The first YMCA-the Young Men's Christian Association-was founded in London, England in 1844 by George Williams, age 23. It was a religious (Evangelical Protestant) movement for young men who had left their families and migrated from outlying areas to jobs in London. Its goal was their character development. It provided fellowship and opportunities for constructive use of leisure time.
At the world's fair that took place in London in 1851, YMCA pamphlets were distributed to visitors from all over the world, including a number of Montrealers who judged that it would fulfill a need in their city.
An inaugural meeting of the Montreal YMCA took place at St. Helen Street Baptist Church in November 1851. The Montreal YMCA can claim to be the first in North America, although YMCAs started up in Boston, New York, Toronto, and other North American cities about the same time.
The North American YMCAs formed a confederation in 1854. The World Alliance of YMCAs was formed in 1855.
In 1853, the Montreal YMCA hired its first paid employee, Samuel Massey. He worked as a missionary to young men in Montreal. As an adjunct to its religious mission, in the 1850s the Montreal YMCA created a social centre in rented quarters where young men could gather. It included a library and reading room. The Y began offering lectures, an employment service, and charitable relief to the indigent.
The first Montreal YMCA building was erected in 1873 on Victoria Square.
That year, the first evening educational courses were held, in French and shorthand. Services were added for younger boys and immigrants. Sports were added in the late 1880s. War work-services to military personnel-was first undertaken during the Boer War. Foreign service-outreach to other countries-became important early in the twentieth century.
Expansion was rapid, and in 1892 the Montreal YMCA created new quarters on Dominion Square, where the Sun Life building now stands. In the Dominion Square Y building there were meeting rooms, a reading room and a library, club and class rooms, an auditorium, a gymnasium, locker and shower rooms, a swimming pool, a bowling alley, and a dining room.
In 1894, a boys' summer camp was opened in the Laurentians north of Montreal. Outdoor programs have been part of the Association's programming ever since.
In 1912, the Central/Downtown Branch of the Montreal Association moved to new quarters on Drummond Street. That year, the Association opened the Westmount Branch and the North Branch (now YMCA du Parc). Other branches and various satellite units have existed at various times throughout the Metropolitan Montreal region.
In 1931 the Downtown Branch was remodeled and a 500-room residential annex was added to provide low-cost accommodation and meals for men. The residence would later serve as accommodation for refugees. (In 2001 as part of a major renovation of the YMCA Centre-ville, the downtown residence was demolished. The Y opened refugee accommodation in the former Reddy Memorial Hospital on Tupper Street.)
The Montreal YMCA has offered many programs, including physical and aquatics programs and social programs. The educational programs grew to become one of Concordia University founding institutions, Sir George Williams College/University. In the 1970s a shift in government policy in Quebec meant increased emphasis on community recreational programs, and the YMCA provided input and management services for these programs. Community development programs, including immigrant, crime prevention, and offender rehabilitation programs, were added.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Metropolitan Montreal Association included the YMCA Centre-ville, the du Parc YMCA, the Guy-Favreau YMCA, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve YMCA, the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce YMCA, the Pointe Saint-Charles YMCA, the Saint-Laurent YMCA, the West Island YMCA, the Westmount YMCA, Kamp Kanawana, the YMCA residence for refugee claimants, and the YMCA International Language school and the YMCA Foundation and Metropolitan services offices which were located in the same building as the YMCA Centre-ville.