Featured Article

History of the YWCA: compiled from Dean Robinson’s "Y Stratford" by Gord Conroy.

The Beginning. In 1905, the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) formally started in Stratford, though women, with their auxiliaries, backed the various efforts to start a YMCA before that. The new organization hoped to meet on the second floor in the public library but that did not pan out. Instead, the YWCA set up in two rented rooms in the old YMCA building on Market Place which the YMCA had sold to Pratt Printing as part of their plan to build a new YMCA building on the corner of Downie and St. Patrick Streets which opened the year before in 1904. One YWCA room on Market Place was used for general purposes; the other was used as a gym.

Dean Robinson’s book, Y Stratford: A History 1858-1991, chronicles both the history of the YMCA and the YWCA; all the information in this Feature Article as well as the photos which were provided primarily from the Stratford-Perth Archives or The Beacon Herald are found in his book, available at the Stratford Public Library.

Origins. The YWCA had been established in England in 1855 and quickly spread to North America where 60 groups were formed in Boston and New York. It reached Canada in 1870 in Saint John, New Brunswick. The Stratford group grew out of a Bible study group known as the King’s Daughters, and after a meeting in 1904 where Carrie MacDonald, the YWCA’s travelling secretary explained the movement in detail, the motion was forwarded to establish a Stratford YWCA, in 1905, and Mrs. W.J. Mooney was named as president. (See Mooney Biscuit Company, Downie Street).

New Location. In 1909, the YWCA purchased property at the corner of Cobourg and Waterloo Streets. They wanted to build but that would not happen until 1927. Instead, they renovated the frame building on the site and erected a tent to the east of the building to be used as a gym. In time it was replaced by a wooden frame covered by metal sheeting. Youngsters at the YWCA called it the matchbox. What everyone hoped would be temporary quarters had to be used for 16 years.

Equal Rights Activism at the YWCA before WW1. In 1911, a group of 27 women, eight of them married, met in the YWCA and formed The Club for the Study of Modern Social Questions. The Beacon newspaper refused to carry anything about the women and the issues. Eventually, the Herald agreed to carry information if nothing went to the Beacon. Questions included the nature of the pre-school child, the need for public playgrounds, the value of a day-care centre, special schools for those children settlement houses in big city slums, garbage collection and the beautification of vacant lots. WW1 put an end to the club though the issues remained.

Possible Building Plans, Sites and Fund-Raising. Before WW1, the YWCA board of directors led by Mrs. Fred Corrie and their advisory board asked for building plans from architect James Russell, who designed the YMCA with R. Thomas Orr. This plan would include 30 bedrooms, a gymnasium and a swimming pool sometime in the future. Until then, the girls used the pool at the YMCA…with bathing suits.

Swim class during the 1930s at the YMCA for the girls from the YWCA. Grace Dand, standing on the pool deck with hat, headed up the YWCA from 1912 to 1955. Stratford –Perth Archives.

Classes of young ladies and young girls exercise on the lawns of the YWCA property at the corner of Waterloo and Cobourg Streets before the new YWCA building went up in 1927. Stratford-Perth Archives

Two options were considered as possible building sites in 1913 but both proved to be too expensive. One involved the buying of the Queen’s Hotel (See Ontario Street) for $25,000. The owners, the Corries, were prepared to donate a fifth of the money back to assist in renovations to make the hotel suitable for the YWCA needs. At the same time, at the intersection of Waterloo, Downie and Douro Streets, a property belonging to Dr. D. M. Fraser was available for $12,000. The preferred property was still at the corner of the Waterloo and Cobourg Street but WW1 put all plans on hold.

Key YWCA Personnel. In 1908, Edith M. Cottle moved to Stratford to teach physical education at the teachers’ college, known then as the Normal School. (See Water Street). She also instructed classes at the YWCA serving through 1911 and part-time from 1913 to 1935. In 1910, Grace Dand came to Stratford to run the first playground, and by 1912, she was selected as executive director of the YWCA and began her 43 years of service to the community that would last until she died on the job at the YWCA in 1955. In 1912, there were 101 members.

