YMCA vs. YMHA

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YMCA, Park Avenue at St. Viateur Street

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YMHA, Mount Royal Avenue at Jeanne-Mance Street

In 1936, when these photos were taken, Montreal was just beginning to climb out of the Great Depression, which had hit this industrial city with particularly brute force. Unemployment remained high and thousands of the city’s inhabitants lived in squalour — but not in Mile End. Though far from wealthy, the north end neighbourhood was reasonably prosperous, home to upwardly-mobile Jews, French-Canadians, Irish and immigrants from across Europe.

That diversity was reflected in Mile End’s built fabric. The neighbourhood boasts a particularly impressive collection of churches, synagogues and other institutional structures: there’s the Byzantine mystery of St. Michael’s Church, the florid wedding-cake façade of the Église Saint-Enfant-Jésus and the faux-château styling of the former St. Louis City Hall at Laurier and the Main. In the midst of all this were two buildings that served the neighbourhood’s two major religious and cultural communities: the Young Men’s Christian Association, on Park Avenue, and the Young Men’s Hebrew Association, on Mount Royal Avenue.

Both institutions were products of the moralistic zeal of the late nineteenth century. Although they differed in faith, their goals were similar, and each offered a network of social services designed to improve the physical, moral and social well-being of young Jews and Christians. The YMHA was particularly successful: in 1948, its members made up half of Canada’s Olympic basketball team.

Eventually, though, the institutions took a divergent path. The Park Avenue YMCA eventually became a secular institution that served the entire community. By the late 1980s, though, its was so decrepit that it was torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The City of Montreal took the opportunity to jointly finance the construction of a new pool in the YMCA, replacing the public St. Michel Bath further east in the neighbourhood. Today, the Y is a focal point for community life in Mile End.

The Mount Royal YMHA, meanwhile, closed in the early 1970s, well after most of Mile End’s Jewish population had moved westward. (The YMHA lives on, though, with branches in Snowdon and the West Island.) In 1975, the building was bought by the Université de Montréal, which coverted it into classes and office space, but it was sold once again in 2002. At the moment, it sits vacant, but a property developer has bought the building and will convert it into two dozen luxury condominiums. The building’s original pool will be restored, but use of it will be limited to the building’s new residents.

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Wednesday April 30 2008at 11:04 pm , filed under Architecture, Canada, Heritage and Preservation, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

4 Responses to “YMCA vs. YMHA”

  • Kevin Cohalan says:

    There was a third community centre in Mile End, serving the French-Canadian population. Patro Le Prevost, now located at 7355 Christophe-Colomb, started out in 1909 in the basement of the old église Saint-Georges, corner of Bernard & Saint-Urbain, now the site of Lambert-Closse school. It moved in 1913 into its own building on the site now occupied by the Saint-Louis arena at 5633 Saint-Dominique Street. The building burned down on January 18, 1977 and the Patro reopened in its present location in 1980. See Web site patroleprevost.qc.ca.

  • Disparishun says:

    Nice post, though I think this is a bit of a “faux amis” comparison. The YMHA was Jewish in an ethnic sense — there was nothing religious about it.

  • As Kevin Cohalan indicates:

    Sports and recreation were traditionnaly religiously and linguistically affiliated in Montreal, especially since most francophone institutions (schools, hospitals) in Quebec at the turn of the century were managed and owned by Roman Catholic religious communities.

    Le Patronage Jean-Léon Le Prevost (now called Patro Le Prevost) was founded with this mindset in 1909 by the Brothers of St-Vincent-of-Paul (Religieux de Saint-Vincent-de-Paul) in the basement of St-Georges’ church, corner of St-Urbain and Bernard. In 1913, a new building is erected on St-Dominique, and until 1977, the centre offers sports, recreation and moral/religious activities to young boys (until 1969). In 1969, the centre is incorporated as a non-profit organization and widens its mission to include all ages and both sexes. In January 1977, a fire entirely destroys the building. Temporarily relocated in the Centre St-Denis (Rivard St) from 1977 to 1979, the new building opens in the Villeray area, 7355, Christophe-Colomb.

    Today, like the YMCA, Le Patro Le Prevost still retains a Christian inspiration to its mission, but is run by a lay director general and board of directors. As well as sports and recreation, it also offers community services such as a Meals-On-Wheels program (popote roulante), a community restaurant and social programs.

    The centre will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2009.

  • Isaac says:

    Just wondering if the YMHA was ever open on Saturdays. Thank you.