Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame and VUL.
Keith Whyte learned about Ultimate working in a youth hostel in Namur, Belgium where the 1982 European Championships were held. He played with the UK team and then brought his passion for the game back to Ottawa. He taught the game to a few individuals who would later go on with him to form the Screaming Yellow Zonkers. Marcus Brady and Brian Guthrie are the founders of the Ottawa summer league (1986), Ottawa competitive ultimate, and the No Borders tournament (1987), with Keith Whyte as the Tournament Director. After Marcus played around with discs at Glebe Collegiate, he went on to start an intramural Ultimate program at McGill University. He returned to Ottawa and played pickup before starting the Ottawa Carleton Ultimate League Thing (OCULT) with Brian Guthrie and members of five teams. Brian started playing the game in the mid to late 1970s in Kingston and Toronto. In 1984 he began to play pickup in Riverside Park, befriending Marcus. In 1986, the two went on to organize the first Ottawa summer league of five teams, with the first captain’s meeting being held in Brian’s living room. Marcus was the tournament director for the first annual Canadian Ultimate Championships, held in Ottawa at St Paul’s University in 1987. Marcus Brady and Brian Guthrie were inducted into the Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame.
Note: This information is from OCUA.
A pick-up version of ultimate began in Calgary, with Pioneers like Joey Fong and Douglas Grant. They came to organize regular games at Riley Park. Steev Limin helped start Calgary Ultimate in June 1985.
In November of the same year, he helped create an open team known as the Cynics, Calgary’s first ultimate team. The Cynics competed in the first Canadian National tournament in 1987 and finished in 2nd place to the Toronto Darkside. They would come back to beat Darkside to win the Nationals in 1988. Calgary ultimate took on a more regular and serious dimension thanks to the organizing efforts of Grant Burns (CUHOF, 2011). Burns had learned the sport as a student at Upper Canada College in the 1970s, and by 1984 brought an advanced level of athletic performance to what was then still a relatively casual pick-up affair. Then, thanks to a chance meeting with Rick Collins, Calgary’s loose aggregation of players first learned about how serious the sport had become in distant hotbeds. Hosting great tournaments became a Calgary tradition thanks to the Cynics. Their annual classic, the Ho-Down, began in 1987. Like the 1995 nationals also hosted by the Cynics, it became a tourney underpinned by what organizers called the Ultimate Player’s Bill of Rights. These included, for the first time anywhere: lined Class-A fields. Scoreboards, ice, and water at every field. Tent-based accommodation at the venue itself. Field food, morning coffee and night-time feasting. Hot tubs at the fields, and at the party. Raging bands, top DJs, and beer flowed from the Friday night welcome party through the last ragged point on Sunday.
Founded in 2004, the Calgary Ultimate Association began coordinating the first year-round leagues, annual tournaments, a growing juniors program, and multiple outreach efforts to promote the sport of ultimate frisbee within Calgary and surrounding areas.
Note: This information is from the Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame.
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. Jean-Luc shared his passion for disc sports with his communities, and during the time of his individual accomplishments, he was first introduced to Ultimate in Toronto in the early 80s. In the Summer of 1987, Jean-Luc and Mike Jones organized a Winnipeg team to attend the first Canadian Ultimate Championships in Ottawa. Knowing this was an invaluable opportunity to bring crucial national tournament exposure to a core of Winnipeg players, and in turn, strengthen the disc sports community in Winnipeg, they built a team. The stage was set for Mike, Jean-Luc and his brother Pierre’s longstanding vision of galvanizing a disc sports community in Winnipeg. By the Fall of 1987, Jean-Luc and Mike were determined to create an organization that would support the future of Disc Sports in Manitoba. That Winter Jean-Luc, and Mike were the principal architects behind the drafting of the constitution which established the Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports. MODS’ Winnipeg Ultimate League began as a league of four teams at Assiniboine Park in Winnipeg. These early years of the Winnipeg Ultimate League set in motion a series of tremendous accomplishments and growth.
Note: This information is from MODS.
Discraft was founded in the late 1970s by Jim Kenner and Gail McColl in London, Ontario, Canada. Jim and Gail made a few initial runs of their new Sport Disc and organized several disc sports tournaments in London, before moving the company from Canada to its present location in Wixom, Michigan. Discraft introduced flying discs for every disc sport, including the Ultra-Star 175 gram disc in 1981, with an updated mold in 1983. This disc was adopted as the standard for ultimate during the 1980s. In 1991 the Ultra-Star was specified as the official disc for UPA tournament play. In 2011, the Discraft Ultra-Star and Jim Kenner were inducted into the USA Ultimate Hall of Fame for Special Merit.
Elite Canadian Teams
“All it takes is all you’ve got.”
Ultimate Canada, founded in 1993, serves as the governing body of the sport of Ultimate in Canada. It runs the Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC) and Canadian University Ultimate Championship (CUUC) series.
