1900 – 1992
Lawyer, developer, businessman, politician and philanthropist, Sam Berger owned successively both the Ottawa Rough Riders and Montreal Alouettes football clubs leading them to several Grey Cups. He twice ran for mayor of the City of Ottawa.
The son of a rabbi, Sam Berger grew up poor in Ottawa and worked as a journalist before studying law. He purchased the Strathcona Apartment Building (404 Laurier Ave. E.) in 1939 after the insurance company he represented foreclosed on the owners and persuaded him to purchase it (for $300, 000, all of which was borrowed). This got him into real estate and he eventually developed several commercial and apartment buildings in downtown Ottawa. He lived at the Strathcona between 1940 and 1951.
Berger loved football and had played it in high school at Lisgar Collegiate. He first became involved with the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1930 as legal adviser, then became team president in 1940 and eventually part-owner in 1955. These were more informal times and Berger’s son remembers his father telling his kids how he had found the Grey Cup in a locker in the basement of the Strathcona after he came back from the War. The period of Berger’s ownership was the Rough Riders’ glory years with seven Grey Cup appearances and four championships.
In 1968, he sold his interest in the Rough Riders (he donated the proceeds to charity) and moved to Montreal, in part to be close to his children. There, he purchased the struggling Montreal Alouettes and revitalized the team, leading it to three Grey Cup victories. But he also believed that football had a role in uniting the country. In an interview, he explained that “in 1970 things were uncertain in Quebec and Montreal. …With people moving out of Montreal, I thought I might make a small contribution by moving in. …Some people don’t think football is a unifying force but I do” (MacCabe, 1977).