Origins of the YMHA

The YMHA: A Community Treasure

With the influx of Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century and early 20th century a coterie of institutions and organizations were created reflective of social, cultural, religious and educational needs. Many of them served the dual purpose of preserving and promoting Jewish values and customs and easing the process of adaptation to Canadian society. The YMHA was critical to this phase in the history of the Jewish community. Unlike the other organizations such as synagogues and schools which were adaptations of forms of association, education and worship from the lands of origin, YMHAs were uniquely North American. They sprung from the soil of the new land, nurtured by a complex multidimensional Jewish identity crafted and honed by class, gender, secular and religious values.

The origins of the YMHA in Winnipeg can be traced to the 1890s when prominent Jewish businessman Mordecai Weidman felt there was a need to engage the involvement of Jewish youth in community affairs. Weidman was of the opinion that sports were the best vehicle to ensure said engagement. He sought the advice of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMHA) who provided him with the necessary guidance and equipment. Weidman’s commitment and efforts led to the establishment of the Young Hebrew Social Assembly in 1895 from which evolved the YMHA. By 1899 the YMHA had acquired a club room in the McIntyre Block at 417 Main Street.

Under the leadership of individuals such as Alexander Cantor and Izzy Gutman, the YMHA was able to procure a charter from the Province of Manitoba in 1919. Gutman was elected the organization’s first President. There were twenty three charter members and dues were $5.00 per year.