Feature Article

A History of the YMCA compiled from Dean Robinson’s "Y Stratford" by Gord Conroy

The Odd Fellows Block, opposite Market Place, was the home of the YMCA in 1874. Stratford-Perth Archives

Early Days. In 1867, the year of Confederation, Stratford had its own YMCA organization…the Young Men’s Christian Association…meeting at the Temperance Hall at the corner of Erie and Ontario Streets. There were Bible classes and prayer meetings on Sundays and concerts, debates and lectures on week nights. Dean Robinson in his book Y

Stratford: A History 1858-1991 is the source for this information and for what follows. Robinson points out that there is evidence that a YMCA group started in Stratford as early as 1858.

In fact, the YMCA had several beginnings over the years as Robinson points out. There was great interest at each beginning; sustaining that interest and ongoing membership was the problem.

Origins. The YMCA was a grass roots organization that grew up in England in the 1840s with the aim to improve the spiritual condition of young men in the trades. It promoted wholesome interests and worthwhile leisure-time activities for young men. It came to Canada in 1851, set up first in Montreal, and moved to other centres as young men moved there or heard about it.

Locations. Stratford YMCA members would meet at several locations after The Temperance Hall including the Carrall building at the corner of Albert and Downie Streets. Sustaining interest and membership was difficult and between 1869 and 1873 there was no Stratford representation at the annual YMCA conventions of Ontario and Quebec Associations. Taverns and billiard saloons were much more popular

In 1874, meetings in the Town Hall in Market Square discussed the resurrection of the organization. An executive was formed and board members elected. They rented rooms in the Odd Fellows Block on Downie Street opposite the Market, established a meeting room and reading rooms with appropriate materials and worked to find jobs for those young men who wanted them.

By 1875, there was an Anniversary of the founding of the organization with musical entertainment and fellowship. The Christian element was very strong at this time. The group had 83 members but the fellowship, interest and help to members gradually faded, and by 1879, there was no YMCA.

In 1885, the same year Stratford became a city, there was another attempt to resurrect the YMCA, but the efforts soon dissipated, and by 1889, there was yet another public meeting to form a YMCA.

First YMCA Building 1898 on Market Place. This time, the reorganizing of the YMCA, which was at least the fifth attempt, would be successful but still there would be bumps along the road. George McLagan, a young cabinet maker, played a key role. He and other notable Stratford citizens became involved and their efforts and financial support were the main reasons for the eventual success. McLagan, an avid sports enthusiast, strong Baptist, and soon to be prominent furniture designer and manufacturer, would serve the YMCA board for 22 years. He would also play a major role with the parks board. (See McLagan Drive).

The purpose of the YMCA organization was further articulated in 1889 to “…elevate young men mentally, morally and physically.” That physical element became more important with an exercise area and baths added at the new headquarters on the corner of Downie and George Streets. By 1890, there were 104 members and 83 associates. Membership fees rose from $3 to $4 dollars which would be lowered to $1 by 1895 to encourage greater membership. There was an active ladies’ auxiliary by this time and volunteers were running education and physical programs. A basketball league was added to the gym classes and outdoor activities. As well, The Stratford Bicycle Club used some rooms and soon became the YMCA Bicycle Club.

The Stratford Bicycle Club was a thriving organization when this photo was taken in 1886. In the 1890s, it became the YMCA Bicycle Club. Stratford-Perth Archives

By 1895, the YMCA organization was meeting and operating out of a series of rooms on the north side of Ontario Street where it meets Huron. By 1896, membership rose from 95 to 250 which included 22 junior members, but when their lease would not be renewed in 1897, the next stage in the YMCA took place with the buying of land, the arranging of a mortgage for $3500, a successful donor campaign to lessen the debt, and the erection of a new YMCA building on Market Place immediately west of the Herald newspaper offices in 1897-1898.

Harry J. Powell was the architect, who coincidentally, had been added to the board in 1897. He hired local contractors for the work: Edward Cawsey (mason and brick), William Casson (painting), Fred J. Sylvester (galvanized iron work), William Ireland (plastering), J. L. Youngs (carpentry).