Post WW1 Developments. By 1920, under Grace Dand’s leadership, the YWCA had more than 300 members, and a year later in 1921, there were 502 of which 163 were junior physical members. Many gym classes took place at the YMCA because of the sub-par facilities at the YWCA. Edith Cottle was still teaching the classes; Cora B. Ahrens played for them. (See Hibernia Street). In the early 1920s, a Women’s Canadian Club was formed under the leadership of Rose McQueen, an English and history teacher at Stratford Collegiate, (See Rose McQueen, Waterloo Street), and a close friend of both Grace Dand and Cora B. Ahrens, and a YWCA board member for close to four decades. By 1925, and the marking of the YWCA’s 20th Anniversary in Stratford, there were 560 members. More than 475 were using the cramped and outdated facilities of the YWCA each week. And Grace Dand, when she spoke at that 20th Anniversary Celebration, was proud that all girls were welcome and that YWCA programs contributed to “the happiness, well-being and development of the girls” from every part of city life. Membership included “business girls, the industrial girls, high school girls, girls in domestic service and those who have recently arrived in this country.” Grace Dand spoke of the YWCA as “a home, a club, a place where a girl may find friends, where she may have wholesome recreation, and an outlet for the activities of mind and body…There must be that distinctly religious impulse or motive, without which I am convinced the association will fail.”

1925 Fund-Raising and New YWCA Building in 1927. Dr. David Smith, chairman of the board of trustees (formerly the advisory committee) for the YWCA, who had taught first aid to members for several years, was the fund-raising chair. By 1926, the committee had raised $31,00 in donations and pledges…and established a construction package of $52,000 which included architect’s fees and a loan for $20,000. The contract was awarded to Kalbfleisch Brothers of Milton Street. The cornerstone, donated by architect James Russell, was laid by F. Wellington Hay, MP for North Perth on October 18, 1926 in heavy rain and the building was dedicated on another long-awaited but soggy day on April 24, 1927. Those taking part included Dr. Smith, YWCA president Mrs. George R. (Jeanette) Deacon and Mayor David R. Marshall. The opening hymn was carefully chosen: “How Firm a Foundation.”

An early photograph of the YWCA from Waterloo Street looking east. Stratford-Perth Archives

Features and Facilities of the New Building. The new building was a three storey structure, 74’ by 87’, a rug-brick building with a concrete foundation trimmed with artificial stone. The partial basement housed the low-pressure steam plant and coal bunker. On the ground floor, there was a 40’ by 60’ gym and a 12’ by 24’ stage. A gallery ran round the gym on three sides giving the area a seating capacity of 525. Down a few steps, were showers and restrooms, on the same level as the kitchen in the south-west corner which was finished in white enamel. The dining room on the Waterloo-Cobourg Streets corner could seat 56.

The building had an attractive lobby, counter and office with two rooms that could be used as one large area and accommodate about 200. The floors were all maple with B.C. trim in all rooms. The 15’ by 25’ reception room had a fireplace as did one of the club rooms.

The third floor had single and double rooms, with one triple, to accommodate 20 to 30 female boarders. All rooms with one exception had a window and that room had a skylight. All had built-in closets for clothes and linen. There was a large shared sitting-room with a fireplace for the women in residence. Bathroom facilities included the usual toilets and sinks and three private bathtub cubicles. There was a room for storage of trunks and additional facilities for the live-in building superintendent and two maids.

Furniture for the new building was donated by friends of the YWCA and by women’s institutes in North and South Perth County. The $20,000 debt was harder to wipe out and it was not until 1946 that the debt was finally retired in a campaign that also paid for new gym equipment and made building repairs. Dr. Smith was once again the chair of the campaign which included some 50 canvassers.

Programming at the YWCA. Physical, educational and spiritual programs flourished in the new building. There were Sunday evening fireside hours, first-aid and home nursing courses, and lectures in art, music and literature. The Stratford Players grew out of a series of drama nights in 1949. Volleyball, badminton and volleyball activities were popular and led to an Ontario Championship Basketball title in 1933 coached by Allan (Pop) Neilson who coached many teams over the years. A Juvenile team won Ontario honours again in 1946.

