Before the 1960's there were Junior "A" Hockey Leagues all over Canada, however, no Junior "A" Hockey League within the province of British Columbia. Not until four men, representing four different Okanagan cities got together one day at a Vernon hotel back in 1961. That's when Vernon Jr. Canadian's owner Bill Brown persuaded three other owners of Junior "B" Clubs to convert their league into B.C.'s first Junior "A" Hockey circuit.
"I did it for one reason," said Brown. "We had the nucleus of the best Junior "A" Hockey League in Canada, but they kept raiding our players."
With his other three counterparts in agreement, the Okanagan-Mainline Junior "A" Hockey League was born. The Kamloops Rockets, Kelowna Buckaroos, Penticton Jr. Vees, Vernon Junior Canadians made up the fledgling league, which took to the ice to begin the 1961/1962 season. The new leagues' playoff champions would be presented the Nat Bailey Cup, donated by Nat Bailey, the owner of the White Spot Restaurants and an avid fan and supporter of junior hockey. The new league was also sanctioned by the C.A.H.A. for the Memorial Cup playdowns.
Brown served as the league's first President, a post he held for two years. Kamloops and Kelowna dominated the first five years of the new Okanagan Junior Hockey League, occupying the first two places in the standings, and meeting in the championship final every season. Also, during that time the Vernon franchise changed its nick-name to the Blades in 1963. It wasn't until the Penticton Broncos, who entered the league in 1964 following the demise of the Penticton Jr. Vees, that a different champion was born as they up-ended the Kelowna Buckaroos, in a six game final, to win the 1967 title and put an end to the Kamloops Rockets;Kraft Kings/Kelowna Buckaroos dynasty.
At the time, each team was required to fill all but five roster positions with 'home-grown' talent, products of their respective city's minor hockey systems. As is pretty much the case by even today's standards, there wasn't much money to be made minimizing their losses over a 30-game schedule was the owners' greatest financial concern.
The league expanded outside of the Okanagan in 1967, with the addition of the New Westminster Royals and Victoria Cougars, renaming itself the British Columbia Junior Hockey League
With new owners came a name change for the Vernon franchise in 1967. Now nicknamed the Essos, co-owner Vern Dye recalls mere existence. "In our first year (1967/1968), our budget was $15,000.00. We traveled by car to road games, and we did pay the players a bit. They got $20.00 to $40.00 a month, and room and board. Back then, skates cost $50.00, sticks were $1.10."
In 1969 the Vancouver Centennials entered the BCJHL. One year later, in 1970, the Chilliwack Bruins joined the fold, and league governors opted for a two-division set-up. The four newest clubs , New Westminster Royals, Victoria Cougars, Vancouver Centennials Chilliwack Bruins, were put in the Coastal Division, and the original Okanagan franchises, Kamloops Rockets, Penticton Broncos, Vernon Essos, Kelowna Buckaroos, comprising the Interior Division. With the league having doubled in size, from 1961 to 1970, so did the schedule, from 30 to 60 games.
Below you will find a brief overview of the each season in the 1960's.