Most people today associate the YMCA with gyms and pools. But this is only part of the Y legacy.
The original YMCA, founded in London, England by George Williams in 1844, initially had a social mission. It sought to counter the Industrial Revolution’s unhealthy impact on labourers.
Québec’s special relationship with the YMCA movement began in 1851, when North America’s first YMCA opened its doors on the corner of Rue des Récollets and Rue Sainte-Hélène in what is today Old Montréal.
Apart from the original religious component, you could draw a straight line from 1851 - when we used to deliver night classes to working people that built "mind, body and spirit" - to the YMCAs of Québec.
Our history offers both continuity and evolution, as we adapt to serve society:
November 25, 1851 – North America’s first YMCA opens in Montréal.
1853 – The YMCA’s first social worker establishes a program to help the destitute and relieve poverty among new immigrants.
1854 – The YMCA opens Montréal’s first public library and starts services in Québec City.
1860 – The YMCA begins to serve Pointe-Saint-Charles.
1870 – Night school classes are offered to all people, including women and immigrants; until then, education was a privilege reserved for men from the elite.
1876 – The YMCA arrives in the Du Parc neighbourhood.
1880 – Québec City’s first YMCA is inaugurated on Place D’Youville.
1890 – Ahead of its time, the YMCA begins to offer sports and physical activity as core components.
1891 – James Naismith, a Canadian YMCA instructor, invents basketball at the YMCA International Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts (another instructor will invent volleyball in 1895).
1894 –Québec’s first summer camp, Camp YMCA Kanawana, opens in Saint-Sauveur.
1910 – Canadian YMCAs launch a national swimming instruction program.
1912 – To better meet the needs of communities, the YMCA conducts its first extensive survey of living conditions in Montréal. Westmount becomes the fifth Québec community to have a YMCA.
1926 – The YMCA night school leads to the foundation of Sir George Williams College (now Concordia University).
1940 – The YMCA establishes a community and sports centre with its own park in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.
1956 – To meet the challenges of a young and rapidly growing community, a YMCA opens in Montréal’s West Island.
1960-1970 – The Y offers its services to all Quebeckers, regardless of religion or language, to better meet the needs of the communities where it works. Previously, the YMCA only served English-speaking protestant men.
1964 – Previously open only to Protestants, the YMCA now welcomes all people and becomes a fully bilingual organization.
1965 – Learning French becomes easier for immigrants with the opening of the accredited YMCA International Language School, which teaches nine languages.
1969 – The YMCA launches host projects to integrate a burgeoning immigrant population.
1970-1980 – To support working families and champion new ideas in child development, the YMCA opens daycares as well as preschool and after-school programs.
1977 – Centraide du Grand Montréal grants funds to the YMCA to support certain community activities. The YMCA opens a community and sports centre to serve people in Saint-Laurent.
1980 – The YMCA’s ninth community and sports centre opens in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve.
1980-1990 – Responding to rising unemployment, the YMCA creates youth centres and employment services. Community development expands to include justice initiatives, minority rights and urban development. The number of partnerships continues to grow.
1984 – The YMCA Residence begins to welcome refugee claimants. The YMCAs of Québec Foundation is also set up to ensure the Y’s future thanks to the generosity of donors.
1984 – YMCA Guy-Favreau opens to provide health, fitness and social services to Montréal’s Chinese community.
1999 – YMCA Alternative Suspension sharpens the Y’s focus on kids, youth and school success. It becomes a national program.
2007 – Camp YMCA Kanawana builds facilities, infrastructure and programs to enhance its sustainability and strengthen education about the natural environment.
2010 – The YMCA Cartierville opens, thanks to tenacious local advocacy. The project signals a new era of partnership between the YMCAs of Québec, Montréal boroughs, the City and the Province.
2011 – Montréal City Hall officially honours the YMCA’s 160 years of community service and social responsibility, and invites the YMCA to sign the Livre d’or.
2015 – The City of Montréal asks the YMCA to recruit volunteers for the first-ever count of the homeless. The YMCA recruits and organizes 600 volunteers and team leaders.
2016 – The Government of Québec chooses the YMCA to lead its first program grant to prevent youth radicalization, delinquency and gang violence.
2017 – Québec City and the YMCA partner to build and operate a new YMCA in the Saint-Roch neighbourhood.
2018 – Launch of the YMCA PlusOne Mentoring program, pairing caring and positive adult role models with 10-to-17-year-olds who are experiencing challenges in their daily lives.
2019 – Beginning of the Y’s organizational transformation process, with a greater focus on community programs and a recentred fitness programming.
2020 – The COVID-19 pandemic hits and the Y springs into action with virtual programs, online support, emergency services, and more.
2021 – Launch of the YMCA Alternative Suspension Social Impact Bond, an innovative initiative aimed at funding the expansion of the program to 11 new service sites.
2022 – The first Y Space opens in the West Island, offering sports and fitness activities, and community and youth programs in a smaller space and better adapted to the specific needs of the local community.