1851 - The first YMCA in North America
started in Montreal. It was revolutionary for an organization
outside of the church to offer religious discussions and
activities. The YMCA goal was to put religious teachings into
practice and to lead by example.
1844 - YMCA is founded in London, England by
22-year-old draper, called George Williams, as an alternative to
the unhealthy social conditions during the Industrial
Great ideas withstand the test of time and the YMCA has proven
to be one of them. A 22-year-old draper, named George Williams, got
the idea to start the Young Men's Christian Association, or YMCA,
in 1844 in London, England in response to unhealthy social
conditions brought on by the Industrial Revolution. It was
revolutionary to discuss religious practices outside of the
The idea of the YMCA quickly caught on, and soon Associations
were springing up in cities throughout England and Europe. By 1851,
that same idea traveled across the seas. When the first YMCA in
North America opened in Montreal on November 25, 1851, a grassroots
effort to help people and communities to grow and thrive was set in
motion. At first YMCAs had strong links to the Protestant churches
but this quickly changed as people from all churches were
The history of the Canadian YMCA is the story of countless
Canadians who made, and continue to make, a difference in the lives
of individuals, families and communities through their leadership
and service. Today, the YMCA welcomes people of all ages, religions
and walks of life.
Physical Activities &
1866 - Physical activities such as exercising
are added to such YMCA offerings as Bible study, reading rooms,
libraries and public lectures.
1891 - YMCA Invents Basketball - Canadian
YMCA Physical Director, James Naismith, invents basketball at
Springfield YMCA Training School in Massachusetts, USA.
1895 - Volleyball, a YMCA invention, is
introduced to Canada.
Today-YMCAs offer health, fitness and recreational activities for
all ages and abilities.
Canadian YMCAs have been leaders in physical education since the
first Associations were established in 1886. Children and young men
loved the phys-ed programs because of the camaraderie and
recreation and because they helped develop leadership skills and
build strong character. Some of the first YMCA programs included
indoor exercise classes and games, wrestling, fencing, track and
field, swimming, lifesaving and gymnastics. Leagues in basketball,
lacrosse, baseball and football were also popular.
Basketball - Early YMCA leaders also perfected
modern teaching methods for swimming and lifesaving and invented
new games. For instance, in 1891, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian
YMCA Physical Director and a teacher, invented basketball by
hanging two peach baskets from the railing of the gymnasium's
second level running track. While basketball evolved over the
years, 12 of Naismith's original 13 rules have remained intact to
Volleyball - The YMCA also invented volleyball.
In 1895, American YMCA Physical Director William Morgan created
this game for mature businessmen who were members of the YMCA.
Based on a variation of the game badminton, also referred to as
"minton" he called the new game "mintonette." The first game was
played on December 2, 1885 by a gym class of businessmen. The name
was changed to Volley Ball in 1896, to reflect the action taking
Today, the YMCA still provides health fitness, and recreation
programs that encourage people of all abilities to pursue healthy
lifestyles and to stretch their spirit, mind and body. Disease
prevention and health promotion continue to be among the YMCA's
1866 - Canadian YMCA War Services begin. YMCA
staff became known for their recreation, religious and
entertainment programs, and for offering moral support and comfort
by delivering hot tea, equipment, biscuits and more to Canadian
1871 - The YMCA begins to serve militia training
1899 - YMCA staff went with the Canadian troops
fighting in the Boer War
1914 - the Great War - Staff in YMCA War Services
support the Canadian Forces overseas and in Canada offer
recreational and educational opportunities for those in Internment
1917 - Khaki College is established as Canadian
universities join the YMCA in raising $500,000 for more than 50,000
Canadian servicemen. The school provided education and job training
to prepare troops for their return to civilian life.
1939 - WW II - YMCA staff serve Canadian
Armed Forces and becomes one of only two organizations allowed to
visit prisoner-of-war camps to ensure medical requirements were
The YMCA's Military Service work began as early as 1866, when
YMCA representatives followed camps of soldiers who resisted the
Fenian raids. In 1871, the YMCA began serving militia training
camps and making provisions for letter writing supplies, reading
rooms, entertainment, lectures, sports, canteens and religious
meetings. In 1899, YMCA staff went with the Canadian troops
fighting in the Boer War.