New YMCA Built 1898 on Market Place just west of The Stratford Herald newspaper. Photo Nancy Musselman

Opening of Market Place YMCA. On March 3, 1898 the new YMCA building on Market Place officially opened with afternoon and evening ceremonies. It was an impressive building with three floors. In the basement, there was a gym and viewing gallery, showers and washroom. On the main floor were offices, a parlour, games room and a large reading room at the rear with a spacious hall where members could park their bicycles. The top floor featured a large classroom and an assembly room that could seat 300.

The GTR Railway gets involved. In that same month of March, 1898, John F. Moore, from Montreal, who was the YMCA’s national railroad secretary persuaded the Stratford YMCA board to accept affiliation with railwaymen. Railway YMCAs were started in Cleveland in 1872 as a place of worship for employees far from home. They were organized by workers in much the same way as the YMCA itself had been created. They gained support quickly from railway owners who realized the value of workers with Christian principles. The Grand Trunk Railway in Stratford was now officially affiliated with the YMCA.

The new organization was called The Young Men’s Christian Association of Stratford, Railway and Local, and with that agreement and name change, the Grand Trunk Railway (GTR) provided the organization with a donation of $150 annually plus $25 a month for upkeep of the new building. In 1901, the GTR also made vacant land available for a lacrosse team and additional track and field activities.

Membership expanded, the budget increased, staff was hired, new gym programs and a four-team basketball league were formed. That leagues quickly expanded into other sports. Church services were held along with weekly Bible classes.

George McLagan was president in 1899, and before the completion of his second and final term, he personally eliminated the potential YMCA deficit of more than $300 to balance the budget by a personal canvas of friends and supporters of the YMCA.

Expansion Plans for new YMCA. In 1901, Just three years after building the Market Street YMCA, everyone realized larger quarters were needed.

Here is a picture of the YMCA board in 1901 which shows a number of the men who figured prominently in the organization’s early development and who realized the need for a new building which was completed in 1904, just three short years.

The Stratford YMCA Board of Directors in 1901. Stratford- Perth Archives

Back row from left: Norman S. Fleischauer, J. J. Forbes, Benjamin J. Leckie, Andrew F. Waddell Sr., William S. Dingman, William H. Merry (Bible class leader), George Edgecombe.

Middle row from left: George McLagan, Hugh. M. Gilchrist (general secretary), James M. Graham (outgoing general secretary), Benson E. Johnston (president), H. S. (Tinny) Robertson, Peter Bradshaw.

Front row from left: Dr. James D. Monteith, William E. Brooker, John S. Bennett (recording secretary), Reuben F. Marshall, Arthur Bushfield.

Benson Johnson, the new president of the YMCA, who worked at the GTR, was well acquainted with Robert Patterson who was running the GTR locomotive repair shops. He also knew that men at the roundhouse needed better living quarters and proposed a joint effort, possibly on railway land at the corner of Downie and St Patrick Streets, to build a new YMCA.

Railway officials eventually approved the idea, donated the land, pledged a capital commitment of $4500 plus a monthly operating allowance. YMCA officials led by Johnson, McLagan and William S. Dingman raised $4000, arranged the sale of the Market Place headquarters which became known as the Pratt building, housing the F. Pratt and Son print shop. After WW2, the top floor of Pratt Printing was used as a rehearsal space by the Stratford Boys’ Band. The building would be replaced in 1960.

Architects R. Thomas Orr and James Russell designed the new building, and J. L. Youngs, who had constructed city hall, was given the contract and an expense limit of $20,000. The new building would include a swim tank financed by a donation of $1000 from local philanthropist, William Battershall. (See Battershall Crescent). To put costs into perspective, Robinson notes that an English Derby at The Stratford Clothing Company sold for $3 and a pair of women’s laced boots at a local show store cost $2.50.

