The Rebel League

Queen's Park Arena

The Ontario and Quebec Major Junior Hockey Leagues both were founded as an evolution of previous junior hockey leagues that existed in those provinces. The OHL's history dates back to 1933, and forerunners of that league have existed for more than a century. The QMJHL's forerunner leagues, the QJHL and the Montreal Junior Hockey League, both also date back to the early days of hockey in Quebec.

The Western Hockey League, in comparison, represents not an evolution through history but a break from it. The WHL was founded in 1966 by Edmonton Oil Kings owner Bill Hunter as an outlaw league – free from sanction by CAHA (later Hockey Canada). It originally consisted of teams in Alberta and Saskatchewan who broke away from the AJHL and SJHL to begin a new, interprovincial junior league, without the permission or blessing of any of hockey's governing structure in Canada.

Bill Hunter's brainchild was founded to compete with the growing power of the junior leagues in the East. In the twenty-one years between the end of the war and the founding of the WHL, western-based teams only won five times – and remember, they contested every Memorial Cup final in those days, so five wins means they were 5-16! The only winners from the west were the Winnipeg Monarchs (1946 and 1959), the Flin Flon Bombers (1957), and the Edmonton Oil Kings (1963 and 1966). The WHL was intended as a consolidation of talent and power across the region, so that the top teams in the West would play at a higher level of competition.

The first breakaway season of the WHL was competed between two Alberta teams and five in Saskatchewan. The Alberta teams were Bill Hunter's own Edmonton Oil Kings, temporarily playing at Jasper Place Arena (later renamed Bill Hunter Arena) and the Calgary Buffaloes, playing at the Stampede Corral. Saskatchewan was represented by the Estevan Bruins, playing at the Civic Auditorium; the Moose Jaw Canucks, playing at the Civic Centre; the Regina Pats, playing at Exhibition Stadium; the Saskatoon Blades, playing at Saskatoon Arena; and the Weyburn Red Wings, playing at the Weyburn Colosseum.

Changes began almost immediately. The Oil Kings moved into the Edmonton Gardens for the 1967-68 season once much-needed renovations were completed there. The league was joined by new recruits the Flin Flon Bombers, playing out of Whitney Forum; the Swift Current Broncos, playing in the new Centennial Civic Centre; and two teams from Manitoba: the Brandon Wheat Kings, playing at Wheat City Arena; and the Winnipeg Jets, playing out of Winnipeg Arena. For 1967-68 the Calgary Buffaloes were also renamed to the Calgary Centennials in honour of Canada's 100th birthday.

At the end of 1967-68, three former SJHL teams abandoned the experiment and moved back to the SJHL. The Western League lost the Regina Pats, Moose Jaw Canucks, and Weyburn Red Wings, in what could have been a death blow to the rebel league. The Canucks and Red Wings would never return, though two seasons later the Regina Pats would rejoin. The Medicine Hat Tigers also joined in 1970, playing out of Medicine Hat Arena, which was also called the Arena Convention Centre in those days. Also in 1970, Brandon's Wheat City Arena was demolished; the Wheat Kings would spend three seasons at tiny ManEx Arena waiting for their new arena to be finished.

In 1971, the CAHA reorganized junior hockey throughout the country, dropping the previous structure of provincial junior leagues having equal status, and recognizing the WHL as one of three Major Junior leagues in the country, alongside the OHL and QMJHL. No longer a rebel league; the WHL was now the big dog of Western Canada as the Memorial Cup tournament expanded from a best-of-seven between the top two teams to a round-robin played between the champions of the W, O and Q.

1966-71 | 1971-88 | 1988-Present

Copyright © WHL Arena Guide, 2002-22.
All rights reserved.
Last Revised: December 5, 2021