Hall of Famer
Inducted in 1978
Syl Apps Special Achievement Award
The people behind the scenes often receive little recognition, but they are crucial to the success of grassroots sport in Canada. Harry McBrien filled just such a role in the developing years of football. An accomplished businessman who eventually was president of both Toronto's Sterling Coffee Co. and L.L. Gurr Enterprises, a St. Catharines fast-food chain, McBrien dedicated his leisure time to the administration and organization of football at both the amateur and professional levels. McBrien grew up playing football on the playgrounds of Toronto and was a halfback on the Eastern Commerce high school team. He started refereeing local football in 1926, beginning an association with organized football that would last for half a century. In 1943, he was appointed to oversee the selection of all referees in Toronto and the surrounding region. He continued his on-field work until 1950 when he was seriously injured while officiating the Canadian junior championship game between the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Saskatoon Hilltops. A year later, McBrien was appointed Secretary of the Canadian Rugby Union, the governing body for football in Canada at the time. In this role, he was a member of the CRU's rules committee and he assisted in codifying the rules of Canadian football, which had been in a constant state of flux as football evolved from rugby, as the Canadian game established itself as different from the American one, and as rules differed between western and eastern Canada. Between 1964 and 1967, McBrien was part of a three-person committee that rewrote and streamlined the Canadian Football League-Canadian Amateur Football Association rule book. In 1958, McBrien was appointed by the CFL's first commissioner (and made a Canada's Sports Hall of Fame inductee) G. Sydney Halter to supervise the annual Grey Cup game-a task McBrien had been performing with the CRU since 1951. He was instrumental in creating the week-long football festival that still dominates Canada's sporting calendar. These efforts earned McBrien the nickname "Mr. Grey Cup" and he continued in this role until 1968. In 1964, McBrien was one of the inaugural recipients of the Syl Apps Special Achievement Award, which recognized volunteers who contributed to the development of sport in Ontario. And, during the 1967 Grey Cup week, he was awarded a special CFL-CAFA plaque in honour of his contributions to both amateur and professional football in Canada. McBrien was an active member of the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, serving on both its Board of Governors and Selection Committee. He is also an honoured member of that institution.