This was the first team to bring an Ontario basketball Championship to Stratford…in 1933.

Front row from the left: Becky Miller, Pearl Roeder, Grace Dand (YWCA general secretary), Jean Capling, Ethel Orden.

Back row, from the left: Fern Beatty, Jennie Moffatt, Dorothy Lennox, Allan (Pop) Neilson (coach), Janet Miller, Marge Melrose, Mardie Morrison. Photo from Y Stratford by Dean Robinson

Tennis Courts. They were opened in 1931 with 131 members at the junction of Lakeside Drive, Water and Waterloo Streets and rebuilt with lights in 1948. The two tennis courts and the bowling green which was beside them to the east are now part of the new Tom Patterson Theatre. (See Lakeside Drive). Tennis courts run by the Stratford Tennis Club as of 1969 are now located at the east end of Water Street in Upper Queen’s Park at the location formerly known as Kroehler’s Field. (See Water Street). The Stratford Lawn Bowling Club after 104 years on Water Street is now located on Norfolk Street at the Municipal Golf Course beginning in 2019. (See Norfolk Street).

In 1937, the YWCA hired Helen Fiebig as its first full-time program director for physical education. When she resigned in 1939, the YMCA directors left the position unfilled until 1957. Volunteers, both men and women, led clubs and activities during this time.

In 1950, the YWCA met all its financial obligations for the first time. Membership was 442 with 75 juniors playing badminton, 100 girls on basketball teams and 101 tennis members. Social events included picnics, theatre parties, sleigh rides, dances, and a spring tea which brought in $401. However, expenses for the 25 year-old building upkeep continued to rise. In 1951, the gymnasium was used by the Christian Reformed Church to accommodate 90 recently arrived Dutch immigrants. The gym was also used by Loretto Academy for twice weekly dance and tap classes.

In 1957, Elizabeth Jorgensen, age 26, of Copenhagen, was hired as program director, sight unseen. She breathed new life into the YWCA and its programs. Much of the building was refurbished with donations from Stratford’s furniture manufacturers. When steam pipes broke and caused the gymnasium floor to heave and twist, there was a campaign to pay for the installation of a new floor.

Gym classes were held weekly for young mothers and the directors looked after the small children. The children were soon old enough to become ‘Busy Bees’ and ‘Grads’ and participate in Saturday morning fitness classes, games and storytelling sessions. And then on to ‘Junior Y Teens’ and Friday night activities.

Girl Guides were organized in Stratford under the auspices of the YWCA.

Shortly after arriving, Elizabeth Jorgenson met a young man named Stan Dingman, married him in 1959, and gave up any thoughts of returning to the Netherlands. (See Dingman Place). She completed her work as a staffer at the YWCA in 1960 though she continued as a board member in the 1960s. At least five other women held the director’s job from 1960 until the YWCA joined the YMCA in 1966.

The YWCA was always a busy place. In addition to bake sales, spring teas and various fundraisers for world service that continued into the 1980s after amalgamation of the YMCA and YWCA, there were other new up-to-date adult programs and fitness classes at the YWCA. As well, there were classes for teens and Friday night activities and Saturday morning classes for children in fitness, as well as games and story time, as mentioned.

Fundraising Tea at YWCA 1959.

Helen Trethewey (left) and Edna (Billie) Bain (centre) were in charge of the table of international baked goods at the YWCA’s annual spring tea in 1959. Proceeds were directed to world service. Here they make a sale to Clare Foster. Beacon-Herald Photo

Safe Accommodation at the YWCA. The YWCA was an important residence for thousands of teachers’ college students and business girls over the years. It provided clean, safe accommodation for tourists to the Stratford Festival beginning in 1957 and for guests to Stratford, and students and business girls passing through.