From Sod-Turning to Opening Ceremony. The first sod was turned by Mrs. W. J. Ferguson, wife of the past mayor and president of the YMCA ladies’ auxiliary, to mark the start of construction, and in October 1903, the cornerstone was laid. Just under one year later, on September 23, 1904, the opening ceremony and dedication took place with George McLagan presiding in the afternoon, and YMCA president H. S. (Tinny) Robertson presiding in the evening. The new Downie Street would serve Stratford for more than 60 years.

YMCA Building at the corner of Downie and St. Patrick Streets built in 1904. Photo courtesy of YMCA.

Building Features. The building was 120’ long and 55’ deep. The 66’ tower over the entrance was complemented by the octagonal bay on the north east corner. The building was finished in red-pressed brick and had a slate roof. It ended up costing $25,500 some $5,500 over budget. Financial problems involving the YMCA, the GTR and the GTR pension fund had to be worked out. George McLagan, who had chaired the building committee, was the key negotiator for the YMCA. The financial disputes lasted several years.

Facilities. Despite behind the scenes financial issues, the building became the social and physical hub of the city. There were dances, receptions and lots of sports, all amateur, with “no taint of professionalism,” as Robinson noted. The gymnasium measured 40’ by 60’ with a balcony and the pool in the basement was 33’ by 16’. It was seven feet deep at one end and four feet at the other, and sometimes called a plunge bath. Water for the pool was steam heated by the nearby railway shops. Boys did not wear swimsuits; girls did.

Stratford YMCA Pool in the 1930s. Photo Beacon Herald courtesy of YMCA.

Statement of YMCA Purpose. Beginning in 1905, and lasting for some 45 years, the YMCA Association was required to submit a Summary of the State of Affairs of the YMCA to the province, including a concise purpose of the organization. In 1921, the Stratford YMCA’s concise statement was “Christian service organization.” In later years it became “Character building,” then “Character building among boys and young men” and “Character and body building.” The board of directors and executive were a cross-section of prominent male businessmen, professionals and the railway.

Programs and Partnerships. The YMCA has had a long-standing and beneficial relationship with the Stratford Rotary Club that first resulted in summer camp facilities for kids just outside Thamesford beginning in 1920 and then on Lake Huron between Bayfield and Goderich in 1925. That camp would be named Kitchigami and the seven-and-a-half-acre site was purchased for $500. The budget for buildings and facilities that first year was just over $5000. Rotary backed the camp in a big way.

The camp flourished for both boys and girls for more than 35 years into the 1960s when the property was sold in 1963. By this time, there were too many competing interests for the camps to be successful.

The YMCA and Rotary also ran hockey leagues from the 1930s. This was in addition to the sports programs run by the YMCA directors with support from service clubs in baseball, soccer, softball, basketball, volleyball and track and field.

The railway, too, was a long-standing partner. The railway shops next door to the YMCA provided heat and electricity to the whole building. The steam heat from pipes that ran from the shops to the YMCA also heated the pool but sometimes the building was very hot when it was on and quite cool when it was not. No bathing suits were worn in the pool by the boys and men though suits were worn by YWCA members who used the pool as well.

As a Railway Y, Robinson points out that the first Downie Street facility was a second home for many Grand Trunk and Canadian National Railway workers. For some it was a place to live. For many others, it was a place to socialize and play.

In the basketball game in the photo below, taken about 1938, Stratford’s CNR team is on top by a score of 31-17 against their counterparts from Battle Creek, Michigan.

Gym at First Downie Street YMCA circa 1938 Photo in Y Stratford from friend of YMCA

Timber supports were needed in the last days of the YMCA building. Beacon Herald Photo

The railway was deeply involved with the YMCA board of directors and in the operation of the building through the 1940s and into the 1950s. Most of the railway sports and social organizations held their meetings and special events at the YMCA. Railway pensioners received YMCA membership cards. By the mid 1940s, space was being booked more by non YMCA affiliated organizations.

By 1950, Community Chest fundraising began support for the YMCA and other city agencies and this has continued with the United Way.