During World War I, the Canadian YMCA promoted education and
arranged literary and historical lectures that toured the YMCA
auxiliary huts in England and France. It started Khaki University
(also called Khaki College), which provided education and job
training to over 50,000 troops to prepare them for their return to
civilian life. To entertain Canadian soldiers in England and
France, the YMCA started the Dumbells Singing Troupe, which after
the war went on to tour Canada and performed on Broadway.
Meanwhile, in Canada, YMCA staff organized recreational and
educational opportunities for internees who were forced into
Internment Camps by the Canadian government.
During WW II, the Canadian YMCA had 50 tea cars in overseas
countries and 15 in Canada, delivering hot tea and biscuits to
front line soldiers and those in training. The Canadian YMCA also
organized activities such as discussion groups, art groups, musical
appreciation gatherings and talent nights. The Canadian YMCA and
the Red Cross, the only two organizations permitted to visit German
Prisoners of War sent to camps in Canada, ensured prisoners were
treated humanely, as prescribed by the Geneva Convention. By 1943,
close to 70 million soldiers had participated in YMCA War Services
1855 - World Alliance of YMCAs is
1889 - World Service Program is launched
for YMCAs in North America
1947 - Canadian YMCAs contribute $400,000
to help war-torn YMCAs abroad.
1958 - Canadian YMCAs contribute $300,000 for new
facilities in developing countries through its "Buildings for
1967 - Individual Ys begin to sponsor
specific overseas projects and soon create their own partnerships
with Ys in developing countries.
Today - 47 Canadian YMCAs have partnerships with
36 YMCAs around the world; their focus youth leadership, health
education, job training and peace and conflict resolution.
Right from the beginning, Canadian YMCAs were a part of the
International YMCA movement and attended the founding of the World
Alliance of YMCAs. In 1889, 41 Canadians welcomed the launch of the
World Service program for YMCAs in Canada and the United
Canadian YMCA Secretaries helped set up programs and YMCAs
overseas, which were then run locally. In 1899, the first Canadian
YMCA Secretary started a YMCA in Hong Kong. In 1911, staff member
Howard Crocker created the first YMCA physical education training
program in Shanghai, China along with the first Leaders' Corps for
Chinese Secretaries at the YMCA in China. By 1920, of the 185 YMCA
Secretaries serving abroad, 21 were Canadian.
After the Second World War, two large fundraising campaigns were
launched to construct and repair buildings, camps and training
centres in war-torn and developing countries.
1967 marks the first time individual associations in Canada
sponsored specific overseas projects as part of their "World
Service" activities followed by partnerships with individual
Today, the emphasis in YMCA International Development is on
youth engagement and leadership and on strengthening YMCAs to
provide long term programs that meet the most pressing common
Education and Employment
1858 - First night classes introduced at YMCA
of London and a year later at the YMCA of Kingston for subjects
such as grammar, history and math.
1870s - Night School Classes started at the
Montreal YMCA and at the Toronto YMCA for citizens and
1926 - Concordia University - YMCA of Montreal's
classes expand to form the Montreal YMCA Schools, which later
became Sir George William University, and eventually
1942 - Carleton University - YMCA of Ottawa
recognizes the need for higher education and initiates day and
evening classes open to everyone, at Carleton College, later named
1959 - York University - YMCA of North Toronto is
instrumental in the development of York University.
Today - YMCAs offer health, employment, newcomer
and many other classes based on community needs.
Since their earliest of days, the Canadian YMCAs had libraries
and reading rooms and held lecture series and debates. Starting in
1858, the London YMCA in Ontario offered night classes in music,
public speaking and discussions on various topics. A year later,
the Kingston YMCA was providing night classes on subjects such as
grammar, history and math. In the 1870s, the YMCAs of Montreal and
Toronto also began to hold evening classes.
The YMCA has also always offered classes to help local residents
learn skills to find employment. Depending on the times, classes
have varied from bookkeeping, accounting and English as a second
language to computer and literacy classes.
During both World Wars, the YMCA provided educational and
employment programs to soldiers, both in Canada and abroad. The
most famous of its programs is Khaki University (also referred to
as Khaki College), designed to prepare soldiers for their return to
civilian life after the war.
The YMCA of Montreal was very active in promoting education. By
1926, its education program became Sir George Williams College,
which eventually became Concordia University. In 1938, the Ottawa
YMCA saw a need for higher education in its own city and by 1942
helped open Carleton College, known today as Carleton University.
