YMCA Milestones

YMCA Beginnings

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 Revolution

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 church.

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 welcomed.

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.

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Physical Activities & Sports

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 some degree.

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 place.

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 mainstay areas.

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YMCA War Services

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 soldiers.
1871 - The YMCA begins to serve militia training camps.
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 Camps.
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 being met.

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 programs.

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International Development & Education

1855  -  World Alliance of YMCAs is founded
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 Brotherhood" campaign.
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 States.

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 overseas YMCAs.

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 needs.

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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 immigrants.
1926 - Concordia University - YMCA of Montreal's classes expand to form the Montreal YMCA Schools, which later became Sir George William University, and eventually Concordia.
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 Carleton University.
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.

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Community Buildings

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 Charlottetown, PEI.
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 services.

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.

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YMCA Camps

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 Halifax/Dartmouth.

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

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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 Soil movements.
1906 - The YMCA Junior Leader Program starts.
1908 - YMCA Geneva Park, 97 acres of parkland on Lake Couchiching, Ontario, is acquired as a national leadership training site.
1948  - YMCA Leader Corps for girls is launched
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.

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YMCA and YWCA Join Together

1925  - First combined operation of a YMCA and a YWCA is formed in Windsor, Ontario.
Today  - There are 8 YMCA-YWCAs in Canada.

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 Canada.

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.

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Railway YMCAs

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 leisure hours.

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 Associations.

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.

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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 soldiers.

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.

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Child Care

1968 - YMCAs and YMCA-YWCAs establish daycare programs for working parents.
1972  - YMCA preschool education begins.
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.

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Peace Efforts

1984 - YMCA Canada initiates annual program to commemorate YMCA Peace Week
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.

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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 volunteer.
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 experience.
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.

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Newcomer Services

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.

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