Demolition, Amalgamation with YWCA and New YM-YWCA in 1968. By the 1950s, the building was feeling its age. Costly updates were needed including major structural repairs and a new filtration system for the basement pool. During the final years, large timbers put in place by CNR employees supported the southernmost wall of the building.

The building was designed for an earlier age and was not equipped to meet the changing programs and needs of the city. Facilities for girls who made up a good percentage of the membership were inadequate. The city could not afford two new buildings for both the YMCA and YWCA.

Amalgamation with the YWCA had been mentioned officially in a 1956 report on the inadequacies of the YMCA which was now more than 50 years old. It was then talked about openly and became a reality in 1965. The aim was “…the promotion, development and improvement of the spiritual, intellectual, social and physical condition of men, women, boys and girls…”

Funding support was not longer available from the railway. In the 1950s, the railway shops were changing; steam locomotives were being replaced by diesels. By the mid-1960s, the railway connection was but a memory and demolition took place.

In May of 1967, the first Downie Street YMCA was demolished, giving a new view of the old CNR motive power shops., which by this time, were occupied by Cooper-Bessemer

First Downie Street Y Demolished 1967. Stratford-Perth Archives

Fund-Raising Campaign for new YM-YWCA. A million-dollar fund-raising campaign was needed. Dama Bell (See James Street) was the charter president of the amalgamated YMCA-YWCA first executive and board of directors. In 1968, the first phase of the new YMCA was opened on the same Downie Street site. As Dean Robinson noted in his book Railway Stratford Revisited, “Steam heat was out and bathing suits were in.”

New YM-YWCA in 1968. Beacon Herald Photo

Additional details and photos concerning amalgamation can be found in the YWCA Featured Article also taken from Dean Robinson’s Y Stratford.

Official Opening of the new YM-YWCA. The new Y was officially opened November 10, 1968. That was not quite three years after the formal amalgamation of the YMCA and YWCA which took place at the Victorian Inn on December 2, 1965. And five months after the amalgamation dinner, the same 500 guests were back at the Victorian Inn for a fund-raising dinner to kick off the million-dollar campaign under the leadership of F. Allan Knight.

Facilities. Not everything could be done at once and when it came time to choose between a gymnasium and a swimming pool, the committee chose pool. But there was the small gym at the old YWCA building on Waterloo Street on the north side of the lower level bordering on Cobourg Street seen on the left of the photo below. It was used for the sports programs when the old Downie Street Y was closed for demolition in 1967. It was crowded and cramped and to help ease the pain, a new sauna was built in the YWCA.

Additional YM-YWCA Facilities 1977. Despite the financial problems of the early 1970s, additional facilities in the new YM-YWCA were needed. Oliver Gaffney (See Queen Street) chaired the building fund committee to add a gym, handball and squash courts and a physical fitness area. The target was $500,000 including $76,000 to wipe out the existing capital debt. By October 1974, the amount raised was $504,405. Construction began in 1976 and by February 1977, the new gymnasium, some additions and renovations were opened and dedicated with some 300 in attendance. John Killer was there once again but this time as chair of the building committee rather than as Mayor, a position he held at the time of the dedication ceremony of the new YM-YWCA in 1968. The jogging track suspended above the gym was opened a week later, and in March 1977, the handball-racquetball court was opened. Cooper-Bessemer who now occupied the former railway property donated land for that court and more parking, valued at $21,500. Overall, it had been a $700,000 project.

An Olympic Connection. John Hertell, who became executive director of the Y in 1976, revived the health club, and through connections he had made working in Windsor, purchased one of the two balance beams used by 14 year-old Nadia Comaneci at the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. It was delivered in September just when the Stratford Gymnastics Club was enjoying a rebirth in the almost completed new facilities.

New 1970s Outreach. In Stratford, the Y involved itself with the ministry of correctional service through TAP (the Temporary Absence Program) which provided free use of the Y facilities for inmates of the city jail who had fewer than three months remaining on non-violent sentences. They dressed in street clothes, visited the Y in lightly-used hours, and were accompanied by a guard.

