The Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. began as an athletic organization for Toronto’s Jewish youth. It started with a few facilities above shops in the Brunswick Avenue and College Street area, but soon began to use the Brunswick Avenue Talmud Torah’s swimming pool and gymnasium after school and on weekends. In return for the use of this space, the ‘Y’staff provided athletic training for the school’s students. Although these facilities were limited, the ‘Y’ still managed to produce several championship teams in basketball, swimming, boxing, weightlifting and wrestling. Many notable athletes to come out of the early ‘Y’ included: Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld, Bill Gryfe, and Sammy Luftspring.
The Brunswick Avenue ‘Y’, built in 1937, included facilities for a wide range of sports. Athletics at this time took priority over other activities, consequently, the gym, pool and locker rooms were heavily used by the public. As a result, the ‘Y’s’ athletic programs were strong and well organized. An athletic membership cost approximately twenty-five dollars for one year. The sports instructors were all volunteers and most were also participants on the athletic teams. Only the Director of Physical Education was a paid position.
During the 1940s, the ‘Y’ upgraded its facilities by adding regulation size handball courts to the building – the only ones in the entire city. Intra-mural handball competitions were held at the Brunswick building for this reason and the ‘Y’ soon had several championship wins to their name. By the time the Bloor Street building was completed in 1953, the range of athletic programming had increased considerably. New sports such as tennis, judo, squash and badminton were added to the ‘Y’s’ athletic programming. Large galleries were built in the gymnasium and swimming pool areas to accommodate more spectators for demonstrations and tournaments.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the ‘Y’ also began stressing the importance of health and wellness amongst its members, offering new services such as Red Cross training, fitness tests and programs to help cardiac patients after surgery. The ‘Y’ created the 100 Mile Club, aimed at promoting an active lifestyle through daily activity such as walking. Massage and steam rooms, as well as a roof-top solarium for sunbathing, were also added.