The first Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC) were held, for the open division, in Ottawa in 1987. OCUA subsequently hosted the 1993, 1999, 2002 and 2011 Canadian Ultimate Championships.
In 1987, ultimate team Darkside of Toronto won Canada’s first national ultimate championships in a close final against the Calgary Ultimate Cynics. The Cynics would come back to win against Darkside in the 1988 Canadian Ultimate Championships (CUC).
Toronto’s Ultimate Darkside, and Hall of Fame Team Calgary Ultimate Cynics were the first best Men’s teams in Canada. Hall of Fame Team See Jane Run from Toronto was Canada’s first Women’s touring team and dominated national championships for many years from the late 1980s.
Furious George formed in 1995, were the open champions in 2002, 2003, and 2005 UPA Club Championships. They have also won ten Canadian Ultimate Championships: in 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2000, 2003, 2007, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Furious won gold for Canada in 1998, 2004, and 2008 at the WFDF World Ultimate Championships, as well as comprising half of the gold medal co-ed Canadian National Team at the 2001 World Games in Akita, Japan. In 2011, Furious George was inducted into the Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame. Canada has been ranked number one in the Ultimate World Rankings several times since 1998 in all the Ultimate Divisions (including Open and Women’s) according to the World Flying Disc Federation.
American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL)
“Ultimate doesn’t build character, it reveals it.”
In 2013, as a founding partner, the Toronto Ultimate Club presented Canada’s first semi-professional ultimate team, the Toronto Rush, to the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). They ended their season undefeated 18-0 and won the AUDL Championships. In 2014, the Montreal Royal join the league and in 2015, AUDL added the Ottawa Outlaws.
Ultimate has become one of today’s fastest-growing sports. In 2015, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted full recognition to the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF) for flying disc sports, including ultimate. It is widely believed that ultimate will become as popular as soccer, for many of the same reasons soccer is the world’s most popular sport.
Spirit of the Game.
“An ultimate game has many moments to be won or lost. The final score at the end of the game is only one of those moments.”
The Original Ultimate Rules written by Joel Silver and CHS classmates makes no mention of “Spirit of the Game,” but does mention the use of referees. In the Herndon/Silver video interview, Silver tries to nuance some definition for Spirit of the Game, and it’s pretty clear that he’s really not sure where it came from, or even what it is. SOTG did not begin with the students at Columbia High School (CHS). Those early parking lot ultimate games didn’t require referees for the same reason kids playing sports in the park or on the streets don’t use referees, they didn’t need them. Supervision for technical issues or aggressive play wasn’t needed for those early student games. The self-regulating playing conduct in SOTG didn’t become a thing until ultimate was played by disc athletes and evolved through the disc sports alternative community. SOTG was mostly recognized in ultimate, one of disc sports most competitive non-contact team sport.
In the 1970s, the “Spirit of the Game” that had yet to be defined, was more about the spirit of disc athletes alternative to traditional sports that played the game, than the game itself. I’m not talking about the non-athletes that first played the game with Silver at CHS, I’m talking about the early disc athletes that played all the disc sports, including ultimate. Evolving from the counterculture playing appeal of all the disc sports, Spirit of the Game is about fair play and personal competitive conduct. SOTG, has also become about integrity, honesty, and respect, not just as a disc athlete in a sport, but the character qualities you choose to have as a person.
“Every time you make a play, a call or counter a call, no matter how important it may seem at the time that you want it to favor your team, your integrity and character as a player and a person is on display and being witnessed by everyone present. These moments are how you will be judged and remembered by others as to how you played the game and when under moments of intense game pressure, you measured up.”
At the end of an ultimate game, win or lose, players will always show comradery with players on the other team with a team cheer and after championship games, will often celebrate their opponent’s victory with them. In 1978, SOTG was officially recognized and written into the 7th Edition of the Ultimate Rules. (from the History of Ultimate)
Ultimate Beginnings and Freestyle Early Play.
“Ultimate is a passing game made up of throwing techniques created and used by early freestylers before disc sports were invented. When I watch an ultimate game, I don’t just see ultimate players, I see what looks like early freestylers that like to run a lot.”
Guts, disc golf, and ultimate, replacing the ball with a flying disc, all have rules and playing strategies very similar to long-established ball sports. All disc sports and early freestyle-play share a common history. Inscribed on the underside of all the Frisbees since the 1960s, to ‘PLAY CATCH’ and ‘EXPERIMENT’ with different ways of throwing and catching, ‘freestyle’ was Frisbee’s first play.
In the beginning, throwing variety and catching the Frisbee in various ways were techniques that would show the possibilities of using the Frisbee in sports. Freestyle and Guts Frisbee produced disc sports first excellent disc athletes. Every disc sport, including ultimate, uses what was originally known as freestyle throwing techniques. The early introduction of ultimate was played as a backhand passing, two-hand catching camp activity by Kass and Silver with friends in high school. Many of ultimate’s earliest promoters called Johnny Appleseeds became excellent disc athletes and along with very accomplished freestylers in the 1970s began promoting ultimate as a new disc sport.