Growth in the 1980s. Most of the growth in the 1980s was positive. There was an expansion of programs for pre-schools including a kiddie-camp which involved a working arrangement and a sharing of facilities with seniors at Spruce Lodge. A learn-to-swim program was initiated with the county board of education for grade four students. Aquafitness was introduced and there was a greater interest in youth gym and swim teams. Junior teen dances returned to the Y. Weightlifting and general fitness facilities were expanded and new equipment purchased. One of the three racquetball courts was converted and squash became the Y’s newest sport. Membership stood at 2400.

Stratford Y Foundation. In 1979, The Stratford Y Foundation was incorporated to ease the monetary problems that have always accompanied the Y. The aim of the foundation was to make the Y appear more local in character and more financially independent. The foundation allowed the Y to concentrate on programs and took over financing on an annual basis. As a perpetual trust, it also receives donations and bequests and makes them available for the ongoing and systematic replacement of the Y’s building and equipment. In the first decade, the foundation covered the costs of more than a dozen capital-type projects.

Decision to merge Stratford Perth YMCA 2020

CBC News is the source for the two paragraphs that follow.

In 2020, the YMCAs of Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo, the YMCA-YWCA of Guelph and YMCA of Stratford-Perth have officially joined together and will now be known as the YMCA of Three Rivers. The groups said they took this step in an effort to remain more relevant and sustainable at the local level and to increase their current and future impact in their communities. The hope is over time that they will be able to expand their reach and do more, provide more wellness programs, more child care, more camps and more services for the community to come together.

Mimi Price, CEO of the YMCA of Stratford-Perth had this to say at the culmination of a 37-year tenure with the Y. "It's exciting that as I'm transitioning into my retirement, the YMCA of Stratford-Perth is also transitioning into a new phase, one that will afford increased relevance and impact in our community." Area YMCAs merge with a promise to increase impact in communities | CBC News

Key Personnel. Dean Robinson lists the many people who served both the YMCA as board members and staff from 1858 to 1965 and the YWCA from 1904 to 1965 until amalgamation and though the records are not complete, they are impressive. Robinson also lists those who served on the combined YMCA-YWCA boards from 1961 to 1983 and Stratford Perth County Family YMCA staff and board members from 1984 to 1991.

It is a record of commitment and service in many levels and in different ways. The names are names of those who served Stratford and the community in many ways.

Several individuals stand out. James Risk (Jim) Mercer served for 15 years as YMCA general secretary from 1929 to 1944, spending his days and most evenings in the building. He established clubs for young men during his tenure, most notably the Educated Ducks and the Socii Vitae. He fostered a close relationship with Rotary beginning in the 1930s and many Rotarians have served as YMCA presidents. During the Depression, he met most of the 4,000 wandering, workless men who came through Stratford and needed a place to sleep at the YMCA. During WW2, he provided the same kind of hospitality to more than 5,000 enlisted men who stayed there.

Mercer staged dances for couples and to diffuse opposition from the local ministerial association, he and his wife acted as chaperones, allowing only couples on a guest list to attend. He initiated free swimming lessons for elementary students and pressed educators for the introduction of elementary school physical education. In 1960, in his retirement, in Stratford, he received an award from the National Council of YMCAs at the Stratford YMCA Annual Meeting that year. He lived to see the new YM-YWCA building in 1968 and declared, “It’s a wonderful place, a wonderful place.” He died less than a year later, at the age of 85.

A senior exercise class at the YMCA in 19 Jim Mercer, in suit and tie is crouched in the corner; Mac Macqueen is standing at the back gym wall. Photo from Y Stratford

Charles Alexander Moore (1888-1993), (See Water Street), known as Charlie, and Mr. YMCA, served forty-four years on the YMCA board from 1921 to 1965. He was president from 1927-1929 and treasurer from 1946 through 1965. Moore’s family had connections with the GTR. He himself was a graduate of Stratford Business College, who first worked at Stratford Manufacturing Company, a furniture business. He later bought the business with his uncle and turned it into one that at its height employed 150 people. He bought property on Water Street in 1913 from George McLagan (See McLagan Drive) whom we have seen also played a significant role in YMCA affairs. Moore was a member of the long-time Men’s Chorus at the YMCA before his retirement. He died at the age of 105.