As Dean Robinson points out, what kept it clean and safe “… was the appointment of a residence director who lived in and ruled as if all the daughters were hers. When males escorted YWCA roomers or boarders home after a date, they were allowed into the reception areas. But the doors to those areas were always open, affording the on-duty reception personnel an unobstructed view. The first residence director in Stratford was Nellie Allely, the last Betty Ramer. For many years in between, it was Mrs. Edward. N. (Susan) Wegenast, a widow who shared her accommodations with daughter Pauline.”

In the summer of 1965, the last summer there was a YWCA, 1648 people were housed at the YWCA, among them 24 groups which stayed at least twice during the festival season. The gross income in the summer of 1965 was $8,500.

YWCA at the corner of Waterloo Street and Cobourg Street. Stratford-Perth Archives

Grace Gand 1933

Leadership at the YWCA. Dean Robinson in Y Stratford sums up the role played by key leaders of both the YWCA and YMCA this way. “If Jim Mercer and Mac Macqueen were the most high-profile duo in the history of the YMCA, the same recognition in the YWCA goes to Rose J. McQueen and Grace Dand.”

Rose McQueen was a noted teacher of history and English from 1912-1946 at the Stratford Collegiate but served on the YWCA board for at least 39 years, serving as corresponding secretary from 1932 through 1938 and again in 1946 and 1947, and a treasurer from 1948 through 1955.

Grace Dand came to Stratford in 1910 to direct the first playground and became the executive director of the YWCA in 1912, the same year Rose McQueen started at the collegiate. They became life-long friends. By 1915, Rose McQueen was on the YWCA board and taught English and history to adults in the evening at the YWCA. She would remain on the board till Grace Dand died in 1955 at the age of 67.

Rose McQueen in 1961 Beacon Herald

Grace Dand was not liked by everyone but few could argue with her sense of purpose and her devotion to her work. She was described by a former camper, Edna (Piggott) Douglas, from the first summer camp for girls Grace Dand ran in Thamesford in 1924, as having “a sense of humour but often she was stern. She had to be, because girls can be very mischievous, you know.”

The Stratford Beacon Herald paid tribute to Grace Dand when she died with these words. “The story of the Stratford Y has been, in large measure, the story of Miss Grace Dand … The oldsters among us can well remember the transformation—nurtured by the courage of early friends of the Y—that came to pass during the long term of Miss Dand’s occupancy of the executive secretary’s office. Her organizational gifts provided the key that opened the doors to the notable programs that resulted in the erection of the handsome Association building and its maintenance and improvement to present-day efficiency.”

YWCA Camp 1924. Photo from Y Stratford

Summer Camp. Many who grew up in Stratford remember Kitchigami. But there were Y camps before that as Dean Robinson points out and camps after that camp closed as well in 1963.

Early YWCA Camps. In 1924, the YWCA held its first summer camp along the Thames on river flats near Thamesford. Dean Robinson includes this memory by Edna (Mrs. James) Douglas of that first YWCA camp this way: “We had no knowledge of the outdoors. We didn’t know anything about camping. We were city kids.”

The Thamesford camp was successful though less than perfect.

“We had to take one dress each,” remembered Edna, “and we had to wear it whenever we went into Thamesford, which wasn’t often. We couldn’t be seen in Thamesford in shorts. On Sundays, we’d get all dressed up and walk to church. We called it our church parade.”

The Stratford YWCA Camp was led by Miss Grace Dand. She determined who slept where. The girls slept eight to a tent in round tents…bell tents…trucked over from army barracks in nearby London. They slept with feet to the centre and filled their ticks with straw from a barn on the property from which source came milk and fresh eggs as well.

The picture above shows a tent and four campers from the Thamesford Camp led by Grace Dand in 1924.

Edna remembered that staying at the camp cost her father, William James Piggott, who moved to Stratford from Barrie to become superintendent of the Grand Trunk Railway division centred in Stratford, about $6.00 a week. Each group of girls in a tent helped the cook, called “Pappy” Schaefer, serve the meals.

