The first organized football club in Canada was the Hamilton Foot Ball Club, a predecessor of the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, in 1868. This was followed by the formation of the Montreal Foot Ball Club in 1872, the Toronto Argonaut Football Club in 1873 and the Ottawa Football Club (the future Ottawa Rough Riders) in 1876.
The first organized competitions were formed in 1883, when the Ontario Rugby Football Union and the Quebec Rugby Football Union were founded. At the time the sport was generally called rugby union or rugby football because its rules were similar to rugby union's, although this would change drastically in the coming decades. The following year, the two provincial unions would form the Canadian Rugby Football Union, with Montreal winning the first national championship later that year. The CRFU collapsed before the decade was out, but was re-organized as the Canadian Rugby Union in 1891, with Osgoode Hall winning the first CRU championship the following year.
The turn of the 19th to 20th century was marked by fundamental changes in the rules of the game. The ORFU was the first competition to adopt the Burnside Rules, which were to revolutionize the Canadian game. The QRFU and CRU initially resisted the changes, but by 1906 the Burnside Rules were in force throughout Ontario and Quebec. Although substantial changes (such as forward passing) were still to come, modern Canadian football would ultimately evolve from John Thrift Meldrum Burnside's code.