On the program side, James Henderson (Mac) Macqueen served for 22 years as YMCA director from 1924 until his retirement in 1946. He also worked as part of the staff at The Normal School (1928-1932) (See Water Street) and in elementary schools (1942-1964).

In 1901, Macqueen had come to Canada with his parents and settled in Hamilton. As a young man, he immediately became involved with YMCA activities especially gymnastics. He was proficient enough to be considered for the Olympics in 1908 but did not go because he “could not afford the trip.” Athletes had to pay their own expenses in those days. One athlete from Stratford did go. (See McCarthy Drive).

Macqueen took positions in physical education in schools and with the YMCA, in various communities, until WW1. After being wounded in 1917, he resumed his career with the YMCA in Saskatoon, but returned to Stratford when there was an opening. It was in Stratford that he would remain for the remainder of his career.

Macqueen was big on gymnastics and wrestling but he also set up and supervised leagues in all sports for years from baseball to soccer, and basketball and volleyball to hockey. His energy and commitment knew no bounds. In 1931-1932, the YMCA membership was about 350. Macqueen organized 38 hockey teams into five divisions, with about 10 players to a team. He also ran an eight team soccer league that attracted about 100 boys and 12 baseball teams (six junior and six senior) that involved another 135. In softball, he had about 160 kids playing on eight juvenile and six junior teams. Then there was an eight- team basketball league (75 players) and 15 teams (120 players) playing volleyball, as well as a track and field meet.

He organized sports demonstrations and activities and charged the public to watch as a fundraiser for the YMCA. That fundraiser event came to be known as Macqueen’s circus. It even involved body builders who would be painted with a mixture of bronze powder, sugar and water. They would pose as Greek gods under spotlights and then after the applause, hit the hot water in the basement pool to get rid of the stuff that Macqueen didn’t want them to have on themselves for too long. The tradition of a circus at the YMCA carried on long after Macqueen was gone.

Summer Camp. Many who grew up in Stratford remember Kitchigami. But there were Y camps before that as Robinson points out and camps after that camp closed as well.

Early Camps. Before 1900, the YMCA sent many young men to Port Albert, Goderich, Bayfield and Grand Bend. Of all the sites, Grand bend Park in 1899 seemed to be the favourite. The camp cost $2.50 a week plus rail fare. There was “swimming, boating, fishing and tramping in the woods” according to one report.

In 1904, the YMCA’s first Junior Camp at Grand Bend attracted 26 youngsters.

The next location before Kitchigami was on the Thames River near Thamesford. This camp started in 1923 supported by Rotarians with camps for both girls and boys. (See YWCA Feature Article.) In 1923, there were about 40 boys and double the numbers the next year. Ralph Moulton and Ralph Smith were directors.

Kitchigami. The Rotarians were unable to secure a permanent location near Thamesford so Dr. Fred S. Forster headed up a committee which found a seven-and-a-half-acre site on the eastern shore of Lake Huron, about nine kilometres south of Goderich. They named it Kitchigami. The land cost was $500 and the budget for the first year in 1926 for some buildings and facilities was just over $5000. The camp would run until sold by the Rotarians in 1963 as more summer options for youth became available.

During this time, the YMCA and the YWCA provided the leadership and programs with the Rotarians supplying the facilities and upgrades. The Rotarians were helped by another Stratford Service Club, The Educated Ducks, who later became the Y’s men in 1946.

