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The Evolution of the YMCA of Northern Alberta

The YMCA of Edmonton was instituted by an act of Legislature in 1907 three years after Edmonton became a city. The original building officially opened in 1908 and offered a swimming pool, employment bureau, education classes, bible study, a gymnasium, running track, and residence. It was started by a group of prominent Edmontonians like Alex Rutherford and John A. McDougall, who helped raise nearly $28,000 to begin construction of a YMCA building. The YMCA of Edmonton has grown concurrently with the City of Edmonton, and they have mutually supported each other’s growth and development — the YMCA, through its programs and services, and the City through working with the Y on capital projects.

The first YMCA building was replaced in the 1950s with the Downtown YMCA Housing building. This building went through many renovations, which have kept this facility on the cutting edge of health and wellness. The Downtown Y offered a four-floor residence with 100 rooms, serving anyone — women, men, tourists, young people just getting on their feet — looking for safe and affordable accommodation. In addition, because there has been an increasing need for such safe, short-term housing, the YMCA supports people in need to make the transition to a self-sufficient lifestyle through resident support services. The building was closed on October 31, 2017 as the facility reached the end of life, and had significant site limitations and could not be redeveloped to create a sustainable operating model.

The YMCA Enterprise Centre (now the Bill Rees YMCA) opened in 1987 to assist the unemployed in finding meaningful work. Today, it helps thousands of youth and families through education support and employment programs. Three new state-of-the-art Family Membership Centres were later opened in the 1990s: Jamie Platz YMCA in June 1990, William Lutsky YMCA in November 1997, and Castle Downs in June 1998.

The YMCA of Edmonton also introduced Day Care programs in the early 1980's to help support working parents. Today, the YMCA of Edmonton is the largest not-for-profit child care provider in Edmonton, with 23 YMCA Day Care and Out-of-School Care Centres across Edmonton and Grande Prairie providing quality and affordable programs for children up to 12 years of age.

The YMCA of Edmonton has established a partnership with the Bogota, Colombia YMCA through its International Development Program, supporting their work with children living in the barrios and streets of Bogota, Colombia. This program strives to reintegrate the children with their families or to connect them with other resources to help get them off the streets. Based on the work of the Bogota YMCA, the Edmonton YMCA’s Family Ties program helps families in need get off of social assistance and deal with problems by meeting with the whole family.

A 23-year-old draper named George Williams founded the YMCA, or Young Men's Christian Association as it was called back then, in 1844 in London, England. At that time, the YMCA served young Christian men, providing Bible study and prayer for the development of spirit, mind and body. In 1851, the first YMCA in North America was founded by a group of civic-minded people in Montreal.

Although the YMCA of Edmonton no longer provides Bible studies, it is just as committed as the YMCA's original founder was to the YMCA's mission to develop people in spirit, mind and body, by delivering programs that emphasize the values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility. This mission is the central idea driving all of the YMCAs of the world, located in almost 120 countries.

The YMCA of Edmonton is open to people of all ages, backgrounds, faiths and abilities. Everyone benefits from its services regardless of ability to pay, through the YMCA Opportunity Fund. A portion of the membership fee for families and individuals in need can be provided. Today, the YMCA of Edmonton touches the lives of more than 75,000 people each year.

Building on the accomplishments and hard work of the past decade, the YMCA of Edmonton has completed a long-term $29 million Capital Campaign plan that reaches into 2010. The plan encompassed each existing YMCA facility and included the building of the new Don Wheaton Family YMCA in downtown Edmonton which was opened in November 2007.

In 2012, the YMCA Welcome Village, a $33.5 million development, opened its doors to the public. The YMCA's most ambitious project yet, the YMCA Welcome Village comprises three new service centres: The Melcor YMCA Village, a 150-unit affordable housing facility; the Shirley Stollery YMCA Child Care Centre, a new home-like child care centre for 76-80 children; and the YMCA Family Resource Centre, which offers a variety of community programs and services for individuals and families.

Since 2007, the YMCA of Edmonton has extended services to Grande Prairie and other communities in the Edmonton Capital Region and provided administration services for the Wood Buffalo YMCA in Fort McMurray. To reflect this, the YMCA of Edmonton transitioned to a new name in 2013, becoming the YMCA of Northern Alberta.

In 2013, the YMCA of Northern Alberta released a new strategic plan for 2013-2016. Identifying many of the challenges facing today's communities, the plan is an innovative approach that will help the YMCA better address the needs of children, youth and families in Alberta.

Wood Buffalo YMCA Merges with YMCA of Northern Alberta

In a historic merger effective July 1, 2015, YMCA of Northern Alberta was delighted to welcome the Wood Buffalo Region to its family. Since 2008, the Boards of Directors and Senior Management teams of the YMCA of Wood Buffalo and the YMCA of Northern Alberta have been working closely together under a Management Services Agreement. Together they have realized and agreed that the YMCA would be a more vibrant, stronger and sustainable organization, able to respond to community needs more effectively if the two Associations merged. A merged Association would create greater capacity, expertise and a more efficient and effective YMCA for those we serve in Northern Alberta.

  • A man holding a basketball in a YMCA gym.
    Basketball and the YMCA

    Did you know basketball was invented by a Canadian at the YMCA?

    The game was invented 125 years ago by Canadian YMCA instructor James Naismith at the YMCA International Training School.  The sport has come a long way in the 125 years since then, but many of Dr. Naismith’s 13 original rules and values are still evident in how the sport is played today.

    Basketball is still a game that promotes leadership, skill and teamwork and can be played by anyone – regardless of age and ability – with just a ball and a net.

    At the YMCA, youth and adult members are welcome to either drop in and join a pickup game, or become part of a more formal basketball program.

  • Memorial poppies, invented by YMCA ladies.
    The YMCA Poppy Connection

    Moina Michael was on duty at the YMCA Overseas Secretaries’ headquarters in New York, when she read In Flanders Fields, a poem by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae.  Inspired by the poem, she vowed always to wear the red poppy of Flanders Fields as a sign of remembrance.  It would become an emblem for "keeping the faith with all who died."

    Madame Anna Guerin worked for the French YMCA Secretaries when she met Moina and was not only inspired by McCrae’s poem, but also by Moina’s idea of the poppy as a memorial flower.  Anna made visits to the French allies from WWI; Britian, Canada, Austrialia and New Zealand, all of whom adopted the Poppy in the 1920s.

  • YMCA hands reaching for a volleyball.
    Volleyball and the YMCA

    Did you know that volleyball was invented at the YMCA?

    In, 1895, in Holyoke, Massachusetts, William G. Morgan, a YMCA physical education director, created a new game called Mintonette as a pastime to be played indoors and by any number of players.

    This game became volleyball, which we know and love today.  Volleyball was designed to be an indoor sport, less rough than basketball (for older members of the YMCA), while still requiring athletic effort.