There was low water that year so the river was good only for wading and sustaining the farm’s pasturing cattle. However, the girls were taught to exhale under water by sticking their heads in wash basins. There was also a variety of games, crafts and songs. Miss Dand had youthful councillors helping her including Jean Makins, Josephine Monteith, Elizabeth Hall, Mary Miller and Irene King.

The Purchase of Land and the Naming of Kitchigami. The camps for the girls and for the boys were so successful that Kitchigami with its seven and a half acres was purchased for $500.00 by the Stratford Rotarians from a George McIlwain and established and named on land about nine kilometres south of Goderich. Unfortunately, the girls’ camp had to be cancelled in 1926 because of Grace Dand’s illness. The Rotarians provided not only the facilities but offset some of the operating costs for both the Y camps and the Knights of Columbus camps.

Facilities and Program. To get to the water, the girls had to walk down 98 wooden steps to the beach. Some years there was more beach than others and more stones than sand. Edna remembers early morning dip at 7:00, swimming lessons with Verna Irwin at 10:30 and 3:00 in the afternoon. As Dean Robinson notes, Lake Huron was “the biggest wash basin in the world.” In the early years, the girls slept in tents which were gradually replaced by cabins with bunks and electricity and screen doors starting in 1950.

Ethel Cottle helped Grace Dand run the early girls’ camps. Other instructors included Edna Leckie who was in charge of musical entertainment, George Corson who was the swimming instructor and Gay Stirling who taught canoeing. Roy Cole, whose father ran a livery stable in Stratford, came one year with horses to teach the senior girls to ride. Lorna Weber was the nurse; Muriel Sinclair was the dietician.

Here is a photo of young YWCA campers exercising on the beach along the Lake Huron shore in the early days of Camp Kitchigami.

Early Days at Camp Kitchigami on Lake Huron for the YWCA. Stratford-Perth Archives.

Inspection was held daily for the YWCA girls as it was for the boys in the YMCA camps. Awards were made to the tents for neatness and originality in decoration. The girls had chores by tent and later by cabin that included gathering firewood and helping serve meals and cleanup after. They had crafts and quiet time, a chance to write letters home, visitation from families on Sunday, a nightly campfire with skits and the singing of “Day is done, gone the sun…” as the sun set over the lake. For some years the Beacon Herald carried a column about news from Kitchigami that was produced by the girls and sent home.

The first recreation centre was a large tent that housed, among other things, a phonograph and eight or ten records as well as some ukuleles and sports equipment that included some tennis racquets and a bat and ball. Crafts included reed and felt work as well as leather weaving and lacing. On Sundays, a minister from Goderich would conduct a church service.

From those early days and right into the 1940s and 1950s, Grace Dand headed up the YWCA and the camps. Mrs. P.W. Smith was also an important leader at the camps in the 1940s and 1950s. It’s true that some campers in both the boys’ and girls’ camps got poison ivy, some got homesick, some made new friends, some learned to swim and to sing, but all had stories to tell of camp life over the long winters.

As mentioned in the Feature Article about the YMCA, the chief financial backers were the Rotarians, and some members, such as Jake Trilller, were tireless in their efforts. The Educated Ducks, a service organization that began in the YMCA in 1929 that later was known as the Y’s Men after 1946, did much of the maintenance and painting of buildings once they replaced the tents. They also handled plumbing and opened the camp in the spring and closed it in the fall.

Rest time for three participants in the Y’s Men work weekend ay Kitchigami. From left: unidentified volunteer, Jack (Dolly) Dolson and Lorne (Laurie) Appel. Photo Y Stratford

In December 1954, Grace Dand informed her board she wanted to step down in January 1956 because of ailing health. But she was not to enjoy her retirement. She died on the job at the YWCA on Sunday July 31, 1955. She had led the Stratford YWCA for more than 70% of the time there was a YW in Stratford.

Edna remembers Miss Dand as about five foot eight, “being kind of round, maybe a bit overweight.” She had a sense of humour but could also be stern. “She had to be, because girls can be mischievous, you know.”

In 1958 a YWCA Day Camp was held near Shakespeare. The five-day camp was attended by 51 girls from ages eight to twelve.