Freestyle play and freestyle competitions were the tournament’s most popular events through the 1970s. When players would take a break from freestyling, they would play other disc sports like disc golf and pick-up ultimate. Although the athleticism of early ultimate players was excellent, having an entire team skilled in advanced throwing was nearly impossible. Freestylers, before all the disc sports, invented and developed all of the advanced throwing techniques used by today’s disc athletes. Freestylers, having skill in all the throwing techniques, were most of the best overall disc athletes and early excellent ultimate handlers, introducing the big throwing techniques that make disc sports the fun throwing and passing games they are today.
Timeline of National Ultimate Developments in Canada.
Prior to 1966 and into the 1970s, ultimate-like games called “Frisbee football,” are played with the flying disc by ball-minded athletes
1972-1985 Canadian Open Frisbee Championships, Toronto and 1974-1977 Vancouver Open Frisbee Championships, introduced Frisbee and the beginning of competitive modern disc sports including ultimate.
1975–Ultimate is played for the first time at the Canadian Open Frisbee Championships on Toronto Islands.
1979–Toronto Ultimate League.
1986–Vancouver and Ottawa, Ultimate Leagues.
1987–First Canadian Ultimate Championships, Ottawa. Toronto Darkside wins.
1987–Winnipeg Ultimate League.
1988–Manitoba Organization of Disc Sports (MODS), the first Provincial Sports Organization founded.
1989–Women’s Division added to Ultimate Nationals (CUC).
1991–WFDF World Ultimate Club Championships in Toronto.
1993–Canadian Ultimate Players Association begins.
1994–Juniors Division added to Ultimate Nationals (CUC).
1995–Masters Division added to Ultimate Nationals (CUC). First Annual University National Championships–open & women’s divisions.
1997– WFDF World Ultimate Club Championships in Vancouver
1998–Team Canada Masters wins first Gold Medal for Canada at Worlds (WUGC)–quickly followed by Gold in Mixed and Open. Since 1998, Canada has been ranked number one in the World, several years in all divisions, by WFDF World Ultimate Ranking.
1999 – Mixed Division added to Canadian Ultimate Championships.
2002– First Canadian team to win USAU (UPA) Championship: Furious George (Vancouver).
2004–Calgary Ultimate Association is founded and league play begins.
2008–WFDF World Ultimate & Guts Championships in Vancouver.
2010–Canadian Ultimate Players Association changes its name to Ultimate Canada.
2011– Ultimate Canada Hall of Fame honors pioneers and players.
2012–Junior Division at CUC splits from Mixed into Junior Open and Junior Women’s.
2013–The Junior Open and Junior Women’s divisions at CUC split away from the adult events competition, turning CUC into a 7-day tournament.
2013–As a founding partner, the Toronto Ultimate Club presented Canada’s first semi-professional ultimate team, the Toronto Rush, to the American Ultimate Disc League (AUDL). Montreal Royal (2014), Ottawa Outlaws (2015).
2015–WFDF World Ultimate Rankings by country. Canada is ranked number 2 out of 44 countries. Several years in the 1990s, Canada was ranked number one in the world in all divisions.
2015–The International Olympic Committee (IOC) granted full recognition to the World Flying Disc Federation (WFDF), (of which Ultimate Canada is a member) for flying disc sports, including ultimate.
2011 – Adam “Elvis” Berson | Grant Burns | Jen Catalano | Anja Haman
Steev Limin | Al “Al-Bob” Nichols | Gillian Scarfe | Lorne Beckman | Brian Gisel
John Harris | Scott Lewis | Chris Lowcock | Ken Westerfield | Dean Wright
Marcus Brady | Brian Guthrie | Keith Whyte
2012 – Dante Anderson | Andrew Lugsdin
2013 – Leslie Calder | Jim Brown
2014 – Alex Hughes | Monica Kerr-Coster | Jeff Malmgren
2016 – Cheryl Claibourne | Donnie McPhee
2017 – Jeff Cruickshank | Kirk Savage
2018 – Evan Wood
Ultimate Canada HOF Teams: Furious George (2011) GOO/Prime (2011) See Jane Run (2012) Nomads (2013) Chaos (2014) The Calgary Cynics (2016) Masters of Flying Objects (2017)
- History and awards: Decade Awards
- Instruction: Ultimate United
- Directory of Ultimate Frisbee Clubs across Canada.
- Players organizations and media sources: Ultimate Canada | USA Ultimate | WFDF | FrisbeeGuru | Ultimate Rob | Ultiworld
Disc Golf History
History of Disc Golf in Canada
Freestyle Frisbee History
Guts Frisbee History
History of Frisbee and Disc Sports in Canada
History of Ultimate Frisbee
Home page: The History of Frisbee and Disc Sports
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 linked crediting is permitted (discsportshistory.com). For more information, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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