In 1851, seven years after the founding of the Young Men’s Christian Association in London in 1844 by George Williams, a draper, the first branch of the Montreal YMCA was established.
Williams and his colleagues were concerned about the lack of healthy activities for young men in major cities. His idea grew out of prayer meetings and Bible-reading among his fellow-workers in a business in London. On June 6, 1844 he founded the first YMCA aiming to put Christian principles into practice of young men working in the drapery, embroidery, and other trades by developing a healthy “body, mind, and spirit”, which is reflected by the three sides of the red triangle in the YMCA logo.
The Y opened its first North American centre in Montreal in 1851 in rented space of the Gault Brothers & Co. store and warehouse building (now Hotel Gault), on Sainte-Hélène Street in Old Montreal. In 1853 the association rented space in the Odd Fellows’ Hall on St. Jacques Street. It was not until 1873 that the association moved into its first building on Victoria Square until 1891 when the YMCA moved into a new building facing Dominion Square until 1912. Today, the Y has its headquarters on Stanley Street, in the heart of the city and steps awayfrom Montréal’s Metro, universities, business district and major commercial arteries.
Since its establisment in 1876, the Park Avenue YMCA has been a focal point for community life in Mile End, then a district of newly arrived immigrants. The neighbourhood was considered one of Montreal’spoorest at the time—to such a degree that, at the end of the 1960s, the YMCA decided to make social work in the neighbourhood one of its priorities. It hired workers to organize recreational activities for the children of the primarily Greek immigrants. Activities took place in the alleys because, as one child related later, there was nowhere else to play outdoors. Today’s Mile End is a friendly and dynamic place that welcomes everyone: children, families, the young and the not so young. The YMCA offers high-quality fitness facilities and an extensive selection of aquatic activities, available to all residents. It also offers two daycare centres, a drop-in daycare, a day camp and a Youth Zone.
The YMCA of Montreal has been very active in promoting education. In 1926, its education program became Sir George Williams College which eventually became Concordia University in 1974, started from night courses offered at the Montreal YMCA.
The Park Avenue YMCA is located at 5550 Park Avenue, Montreal.
Source: Mile End Memories / YMCA Canada
by Dick Nieuwendyk – mtltimes.ca