Ask Alicia – YMCA

Dear Alicia,

I have been told that there used to be a Y.M.C.A. located downtown. Is that correct? If so, could you please tell me a little more about it, including where it was located?



Dear Lucy,

Yes, there used to be a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) downtown, in fact, there had been three different YMCA locations prior to the current location at 25 YMCA Drive by the Fairview Mall.

The YMCA was founded in London, England in 1844. The goal of the association was to provide wholesome leisure activities for young men in England as a means of leading them to the “Christian way of life” through the development of a healthy mind, body and spirit.

The first Canadian branch of the YMCA opened in Montreal in 1851.  The first St. Catharines branch was founded in 1859.  At that time, the YMCA used rented space at 25 Hainer Street in west St. Catharines.

By 1905 enough funds had been raised for the YMCA to have a purpose built facility constructed, which was located at 259 St. Paul Street, where the Leonard Hotel now stands.

In 1928-1929 the YMCA built a new building at 56 Queen Street.  The cost of the new

1085-N - Queen Street
Queen Street YMCA Building – Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Museum 1085-N.

building was covered by funds raised from members of the public, as well as with two sizable donations by local philanthropists Reuben Wells Leonard and David Bloss Mills.  The new building was designed in a Neo-Tudor style by the renowned local architectural firm Nicholson and Macbeth.  This new location included a gymnasium, two bowling alleys, a large swimming pool and a reading room.


In 1929 the Young Women’s Christian Association was formed in St. Catharines. The YWCA shared the Queen Street facility and was the first combined YM-YWCA in North America.

In the 1960’s there were many renovations made to the building including demolishing the bowling alleys in favour of a new “businessmen’s health unit” which included locker rooms, a steam room, judo and weight lifting rooms.  The lighting for the building was also updated.

The Queen Street YMCA location served the community until 1991 when they moved to the current location. The building was demolished in 1994.

YMCA Dance 1944 -Photo Attribution: St. Catharines Standard Collection, S1944.35.3.1

Various activities have been offered throughout the years by the YMCA including, but not limited to: sports such as; swimming, basketball, fencing and lacrosse.  Weight training; sailing training and sailing excursions; gospel meetings and bible study, literary study, debate society and the ever popular Saturday night dances.


The YMCA continues “Empowering Young People” around the world after 172 years in operation!


The St. Catharines Museum and Welland Canals Centre, located next to Lock 3 of the historic Welland Canal, is a leading local history museum and community gathering place, engaging visitors and building relationships with partners, while demonstrating curatorial leadership and innovative programming and exhibits. The St. Catharines Museum is dedicated to engaging visitors in the celebration of our local stories and the cultural identity and history of the City. We are a community resource that interprets, exhibits, researches, acquires, and preserves material culture and stories of St. Catharines.

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