Canada has been playing international rugby since the early 1930s, making their debut in 1932 against Japan. Canada have competed at every World Cup since the tournament was first staged in 1987, the only North American team to do so. Canada achieved their best result at the World Cup in 1991, where they reached the quarter-finals. Canada was once the dominant power of North American rugby and currently ranks fourth in the Americas after Argentina, the USA and Uruguay. The team has achieved victories over traditionally stronger Six Nations teams such as France, Wales, Italy, and Scotland on at least one occasion in past years. Canada is currently ranked 21st in the IRB World Rankings.
In 1874 the first North American international game took place in Cambridge, Massachusetts between McGill and Harvard universities. Later that same year a second game was played, but this time Harvard were the hosts, and the game was played with early "American Football" rules. Today, in carrying on the oldest annual sporting competition in North America, McGill University and Harvard University continue the tradition of competing for the Covo Cup, at alternating venues each November, using the original rules of rugby football. McGill University can therefore lay claim to being the oldest rugby club in Canada, but due to rugby's popularity among students and the McGill University Rugby Football Club's affiliation with the university, the claim as the oldest independent rugby club goes to the still active Westmount Rugby Football Club.
A Canadian Rugby Football Union was established in 1884, although this organisation went on to become the Canadian Football League, as rugby football in Canada evolved into Canadian football. In 1902–1903 the first Canadian team toured Britain. In 1909, Earl Grey, then Governor General of Canada, donated a trophy to the CRU to be awarded for the Rugby Football Championship of Canada. This trophy became known as the Grey Cup. However the rules used in Canada were vastly different from the rules used in countries that were part of the IRB. In the years that followed, the CRU would legalise forward passing and make other changes that would make Canadian football a totally different sport, similar to American football.
During World War I and II rugby union was suspended but in the inter-war period there was something of a renaissance. In 1919 a Canadian Services team played overseas against representatives from England, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia. The formation of the Rugby Union of Canada took place in 1929 and this was followed by a tour of Japan by a Canadian representative side in 1932 to help foster trade between the two countries. About half the team were Canadian born (mostly British Columbia players) and the rest were originally from Britain. They lost 9–8 and 38–5 in the two test matches.
The original Canadian Rugby Union disbanded just before World War I. Canada's team to the United Kingdom in 1962 was dominated by British Columbia players. The Rugby Union of Canada was re-formed in 1965 as the Canadian Rugby Union. The 1966 British Lions played a non-cap match in Toronto on their way back from Australia and New Zealand, a match they won 19–8. Canada established themselves as the strongest team in North America, though they struggled to compete with the major test-playing nations in Europe and the Southern Hemisphere.