“We will be the greatest and strongest group of young women ever formed. I mean of women, by women and for women.” — Adelaide Hoodless
YWCA Hamilton’s nearly 130-year history of strengthening and empowering women is integral to the organization we have become. By looking toward the past, we can better understand why we offer the many programs and services we do today.
On May 1, 1889 — just a few months after approximately 150 women gathered to discuss the need for an organization dedicated to social and educational activities for women — the doors to YWCA Hamilton’s first building opened. The now-demolished building at 17 Main Street West accommodated eight boarders. Even in the early days, YWCA Hamilton was committed to offering affordable housing for women.
In September 1890, Adelaide Hoodless was elected president of YWCA Hamilton. Her investment in public service had intensified in 1889 when her 14-month-old son died, possibly as a result of contaminated milk. She wanted to ensure young women were equipped with the knowledge they needed in domestic science.
Under the leadership of Hoodless, the School of Domestic Science opened at YWCA Hamilton in 1894. It was the first of its kind in Canada. YWCA Hamilton was instrumental in having domestic science integrated into the Ontario public school curriculum. Hoodless also helped form YWCA Canada, which held its first annual meeting in Ottawa in January 1895.
In 1915, after a fierce fundraising campaign, YWCA Hamilton moved to a new seven-storey building with two hundred rooms. This expansion was crucial, especially during World War I.
During both World Wars, YWCA Hamilton offered support to female workers in factories, shipyards, and munitions plants and continues to remain dedicated to offering employment services that help people gain economic independence.
The campaign to build the east end YWCA in 1924 stressed the needs of women working in factories.
“As a young girl working all day in a factory, and returning tired at night to a small room in a boarding house, would you not feel the need for recreation and change?”
The branch, which opened on February 3, 1925, would remain on Ottawa Street until 2017. Originally extending “a welcoming and helping hand to the lonely girl,” it expanded to include programming for women, children, men, and seniors.
In the 1960s, YWCA Hamilton once again outgrew its home. Our current building, at 75 MacNab Street South, opened in the late 1960s. It has remained a hub, offering a large variety of programs addressing health and wellness, poverty, employment and skill building, transitional housing, seniors’ programming, supports for persons with developmental disabilities, youth-led programming, and high quality active children’s programs.
YWCA Hamilton’s vibrant 55+ Active Living Centre at our MacNab Street location opened 40+ years ago and continues to host a variety of programming that works to address the needs of Hamilton’s growing senior population. Today, the 55+ Active Living Centre also works to engage seniors who are at risk of isolation through activities that get them out of their homes and into social situations, through connections with peers, as well as to critical social services.
In 1978, our Developmental Services department opened a residential adult group home on the second floor of our MacNab Street branch. Today, we operate a wide variety of housing options for adults with developmental disabilities, including group homes, residential care facilities and supported apartment settings. Today’s Developmental Services day programming supports clients in enhancing their life skills, social skills, and learning about healthy relationships.
In 1993 YWCA Hamilton successfully completed a $3.2 million capital expansion and renovation campaign, which saw the creation of a downtown licensed child care centre and a major expansion of space and offices through refurbishment and renovation at both the MacNab SDtreet and Ottawa Street facilities.
In 2013 YWCA Hamilton responded to the changes in full -day kindergarten to meet the requirements for full-day child care. YWCA Hamilton’s West Mountain Child Care Centre moved locations from the Long and Bisby building on Sanitorium Road to Gordon Price Elementary School on Guildwood Road. Today, YWCA Hamilton offers full-day licensed child care and Before and After School programs at locations across Hamilton and Dunnville.
In September 2014, YWCA Hamilton converted an underutilized space into a multi-sensory room for people living with a developmental disability. Known as a Snoezelen Room, this space provides an experience of stimulation of the primary senses through sights, sounds, textures, and motion and has also been shown to be beneficial to children living with Autism Spectrum Disorder, adults living with dementia, people recovering from brain injuries. The YWCA Hamilton Snoezelen room is open to the community on a pay-per-use basis.
In 2017, YWCA Hamilton made the bold decision to rebuild for our future on Ottawa Street. The existing building, which had been patched together over the years since 1925, and by 2017 was a mash-up of several additions, needed to be rebuilt from the ground up. But the needs of the community had also changed, bumping affordable housing to the top of community priorities. So, with an eye to the future, we embarked on a mission to build affordable housing for women and children on Ottawa Street. The old structure was torn down and the new, eco-friendly Passive House-designed building will swing open its doors in the fall of 2020. The new Ottawa Street YWCA will include 50 affordable housing units for women and their children, 15 of which will be reserved for women living with developmental disabilities. It will also offer seniors programming, two community spaces, as well as programming for employment and training.
As it has throughout our history, YWCA Hamilton offers a continuum of critical programs and services that make the community better for women, girls, and their families. In our 130th year, YWCA Hamilton works to end violence in all of its forms, providing housing solutions, employment and training opportunities, and advocacy work aimed at promoting women’s leadership.
YWCA Hamilton offers a breadth of services aimed at improving the health and wellness of women, girls and families in our community. Many of our health and wellness programs are designed to support women who face financial barriers and/or are from newcomer communities. We offer specialized programs for women who have experienced breast cancer, supportive programs for women who are at risk of postpartum depression, and our fitness instructors bring their expertise to classes across the city.
Current advocacy efforts include the Women of Distinction Awards, which highlights trailblazing women leaders in our community; Walk a Mile in Her Shoes, which is dedicated to ending violence against women; and YWCA Canada’s Day on the Hill, in which YWCA members from across the country gather in Ottawa to advocate for investments in women’s economic security.