The YMCA Educated Duck Club was formed in 1929 and in 1946 became the Stratford Y’s Men. Many of the early members, in this photo, were connected to the Canadian National Railway and all were involved to sports. Stratford -Perth Archives

Front row, from the left: Hugh Hamilton, Leroy Zurbrigg, Curly Davidson, Jack Edmonds, Bung Byers, John MacGuire, Jim Mercer (the Y’s general secretary).

Middle row, from the left: Ian Hamilton, Herb Parker, Archie Fulton, Lawrence Graham, Charles (Bill) Hall, Gordon Zurbrigg, Alan (Pete) Raegele.

Back row, from the left: George Moore, Pat Rehkoph, Al Eades, Don Markle, Willard Snider, Don Ireland, Frank Walsh.

Beginning in the 1930s, the Ducks opened the camp in the spring and closed it in the fall. They helped look after plumbing needs, maintenance and painting as well.

Camp Improvements. Each year there were capital improvements including 98 steps down the bluffs to the beach. Tents which were expensive to maintain were replaced by bunk houses for the leaders and camp nurse first and a permanent dining and assembly hall built. L-shaped cabins complete with screen doors, bunks and electricity gradually replaced the tents for the campers beginning in 1950 for the juniors and then the seniors as well though some campers missed the fun of collapsing a group rival’s tent in the middle of the night. But even with the cabins, campers still filled their ticks with fresh straw from the old barn on the property for their personal mattress.

The big tents of the early years that were no match for the occasional big winds and sometimes had to be reconstructed in mud or rain and were the first tents to be replaced with a 30’ x 60‘recreation hall that combined kitchen and dining hall complete with a walk-in refrigerator unit and modern cooking equipment.

A Camper’s Day. The day started with a dip in Lake Huron at 7:00 a.m. followed by breakfast together and tent or cabin inspection at 10:00 a.m. Neatness and originality were prized. Each group of campers named their tent or cabin complete with home-painted sign and might make improvements to the locale with such things as rows of stones along a pathway or a line of welcoming pennants.

Chores included collecting firewood, serving meals, washing and cleaning up, and preparing skits for the nightly campfire. There was quiet time after lunch and craft time involving leather and birch bark and sports and scavenger hunts and hikes and always an afternoon swim. Some chose sailing or canoe instruction or archery.

The day ended with campfire, skits and a snack along with a ghost story and the memorable soft anthem like singing en masse of “Day is done, gone the sun…” as the sun dipped behind the horizon. Family visitation happened on Sunday.

Leadership. For most of the 35 plus years that Kitchigami served the youth of Stratford, the YMCA leaders were Royal Moulton, Howard Mandigo, James H. (Mac) Macqueen and James Mercer. For most of the time through 1946, it was Mercer as director with Macqueen as leader of the sports and crafts programs. Chester Snider and Grant Kropf, both teachers and long-time Y supporters, were two who led the camp in later years.

It was Macqueen who led and supervised the building of a sailboat for Kitchigami in the original Downie Street YMCA and then found that the existing doors were not large enough to allow the boat to be taken out without “minor” alterations. It was also Macqueen who told the most famous of ghost stories and made sure there was a snack such as bread and peanut butter so the boys would listen and sleep well.

Final Word. Dean Robinson the author of Y Stratford: A History 1858-1991 included these words and more in the introduction to his book.

Apart from the community itself there is nothing in Stratford that has stood the test of time quite like the Y. Perhaps because the Y is the community. Few families have not been touched by its programs. Few have not been involved with its needs. For some ties have been long and close, for others indirect and fleeting. But for all the Y has stood as a beacon, offering refuge, enlightenment, hope, happiness, fellowship and fitness. As well as everything from archery to aerobics, wrestling to weightlifting, and judo to gymnastics.

[Y Stratford] is about people, about their dedication and perseverance and goodwill. As long as there are those who find something worthwhile in those qualities there will be a Y in Stratford. And all of us will be better for it.

Special thanks to Dean Robinson for his Y Stratford book. The research, writing and photos used in this Featured Article which were compiled by Gord Conroy can be found with much more additional and detailed information. see deanrobinsonbooks.com