The story of junior hockey in Quebec dates back ages, but information is scarce, and what there is tends to be written - obviously - en français. Before 1969, the forerunner Quebec Junior Hockey League sent a number of the province's top players to the NHL, and three Montreal-based teams had won the Memorial Cup before 1969 - but overall, the QJHL was nowhere near the quality of the rival major junior leagues in Ontario and elsewhere.
From the 1930's onward, entrance to the Memorial Cup in Eastern Canada was decided by the tournament for the George Richardson Memorial Trophy. The winners of the OHA faced off against the winners of the Northern Ontario Hockey Association, while the QJHL champion played the champion from the Maritimes. The winners of those two series played in a best-of-seven series for the Richardson Trophy, with the winner advancing to the Memorial Cup against a team from the West. Although upsets did happen, before the 1960's it was uncommon for anyone but the OHA champion to take the Richardson Trophy home. No Maritime team ever won the Richardson Trophy, and the last NOHA team to win it was the Copper Cliff Redmen in 1937.
In 1961, Toronto Maple Leafs owner Stafford Smythe, in a move intended to drive the OHA out of business and create a complete junior feeder system for the Leafs' own use, created the Metro Junior League in Toronto. The creation of the Metro League is discussed on my OHA history page, but the unwitting consequence of Smythe's action was to usher junior hockey in Ontario into the modern age. The Montreal Junior Canadiens, owned by Sam Pollock and long the dominant force of junior hockey in Quebec, were lured out of the QJHL and into the OHA. The OHA was only interested in survival, where the Junior Habs viewed it as an opportunity to play against a higher level of competition. Yet the defection of the QJHL's marquee franchise was a wake-up call to the powers that existed in Quebec at the time, and soon groundwork was being laid for a Major Junior league chez nous.
Correspondent Glenn Singleton says, "[Prior to 1969], there were three junior leagues in Quebec, which eventually amalgamated to become the QMJHL. The Metropolitian Junior Hockey League (MJHL) included the Verdun Maple Leafs, Lachine Maroons, Lakeshore Flyers, Montreal North Beavers, Rosemont Bombers, Laval Saints, and Palestre Nationale. All these teams were affiliates of the Canadiens. The Quebec Junior League included the Shawinigan Bruins, Thetford Mines Canadiens, Drummondville Rangers, Trois-Rivières Maple Leafs and a few others. The other league I believe was called the Saguenay Junior League and included such teams as Chicoutimi Saguenéens (wearing the same jerseys as today), Dolbeau and other teams from northern Quebec.
"Verdun won the MJHL three years straight (1966-68). In 1968 they finally won the Quebec championship by beating the Drummondville Rangers in the provincial final. That year Verdun lost in the Eastern final 3 games to 2 to the Niagara Falls Flyers who went on to sweep the Estevan Bruins 4 straight in the Memorial Cup final."
1969 in Quebec was a watershed year. The Quiet Revolution had given way to the much louder FLQ, and enormous change was ripping through the previously insular fabric of la belle province. A merger and amalgamation was agreed between the QJHL and the Metropolitan Montreal Junior Hockey League, in an effort to finally have a single Major Junior Hockey League in Quebec. Eleven teams competed the first year, ten from the two aforementioned leagues, along with an interloper from the [Ontario] Central Junior A League. The QMJHL's inaugural East Division consisted of the Drummondville Rangers, playing out of the Centre Civique, the Quebec Remparts, who played in the Colisée, the Shawinigan Bruins who inhabited the Shawinigan Municipal Auditorium, the Sherbrooke Beavers who called the new Palais des Sports home, the Sorel Éperviers (Black Hawks), who played in the Colisee Cardin, and the Trois-Rivieres Ducs (Dukes), who played in the Colisée de Trois-Rivières. The West featured the Saint-Jérôme Alouettes, in Melançon Arena, Cornwall Royals who played at Water Street Arena, Laval Saints, who called the Colisée de Laval home, Rosemont National, housed at Paul Sauvé Arena, and the Verdun Maple Leafs, at the Verdun Auditorium. The Cornwall Royals had been applying for OHA membership for a long while and had been repeatedly turned down, and viewed the QMJHL as a ticket to higher competition.
To continue to the Quebec years of the QMJHL, click here.