The Sponsorship Era or, "Finally, some teams you've heard of."
For our purposes, 1945-46 is the first season of an OHL that is recognizable to the modern observer. That season was contested by teams across southern Ontario, as opposed to a league primarily based in Toronto. Every team played in a building that was large enough to be economically viable, and in a city where their presence was becoming interwoven into the local sporting culture.
The 1945-46 OHA season was contested by the St. Michael's Majors, Oshawa Generals, Galt Red Wings, Toronto Marlboros, Barrie Flyers, St. Catharines Falcons, Hamilton Lloyds, and the Toronto Young Rangers. The Toronto teams all played at Maple Leaf Gardens. Oshawa played at the Oshawa Arena (AKA the Hambly Arena), which burned down in a famous fire in September 1953. Galt played at the Arena Gardens, Barrie played at the Barrie Arena, St. Catharines at Garden City Arena, and Hamilton at the ancient Forum. All but the Forum and the burned arena in Oshawa were still standing into the 21st century, though several have been lost since then.
In 1946-47 teams based in Stratford and Windsor rejoined, with the Stratford Kroehlers playing at the Stratford Arena and the Windsor Spitfires playing at the same Windsor Arena where the modern Spitfires played until 2008. The next season saw the Guelph Biltmore Mad Hatters rejoin the league, playing one year in Galt before moving into the brand-new Memorial Gardens. 1950-51 featured the addition of the Waterloo Hurricanes, who played out of the Waterloo Memorial Arena. The following year, the Kitchener Greenshirts rejoined the league, playing out of the new Memorial Auditorium, built to replace the old one which had burned down three years previously. 1956-57 saw the addition of the Peterborough T.P.T's (later Petes) with the building of the Memorial Centre. (T.P.T. stood for Toronto-Peterborough Transit Company, the team's primary sponsor.) Of course, not all these teams survived - many of the new teams were moved from previous locations - and by 1960-61 the OHA was down to a mere seven teams, including the Guelph Royals, Toronto St. Michael's Majors, Hamilton Red Wings, St. Catharines Teepees, Peterborough T.P.T's, Toronto Marlboros, and the new-for-that-year Niagara Falls Flyers, playing out of the Niagara Falls Memorial Arena.
In 1961, the Memorial Cup was won by the Toronto St. Michael's Majors, who were then withdrawn from the league by Father David Bauer. Bauer cited as his reasons "growing professionalism, [the] long schedule and rough play ... [it was] difficult for the educational institution to handle gracefully." (Cited in Over the Boards: The Ron Ellis Story by Kevin Shea.) Prior to 1967, all junior teams had affiliations with NHL teams, no different from the way that minor league teams do today. It was this that led to OHL teams called Blackhawks, Red Wings, Jr. Canadiens, and of course, the Kitchener Rangers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had been affiliated with both the St. Michael's Majors (for their Catholic prospects) and the Toronto Marlboros (for Protestants and others), and with the loss of the Majors, they were concerned about the loss of development space in the OHA. Stafford Smythe's solution to this problem was to start what in essence was an entire Toronto Maple Leaf Junior League, which became the Metro Junior A League.
In 1961-62, the Marlies dropped out of the OHA. The previous seven-team league became six, with Guelph, Peterborough, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and Hamilton surviving from before, while the Montreal Junior Canadiens, who had played out of the Montreal Forum, were convinced to join the OHA from their previous home in a Quebec-based league.
Stafford Smythe was convinced that he could build a junior league that would feed the Leafs and drive the OHA out of business. However, with the addition of Montreal, the six-team OHA was still able to continue operating, and the calibre of play in the Metro League was essentially junior B save for the dominant Marlboros and former Majors organization, which kept operating under the same name that year even though it was no longer affiliated with the private school.
Nearly all the Metro League games involving Toronto teams directly were played at Maple Leaf Gardens, while others were played at St. Michael's Arena. The other new teams in the Metro League were the Whitby Mohawks, playing out of the demolished-in-1972 Whitby Community Arena, the Brampton 7Ups, playing out of the 1950-vintage Brampton Memorial Arena (Interior), and the Unionville Seaforths, playing out of 1928's Crosby Memorial Arena (Interior). All of those teams had been Junior B teams the previous year.
The next year, 1962-63, saw the Seaforths become Knob Hill Farms, while the Mohawks were renamed the Dunlops after the legendary senior team. In Oshawa, Wren Blair helped revive the Generals, although they played out of the Bowmanville Memorial Arena (and occasionally Maple Leaf Gardens as well) because there was still no suitable arena in Oshawa. Finally, the Majors were transferred to Neil McNeil High School near the border between Toronto and Scarborough, and were renamed the Neil McNeil Maroons.
All three Toronto teams called Maple Leaf Gardens home, which filled the glut of hockey by hosting Tuesday and Sunday doubleheaders, usually in front of tiny crowds. The calibre of play in the Metro League was sub-par - it was essentially a league where the Marlies and Majors beat up on Junior B teams. After only two years, all of Brampton, Whitby, Neil McNeil and Knob Hill Farms were in dire straits. The Majors/Maroons franchise won the Metro League title, represented by the Father John Conway Memorial Trophy, both years, although the team was eliminated in both cases in the J. Ross Robertson Cup final by the OHA champion.
1963-64 marks the beginning of the OHA's modern era as the Leafs gave up on the Metro League experiment. The Marlboros and Generals applied to join the OHA, while the remainder of the league returned to Junior B. However, the Generals re-affiliated with the Boston Bruins, who hadn't previously had an OHA affiliate, so to fill the Majors-sized hole in the Leafs' development program, they applied to the league for a new Leaf-sponsored team that would play in London out of the brand new London Gardens for 1963-64. However, the OHA rejected the London expansion plan, in spite of the Marlboros playing a regular season game in October 1963 in London to demonstrate the strength of the market.
The stacked Marlboros, who now had the best players from both the Marlboros and Majors organizations, dominated the OHA that year with a 40-9-7 record in an eight-team league that also included the Kitchener Rangers, who had moved from Guelph. The Generals were still forced to play their first season and part of their second in Bowmanville, but they would return to Canada's Motor City partway through 1964-65 with the opening of the Oshawa Civic Auditorium. For 1965-66, after witnessing the Marlboros dominating the OHA for two years, the league finally relented to MLG's plans and allowed a second Leaf-sponsored team to be placed in London, called the Nationals. But the era of NHL sponsorship was about to end, and junior hockey in Canada was about to become fully independent.