In 1958 a YWCA Day Camp was held near Shakespeare. The five-day camp was attended by 51 girls from ages eight to twelve.

YWCA Day Camp

Carol Stewart swings the ax while friends observe. From the left: Anne Pearce, Helen Whiteman, Betsy Trethewey. Photo: The Beacon Herald

By the early 1960s, the Y was having trouble finding enough kids to fill its weeks at Kitchigami. There were too many competing interests for campers and for leaders.

Here is a picture of the staff and Y campers in front of the dining and recreation hall at Kitchigami in 1961.

Camp Kitchigami staff and campers 1961. Photo: Y Stratford

In 1963, Kitchigami was sold as the options were youth in the summer increased. Today it is a trailer park. Day camps became more popular and other camp facilities including the Y-Kin Camp near Harrington close to Embro eventually were started.

Here is a picture from June 1971 on the first day of the Y-Kin Camp for girls near Harrington.

YWCA-Kinsman Camp Leaders June 1971. Photo: The Beacon Herald

The leaders, jammed into the doorway of their bus, were, front row from left: Liz Smythe, Sherri Clarke, Karen Conyard. Middle row: Beth Bonsteel, Colleen Regan, Carol Davidson. Back row: Vicki Tigani, Y staffer Linda (Myers) Clarke. Another leader, Sharon Otsuki, was absent when the photo was taken.

The Y-Kin Camp was a 25th Anniversary Project of the Stratford Kinsman Club in 1970. A big push in 1971 included new buildings, for rainy days, sleepovers and camp staff headed by Mike Kelly and Linda Clarke. Other amenities followed, including a 30’ x 60’ swimming pool with attached change rooms. Further improvements were added over the years.

Amalgamation of Stratford YWCA and YMCA 1966.

The idea of amalgamation. The idea of amalgamation was not new in Ontario. Windsor had officially amalgamated their YMCA and YWCA in 1945 though the organizations had actually shared a building from 1925. By 1960, discussions in Stratford were underway about amalgamation but no decision was reached. A building campaign for $500,000 was announced.

Choosing a site. In 1961, it looked as if a site had been found that would extend from the YWCA building on Waterloo Street at Cobourg south to Ontario Street. The building, however, which would occupy most of the site, would leave no room for adequate parking. And so, eventually, a decision was reached to rebuild on the present YMCA site. The original building from 1904 was in bad shape inside from the humidity from the poorly-ventilated pool area and outside as well; it needed supports on its south exterior wall.

Motion for amalgamation. First the YMCA and then the YWCA passed motions for amalgamation in 1963 though it was decided not to form a combined board till after the new building was in the works.

There was some nervousness especially on the part of the YWCA. Elizabeth Dingman’s comments speak for many. “We had seen what happened to other YWs when they had joined with YMs. They had been swallowed up. We were afraid of that. But we didn’t have a pool and we had to rent time in the YMCA pool. We needed better facilities.”

Formal Amalgamation. Formal amalgamation took place at a dinner at the Victorian Inn on December 2, 1965. Rev H. Orlo Miller of Mitchell was the guest speaker for the crowd of 500 who would soon be asked to contribute to the fundraising campaign for the new building.

First Executive Board of Directors. Dama Bell (See James Street) was the charter president and when illness forced her to miss the dinner, she sent a recorded message with chair, Tom Flood. First vice-president was John Inglis, the last president of the YMCA; second vice-president was Catherine Knight, second last president of the YWCA. The board would have 15 men and 15 women; the presidency, when it changed in ensuing years, would alternate between male and female. The first new director of the YM-YWCA was G. Lloyd Welton, age 44, who had been executive director of the Westmount Y in Montreal.

Objectives of the new organization. The prime objectives of the new organization would be “the promotion, development and improvement of the spiritual, intellectual, social and physical condition of men, women, boys and girls through the provision of facilities and the conduct of activities conducive thereto.”