In 1959, the North Toronto YMCA helped to initiate the development
of York University.
Today, the YMCA continues to offer educational and employment
programs to youth and adults, remaining true to its original
mandate of serving the needs of the community.
1868 - The Hamilton YMCA opened the first
Home for Street Boys.
1872 - The first Canadian YMCA building is
constructed in Pictou, Nova Scotia. Before this, programs were held
in churches, homes etc.
1873 - The first YMCA buildings to house
gyms open in Saint John, New Brunswick, Toronto, Ontario and
1880 - As sites evolve into communities,
YMCA facilities are transformed into community centres.
1960s + 70s - the YMCA was one of the first
organizations to develop the concept of "street workers" which
involved YMCA youth workers going to the streets to support and
reach out to youth.
Today - Many newer YMCA buildings also have
libraries, health counseling and other community groups and
The YMCA has always directed its energies towards those members
of the community who are most in need of support and caring. A
large part of the early Association work was missionary in
approach. Back then, YMCA staff welcomed and helped newcomers at
ports of entry and visited hospitals and jails.
As the YMCA expanded beyond missionary work, it continued to be
a pioneer in community outreach. When there was little opportunity
for working men to obtain an education, the YMCA developed night
schools. With the increase of immigration, the YMCA developed
language training and re-settlement programs. When Prisoners of War
were in camps in Europe and Canada, the YMCA delivered recreational
equipment and ensured the men were treated humanely.
In the 1960s and '70s, the YMCA was one of the first
organizations to develop the concept of "street workers." YMCA
youth workers went directly onto the streets to support, reach out
to and educate youth on matters of health and well being.
The YMCA continues to answer the needs of the community through
its innovative community outreach programs, providing refugee and
immigrant settlement services, language assessment and instruction,
substance abuse intervention services, shelters, programs for
single mothers and teenaged moms, and youth drop-in centres.
1890 - The first resident camp program in
Nova Scotia led to the development of YMCA Big Cove Camp run today
by the YMCA of Greater Halifax/Dartmouth.
1891 - YMCA Camp Stephens in Winnipeg is the
first YMCA-owned camp which continues today.
Today - There are 27 Resident Camps across Canada
and nearly all YMCAs offer Day Camps for children and youth.
In 1890, Fraser Marshall, a pioneering YMCA leader from the
Maritimes, took 20 boys from Truro, Nova Scotia on a five-day
camping trip to Spencer's Point. The next year, Marshall initiated
the "Annual Boys' Summer Encampment." A year later, the Winnipeg Y
started YMCA Camp Stephens, the first YMCA-owned camp that still
continues today. By 1893, the Maritime Boys' Camp was established
and in 1907, a permanent site was purchased at Big Cove, Nova
Scotia. This site is still operated today by the YMCA of Greater
These camps were likely the first of their kind in Canadian
history, and their popularity was immediate. The early camping
programs offered boys lots of sports, some bible study, and
campfire chats and storytelling. Each year, more and more kids
attended YMCA camps, which led to the YMCA purchasing a number of
beautiful campsites across Canada.
YMCA camps continue to attract girls and boys regardless of
religion, culture and nationality. They join for a sense of fun,
adventure, friendship and leadership. The YMCA teaches youth
self-reliance skills and to respect each other. Camp leaders foster
physical, social and spiritual growth for all involved. Camps also
have Leaders-in-Training programs to help young people develop
leadership skills and become camp counselors. Click here to find
out more about YMCA Camps
Leadership & Training
1892 - First Leaders Corps begins in
Montreal for Physical Directors, with classes ranging from anatomy,
physiology and first aid, to prayer meetings for spiritual growth
and community service. Training individuals to become leaders has
always been at the core of Y programs.
1902-1927 - The YMCA assists in introducing to
Canada the Boy Scouts, Tuxis, Trail Rangers and Soldiers of the
1906 - The YMCA Junior Leader Program
1908 - YMCA Geneva Park, 97 acres of parkland on
Lake Couchiching, Ontario, is acquired as a national leadership
1948 - YMCA Leader Corps for girls is
1980s - Leadership and Management Development
Program is started to train YMCA staff leaders.
