YMHA 91 Albert Street

The YMHA: A Community Treasure

By the mid – 1930s, the YMHA had become a popular venue for the Jewish community. Membership reached a high of 400. Its facilities at the time – Fisher Hall on 980 ½ Main Street – could not accommodate the growing numbers that attended the activities generated which by then went beyond sports and physical education to encompass the realms of culture and education. Thanks to a generous donation by the Steinkopf Family in memory of Max Steinkopf the community was able to purchase the former war veterans building (previously the headquarters of Imperial Dry Goods Limited) at 91 Albert Street in 1936.

Shortly thereafter the Y hired Sam Sheps in the capacity of Executive Director and Leible Hershfield who was in charge of physical fitness programs. Over the years Sheps and Hershfield played seminal roles in the organization’s development and capacity to develop an eclectic range of activities that broadened its appeal to Jews and non-Jews alike.

The YMHA’s commitment to the socio-economic and cultural wellbeing of Winnipeg is best reflected in its programs aimed at assisting low – income people and the unemployed. This included the establishment of an employment service during the Depression and the provision of food, lodging and medical assistance for transients seeking work. During the war the YMHA assisted service personnel by offering counseling and financial assistance, making available their physical fitness facilities and becoming an organizing centre for the Canadian Red Cross.

Following the war, the Y was a point of reference for children orphaned by the Holocaust. Through its activities it sought to address their cultural, recreational and educational needs and provided classes in English to assist them in adapting to Canadian ways and customs.

It was during the Albert Street years that women began to play a more prominent role. The YWHA (women’s branch of the YMHA) had become a growing concern and was instrumental in encouraging girls and women to partake in the activities that the organization had to offer. The Albert Street years also saw the proliferation of boys and girl clubs that helped perpetuate a sense of Jewish identity within the context of Canadian life.