Fundraising Campaign and Programs during Building. F. Allan Knight agreed to be the campaign chair and in May of 1966, the guests of the amalgamation dinner returned to the Victorian Inn to kick off the million-dollar campaign. The committee could not do everything at once and chose new pool over gymnasium. They would use the small gym at the YWCA building on Waterloo Street for the sports programs once the YMCA was closed for demolition. It was crowded and cramped but only temporary. To help ease the pain a new sauna was built in the YWCA.

In addition, hobby, club and craft activities were conducted in church halls and schools. Many were run by directors.

Demolition of 1904 YMCA and Building of the new YM-YWCA. In April 1967, a tin box was found atop the cornerstone of the old YMCA as it was being razed. In it were some coins, a newspaper and a Western Ontario phone book that were placed there when the cornerstone was laid in October 1903. On top of it was an empty liquor bottle, possibly the joke of a witty turn-of-the-century bricklayer.

In April of 1968, this is how the pool looked for the new YM-YWCA at the corner of Downie and George Streets.

Historical treasure uncovered atop old YMCA cornerstone May 1967. Beacon Herald

From left: Richard Veatch, chair of the new building program; Lloyd Welton, the YM-YWCA’s general secretary; Len Dinsmore, owner of the Oshawa wrecking company in charge of the demolition; Dama Bell, the YM-YWCA board president.

In April of 1968, this is how the pool looked for the new YM-YWCA at the corner of Downie and George Streets.

New YM-YWCA pool construction April 1968, just five months before opening. Stratford-Perth Archives.

Official Opening of new YM-YWCA November 1968. The new YM-YWCA was officially opened on Sunday November10, 1968. Ricard Veatch, who had moved to Painted Post, New York, returned for the ceremony and presented a key for the building to president Ron Richards. The ribbon was cut by Mayor John Killer. Dignitaries, including Al Knight, politicians, clergy and representatives of the national Y organization also took part in the afternoon proceeding. But a highlight was the symbolic placing of the cornerstone by 80-year-old Charlie Moore (See Water Street) -- whose membership on the Stratford Y board ran from 1921 to 1965. The Moores—Charlie and Myrtle—returned to the Y on October 25, 1980, to plant a tree in celebration of their 65th wedding anniversary.

Facilities and Cost. There were public tours on the ceremonial day in 1968 and the open house revealed a four-lane 75-yard swimming pool; a number of small club rooms; change rooms and washrooms; a general purpose room and an adjoining kitchen.

The cost for the building was pegged at $700,000, most of which had been raised by Al Knight and his canvassers. When more funds permitted, there would be an addition centred around a gymnasium.

Difficult Times and sale of the YWCA. The early 1970s were troubling times for the Stratford Y, times of low revenue and high operating costs. To reduce the latter, the YWCA building was listed for sale in the fall of 1970 and shut down as of March 31, 1971.

Disaffiliation of the YWCA from Stratford’s YM-YWCA Amalgamation. In February 1983, there was a motion presented at the annual meeting calling for disaffiliation from the national YWCA. There was neither time nor money to be connected to both national organizations. Public meetings were held to discuss the issues. It was determined that the operation was more in tune with the YMCA than the YWCA and in 1984 at the annual meeting, the Stratford YMCA-YWCA became the Stratford-Perth County YMCA. (See YMCA Featured article).

New Life for the YWCA Building. For several years, the former YWCA building was a youth hostel, a rehearsal space for the Stratford Youth Choir, or a location for storing and making costumes, rented by the Stratford Festival. There was talk of the site becoming a seniors’ home or a nursing home or offices or apartments.

Eventually, the building was bought and renovated by the Marleau family from Kitchener, and in 1994 it was sold to Gordon Naylor who developed the site into the performing arts academy it is today.

Nancy Campbell Academy is a not-for-profit boarding and day school for grades 7-12 dedicated to providing a superior education by creating happiness through community service and academic excellence. Graduates from Nancy Campbell are currently studying in well recognized and respected universities in Canada and around the world.

Nancy Campbell Academy International Private School is now housed in what was the YWCA.

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.

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 in Dean Robinson’s book which is available at The Stratford Public Library.