The CJHL received its start in 1970 when the Ontario Major Junior Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Western Canada Hockey League tore away from the major branches of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association and became its own governing body (what would become the Canadian Hockey League). These "Major Junior" Leagues only competed against each other and did not include other Junior "A" leagues that were left behind. The Major Junior League also were permitted to exclusively compete for the Memorial Cup, a right given to all Junior "A" leagues prior to 1970.
In May 1970, Frank McKinnon tabled a motion at the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association AGM to allow the remaining Junior "A" Leagues to compete at a national level for a national championship. The motion was granted and McKinnon and the Manitoba Amateur Hockey Association donated the Manitoba Centennial Trophy to the new championship in honour of 100 years of ice hockey in Manitoba.
The leagues that would be involved in that first year were:
In 1971, the Newfoundland Amateur Hockey Association jumped on board by allowing their provincial Junior champion to compete in the Centennial Cup playdowns. This lasted until 1977. Also in 1971, the Maritime Junior A Hockey League folded, leaving the Charlottetown Islanders (the defending Hewitt-Dudley Memorial Trophy champions) to enter the Centennial Cup playdowns as an independent team. Also in 1971, the Newfoundland Junior A Hockey League entered the fray. In 1972, the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey Association folded when two of its teams (Sudbury Wolves and Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds) jumped to Major Junior. The Charlottetown Islanders closed their doors after a marginal performance in the 1972 playdowns. Two new leagues came in 1972, the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League was created as a rival league to the Southern Ontario Junior A Hockey League. The SOJHL was more in Southwestern Ontario, while the OPJHL focused more on the Greater Toronto Area. The other new league was the Quebec Junior A Hockey League.
In 1973, the Island Junior Hockey League of Prince Edward Island made the jump from Junior B to Junior A. In 1975, the Eastern Junior A Hockey League ascended to Junior A from the Junior B ranks in Cape Breton Island. Then, in 1977, the Metro Valley Junior Hockey League jumped from Junior B to Junior A in mainland Nova Scotia. After one year of playing head-to-head for the provincial Junior A title, the EJHL folded and left the MVJHL as the only league in Nova Scotia. After various attempts to create a stable Junior A system in Newfoundland, the NAHA and its teams pulled out of National play in 1977. The Southern Ontario league folded in 1977, the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League was promoted to Junior A in 1978 and the NorMan Junior Hockey League was promoted to Junior A in Manitoba in 1979. A second league was founded in British Columbia in 1974, the Pacific Coast Junior Hockey League was created to compete with the British Columbia Junior Hockey League - this league was absorbed by the BCJHL in 1979. A year later, the Peace-Cariboo Junior Hockey League was promoted from Junior B in East-Central British Columbia. That same year, the Thunder Bay Junior A Hockey League folded. They were replaced by a single team, the Thunder Bay Kings later to be the two-time Centennial Cup champion Thunder Bay Flyers.
The summer of 1982 saw the folding of the Quebec Junior A League. In 1983, the New Brunswick Junior Hockey League folded and merged with the Metro Valley Junior Hockey League. In 1985, the NorMan Junior Hockey League faltered and folded. In 1987, the OPJHL, then known as the Ontario Junior Hockey League, folded after dropping to only four teams. During the 1988 Centennial Cup playoff run, the Black Lake Miners of Quebec were allowed to enter as an independent team. That summer, the Quebec Provincial Junior Hockey League was formed, rebranded the Quebec Junior AAA Hockey League in 1997. In 1989, Newfoundland would take a second shot at Junior A with the promotion of the St. John's Junior Hockey League. The league dropped back to Junior B in 1991. Also in 1991, the Island Junior Hockey League folded and merged with the Metro Valley league. The Metro Valley League now had all three Maritime provinces incorporated in it and decided to change its name to the Maritime Junior A Hockey League. Out West in 1991, the Peace-Cariboo league expanded south into the Kootenays and rebranded itself as the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League. In 1993, Southern Ontario came back in a big way with two leagues -- the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League and the Metro Junior A Hockey League. By 1998, the two leagues would merge under the Ontario Provincial banner with 37 teams under its belt. In 1999, the Rocky Mountain Junior Hockey League folded. In 2000, the Thunder Bay Flyers folded, having competed strictly in the United States Hockey League since the 1996-97 season. A year later, their void was filled by the Superior International Junior Hockey League. In 2008, the Ontario Provincial League rebranded itself the Ontario Junior Hockey League, just two be divided into two leagues in 2009 (Central Canadian Hockey League and Ontario Junior A Hockey League), and be reunited in time for playoffs that year under the Ontario Junior Hockey League banner.
In 1990, the western Junior A leagues in Canada would form the Canada West Association. This organization would be the catalyst for the creation of the Canadian Junior A Hockey League in 1993. In 2008, the league was rebranded the "Canadian Junior Hockey League".
The leagues/entities making up the original CJAHL in 1993:
To determine a National Champion, the winners of each league playdown in four regional championships—the Fred Page Cup (Eastern Region - Maritimes, Quebec, Ottawa District), the Dudley Hewitt Cup (Central Region - Southern Ontario, Northeastern Ontario, Northwestern Ontario), the Anavet Cup (Western Region - Manitoba and Saskatchewan), and the Doyle Cup (Pacific Region - Alberta and British Columbia). The winners of the four regionals playoff with a host city for the Royal Bank Cup to determine the National Champion.
There are a variety of trophies no longer used in the national playdown system. The Abbott Cup and Hewitt-Dudley Memorial Trophy were awarded to Western and Eastern Canadian Champions respectively, then those two teams would square off for the Manitoba Centennial Cup, the National Championship. The Abbott Cup was no longer a major trophy after the 1989 Centennial Cup when both the Doyle Cup and Anavet Cup champions were granted entrance into the Centennial Cup round robin. The Hewitt-Dudley Memorial Trophy fell out of use after the 1978 Centennial Cup, but might have been brought back briefly after 1982. The Manitoba Centennial Cup was the Grand Championship of Junior A hockey in Canada from 1970 until 1995, when it was replaced by the corporately sponsored Royal Bank Cup. In the early 1990s, the Callaghan Cup was replaced by the Fred Page Cup. The Callaghan Cup was originally awarded to the Atlantic Junior A Champion between the winner of Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia, but after the three major Maritime leagues merged and Newfoundland's final league departed the trophy had no real use. In 1995, the Quebec Provincial Junior Hockey League donated the Fred Page Cup to create an Eastern Canadian championship between the Maritimes, Quebec, and the Ottawa District of Ontario. The Dudley Hewitt Cup used to represent all of Ontario and Quebec, but with so many leagues in that region in the mid-1990s and the MJAHL's champion getting a direct ride to the National Championship, the Fred Page Cup became a necessity.
In 2005, the CJAHL created the CJAHL Prospects Game (now called the CJHL Prospects Game) where top players compete in a Team West versus Team East format for the President's Cup in front of the scouting community. In 2006, in conjunction with the Hockey Canada, the World Junior A Challenge was formed. At the WJAC, a prospects team from the five western leagues and the five eastern leagues of the CJHL host national prospect teams from around the world in an international tournament hosted by a town with a CJHL franchise.