1981 - The YMCA Fellowship of Honour,
created under the patronage of the Governor General of Canada,
recognizes those who have given tremendous leadership while
expanding the capacity of the YMCA to build strong kids, strong
families and strong communities.
The YMCA has a long tradition of leading social change both in
Canada and internationally. In response to the traumatic times of
the Depression, the YMCA initiated an annual conference in 1932
known as the Couchiching Conference, to examine and discuss social
change and policy.
Developing people to become the best that they can be has always
been at the core of YMCA programs. In 1892, the first Leaders' Corp
was established in Montreal to train Physical Directors to become
leaders in physical education and leaders in the community. In the
1930s, Leaders' Corps training became less specialized and was
applied to many areas beyond physical education. YMCA leadership
training was soon made available to a variety of agencies and
organizations outside of the YMCA. Today, Leaders' Corp is still a
part of YMCAs across Canada.
YMCA and YWCA Join
1925 - First combined operation of a YMCA
and a YWCA is formed in Windsor, Ontario.
Today - There are 8 YMCA-YWCAs in
The YMCA and the YWCA in Canada were established as separate and
independent organizations and they remain so today. YMCAs are
represented nationally by YMCA Canada and YWCAs by the YMCA of/du
YMCA-YWCAs were formed to better serve their communities, and
over the years the number of joint associations has fluctuated.
YMCA-YWCAs adhere to the bylaws of both national associations.
On May 19, 1925, the Lieutenant-Governor of Ontario, Henry
Cockshutt, laid the corner stone of the YMCA and YWCA building in
Windsor, Ontario. This was the first time anywhere in the world
that a YMCA and YWCA owned a building that was to be used in
partnership by the two organizations.
Today, there are 8 YMCA-YWCAs in Canada.
1880s - Railway YMCAs were built
developing railway lines, providing recreation, literacy programs,
reading rooms and accommodation to railway workers. Several Ys
today trace their roots back to a railway YMCA.
Recognizing an opportunity to serve the railway workers of the
Grand Trunk and the Canadian Pacific Railway, the YMCA began to
support railroad men in the late 1800s. The YMCA offered
alternative pastimes such as reading and bible studies to railway
workers who otherwise were limited to visiting saloons during their
The first YMCA program for railway men was probably in Toronto
in 1876. A few years later, the St. Thomas, Montreal and Maritime
Associations followed. By the 1880s, more financial support was
coming in from railroad companies and YMCA railroad work in Canada
began in earnest.
When the first railway building was built in Toronto in 1890, it
marked a transition from mostly missionary work to providing
facilities and services similar to those available in city
By 1900, six railway associations had sprung up and by 1910,
eight out of 15 had their own buildings, while others operated out
of rooms provided by the railway. In 1920, there were a total of 19
railway associations with 15 facilities known as "Railway YMCAs."
Today, several YMCA Associations across Canada trace their roots
back to a Railway YMCA.
1888 - First indoor YMCA pool is built in
Toronto YMCA; Montreal YMCA follows in 1892.
1906 - YMCA staff member teaches revolutionary
style of swimming to groups rather than individuals using land
drills to teach strokes.
1910 - National swimming instruction program is
launched in Canadian YMCAs.
1913 - The first YMCA book on lifesaving is
written and used until the 1930s.
WWI - The YMCA teaches soldiers strokes by using
mass land drills and teaches survival swimming to soldiers wearing
60-pounds of gear in deep water.
1931 - YMCA launches National Aquatics Program
with test standards from Beginner to Life Saver levels. The YMCA is
the first to develop national standards for mouth-mouth
resuscitation, drown proofing and scuba diving.
1975 & 2000 - Updated National Aquatics
Programs more fully reflect the YMCA's values-based approach.
It's no surprise that tens of millions of people across Canada
have learned to swim at the YMCA, including generations of
families. After all, the YMCA has been teaching and improving
swimming lessons since the 1800s.
In 1906, a radically different kind of swimming instruction
began being taught by Toronto staff member George Corsan. It was
unique for two reasons: it was taught to groups of people rather
than individuals; and before even going into the water students
went through a series of land drills that covered the basic
movements needed to swim a stroke. Corsan also came up with the
first "learn-to-swim" campaign that rewarded swimming ability by
presenting a bronze button to boys who could swim 50 feet.
