In 1962, three football enthusiasts; Steve Brown, Bob McBride and Ron Goodbrand started a junior football league in Brantford known as “Jungle Football”. The league consisted of teams from different areas in Brantford and played nine man football. Equipment was scarce and teams often shared the same equipment with players taking off equipment when they finished their game and handing it to a player from the next team that was playing.
The popularity of the “Jungle League” led Steve, Bob and Ron began to formulate a plan in 1963 that would lead to the creation of a junior football team. They came up with the name Brantford Bisons and applied to participate in the Ontario Rugby Football Union which was the leading amateur football league in Ontario at that time. The team played their home games at old Lion’s Park located on Market Street near where Earl Haig Water Park now sits. Attendance at the Bisons home games would often exceed 1,2000 people who enjoyed some great football.
In 1971 the Bisons and other Ontario club members moved to the Ontario Football Conference. As well, during the 1970’s the City of Brantford relocated Lion’s Park to West Brant and constructed a new modern football field with lights, bleachers, dressing rooms and a proper media centre. Bisons teams played their home games at this field until 1982 when the team folded. In 16 of the 19 years the Bisons played in the ORFU and the OFC, the team made the playoffs and, in 1966 and 1968, were provincial champions.
The Bisons original colours were royal blue jerseys and helmets with white pants. In 1971, when the Bisons moved to the OFC, the colours were switched to red jerseys with black helmets and pants.
The Bisons name continued in our community after 1982 with the creation of the Bisons Alumni under the leadership of Paul Bartle, Steve Brown, Ted Farrell, Don Barkley, Scott Hogarth and others involved with the Bisons football team. The Alumni became very active in the community through fundraising and donations to many organizations and events. The first thing they did was support local house league teams in minor sports. In 1983, they also bought materials for video training for St. John’s Ambulance to repay the organization for always been there for the Bisons.
The main fundraising event for the Bisons Alumni was their elimination draw. They also used bingos to make money which allowed the Alumni to be the main thrust behind the Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition. They also spearheaded fundraising for the hospital foundation, the Boys and Girls Club, the Lansdowne Children’s Centre and Christmas Baskets, to name just a handful of the many groups it helped out.
The Bisons Alumni often had between 50 to 60 members but over the years the number dwindled to about 20 in 2009 when the Bisons Alumni made the decision to disband. Over the 27 years of its existence, the Bisons Alumni raised over $2.5 million for many worthy causes in our community. The final organizations to receive a donations from the Bisons Alumni in 2009 included; Brant and District Football Club, Brantford and Area Sports Hall of Recognition, Arnold Anderson Kidsport Sport Access for Youth Fund, Briers Basketball, CYO Basketball, Special Olympics, Brant County Recreational Soccer League and the Brantford Youth Flag Football Association.
Football was resurrected in Brantford in 1991 with the creation of the Brant and District Football Club under the leadership of Walt Wettges. The club was allowed to use the Bisons team name by the Bisons Alumni which owned the rights to the Bisons name. The club also adopted the colours from the 1970’s with red jerseys and black helmets and pants.
In the first season, which was played in the fall of 1991, the Bisons only had two teams with a total of 40 players registered that played in the Southwestern Ontario Football Association Of Leagues (SOFAL) atom and peewee divisions. The club expanded the number of teams in 1992 to include a tyke team and hosted the SOFAL Championships at the Gretzky Centre in a total mud bowl. 1993 also saw the Bisons expand into the SOFAL bantam division. The Bisons continued to experience annual increases in the number of young athletes playing football in the community and by 2002 had over seven teams in the various divisions of SOFAL.
In 1993, the Bisons took on the huge job of hosting and running the largest ever Wilson Bowl Provincial Championship which had 56 teams participate. Five sets of goal posts were installed on fields throughout the city so all the games could be completed.
The Bisons began a spring season in 1998 with a Varsity team entered in the Great Lakes Football League but moved to the Ontario Varsity Football League when it was created in 1999 for centres interested in playing spring rep football. The Bisons expanded with this league as well, having teams in the Junior Varsity and Bantam divisions by 2004.
A Squirt program was started in 2008 for children age four to seven to allow them to begin to develop the basic skills needed to play football. The Squirt program was renamed to Timbits in 2010 when Tim Horton’s agreed to be the sponsor under their Timbit name. The Timbits originally played in the fall but the program was shifted to the spring in 2011 to better accommodate the parents needs.
Expansion of the Bisons Football Program continued in 2010 when the Bisons entered Junior Varsity, Peewee and Atom division spring teams in the Ontario Minor Football League (OMFL).
The Bisons moved in a new direction in 2013 when the spring rep teams shifted back to the Ontario Football Conference, expanding to the Peewee division in the process and the Central Ontario Minor Football League (COMFL) for the fall development season.
Heading into 2014, the Bisons have firmly established two distinct seasons; spring and fall, and the Timbits program.
The spring season is intended for the best football players in the community from age 11 to 19 to participate in “rep” football with Varsity, Junior Varsity, Bantam and Peewee teams entered in the OFC. If enough players register, teams may also be entered in the OMFL.
The fall season is the development season for young athletes age 7 to 14 with Bantam, Peewee, Atom and Tyke teams entered in COMFL. This season sees a mixture of experienced players and others who have never played before but want to try football as one of their sports.
Since 1964, the Bisons name has been prominent in our community. If you ask anyone what are the Brantford Bisons and they will tell you “It is football”. Over the 50 years, hundreds if not thousands of players, coaches or volunteers have been members of the Bisons family. This family extends not just in Brantford but across Ontario and maybe even Canada as players become adults and begin careers and families of their own while old coaches and volunteers move onto other things of interest and new coaches and volunteers take their place.
Football is a unique sport where participants develop a bond unlike any other sport. Once you become a member of the Bisons family, you are a member for life. Players develop friendships that last a lifetime; coaches are always called “Coach” by their players, even if those players now have children of their own; volunteers always have the satisfaction of knowing that, without their involvement, there would be no football and young athletes would never have the opportunity to play the greatest sport ever created.
The years go by and other teams in different sports come and go. The one certainty in local sports in our community is that there will always be the Bisons because the Bisons are forever.
Brant District & Football Club, also known as the Brantford Bisons have had a long proven history of developing championship teams. Teaching young athletes how to excel at competitive “rep” football, while learning strong life skills they will carry with them from this point forward.
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