These new swimming classes quickly became highly popular. In
1910, Canadian William Ball launched a national YMCA swimming
instruction program. One year later, over 30,000 boys and men were
learning to swim in YMCAs across North America. Even the military
relied on YMCA swim instruction techniques to fully prepare
Today, the YMCA continues to teach children and families of all
abilities how to swim and be water safe while having fun. Water
exercise classes are helping adults to stay fit and prevent the
onset of health conditions.
1968 - YMCAs and YMCA-YWCAs establish daycare
programs for working parents.
1972 - YMCA preschool education
2006 - National YMCA Playing to Learn
curriculum helps children up to age 6 in YMCA child care to
discover learning through creative play.
Today - The YMCA is the largest provider of
not-for-profit child care in Canada.
For the first half of the 1900s, many YMCAs and YWCAs operated
Day Nurseries to serve working families, although no licensing
agencies existed at that time. As more women began to work in the
1960s, many YMCAs began offering licensed child care programs. In
1967, the Ottawa YMCA-YWCA opened its first licensed Head Start
Nursery School Program. By 1972, it was running a licensed child
care centre and a year later, Winnipeg had five licensed nursery
school programs in branches around the city.
Today, the YMCA is the largest provider of not-for-profit child
care in Canada and a leader in providing quality child care. The
YMCA's philosophy is that children learn and grow through play.
1984 - YMCA Canada initiates annual program to
commemorate YMCA Peace
1987 - YMCA Canada introduces a Peace
Medallion to recognize the contributions of individuals and groups
to building peace.
Today - Over 1,100 peace medallions have been
awarded to individuals and groups and in 2008, 30,685 youth in
Canada participated in global education activities to better
understand their role as global citizens.
1902-1927 - The YMCA assists in
introducing to Canada the Boy Scouts, Tuxis, Trail Rangers and
Soldiers of the Soil movements.
1940-60 - Teens and young adults joined So-Ed,
Hi-Y and Phiat Clubs, social clubs to discuss current issues,
organize community events and dances, develop leadership skills and
1943-47 - YMCA funds and runs the National
Youth Commission to examine the problems facing 15 to 24-year-olds
in post-war period.
1960s-1980 - The YMCA was one of the first
organizations to develop the concept of "street workers." YMCA
youth workers went onto the streets to support, reach out to and
educate youth on issues related to health and well being.
1985 - YMCAs partner with federal
government to implement Job Generation, which provides assistance
to unemployed youth at risk.
1986 - Youth Enterprise Centres are developed to
support unemployed young Canadians through self-employment.
1997 - Federal government, private sector
and YMCA launch $90 million Federal Public Services Youth
Internship Program that gives unemployed youth work
Today- Youth clubs are still popular and the YMCA offers
scholarship, post-secondary education, federal internship and
summer exchange programs.
The first YMCAs in Canada were formed by young people who came
together to meet other like-minded people interested in spiritual,
social, recreation and educational activities. The young people at
the YMCA sought personal development through doing "good works",
which included activities such as jail visitations or reading to
those in the hospital.
In 1868, the YMCA of Hamilton established a home for homeless
boys. The YMCA believed that positively influencing boys at a young
age, through fun and wholesome social activities, would have a
lasting effect. As far back as 1886, many Canadian Ys were trying
to combat negative influences of the Industrial Revolution,
including child labour.
In the early 1940s, clubs like the Hi-Y for teens really took
off. Run by students with an adult advisor, Hi-Y activities varied
from sports nights and corn roasts to discussions about parent
relationships, sex education, career planning and religion.
Organizing community programs was a key component. These clubs gave
youth an opportunity to develop leadership skills in an atmosphere
of friendship and support.
From the coffee houses and drop-in centres of the '60s and '70s
to the wider range of programs in the '80s and '90s, the YMCA
continued to support young people in realizing their potential and
serving others. Many of today's programs focus on areas such as
mentoring, entrepreneurship, leadership, substance abuse, gambling
and smoking reduction, parenting skills for teen moms, job search
support, literacy training and academic upgrading.
Since the YMCA began, it's been helping newcomers adapt to life
in Canada through job training, literacy and language programs,
accommodation and education. When there was little opportunity for
working men to obtain an education, the YMCA developed night
schools. When newcomers had difficulty finding work due to a
language barrier, the YMCA offered literacy classes.
The YMCA continues to develop and offer programs based on
individual community needs.