Education, Culture and Recreation
The Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. developed its first educational and cultural programs in the early 1930s, to meet the growing demand from Toronto’s Jewish youth. Many ‘Y’ members also wanted a place to meet with their peers outside of the athletic environment. The programs often focused on topics designed to enhance the young participants’ Jewish identity and were taught by volunteer instructors. Alongside these programs, the ‘Y’ organized social and recreational events, such as: tobogganing and skating parties, picnics, dances and concerts. Many of the ‘Y’s’ clubs were also involved in organizing art exhibits, plays and film screenings.
In addition, the ‘Y’ opened their first camp, Camp Frailoch, at Torrance Ontario in 1938. In 1942, it was relocated to Haliburton and renamed Camp Northland. It offered Jewish children the opportunity to visit Ontario’s countryside for a few weeks of the year. Campers took part in activities such as canoeing, sing-a-longs, arts and crafts and swimming. Camp Northland later came under the control of the Jewish Camp Council.
The ‘Y’ coordinated their programming with other Jewish organizations, in order to take advantage of the best facilities and available expertise. For example, in 1937, the ‘Y’ formed the Jewish Centre Activities Program, a co-operative venture between the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A., the Brunswick Avenue Talmud Torah, Young Israel and Young Judaea. It was overseen by a Jewish Centre Activities Committee, with representatives from each organization. Classes were held at the Talmud Torah and included: public speaking, art, Hebrew, modern dance, bible studies and a debating league. Later, in the 1950s, the ‘Y’ co-sponsored the Institute of Jewish Studies with the Canadian Jewish Congress and the Bureau of Jewish Education. The Institute provided classes in Hebrew and Yiddish, as well as Jewish thought and philosophy.
After the move to the new building in 1953, the ‘Y’ increased its non-athletic programming, promoting itself as the “‘Y’ for everyone”, with particular focus centered on the family and community service. By this time, there were well over 130 clubs and interest groups affiliated with the ‘Y’ and over twenty-five cultural courses and workshop including: photography, dramatics, woodworking, art, dance and languages. Courses were offered through the newly created Cultural and Educational Department, later known as the Y-Arts Council. The department promoted education through the arts, providing both adult and children's classes, many of which were free to ‘Y’ members. The department also ran a music school for children under the age of eighteen.
Although many people identify the ‘Y’ with athletics alone, through the years it has been committed to a holistic approach to well-being. It has therefore served the diverse and changing needs of the community, acting as an athletic facility, a meeting place, a cultural centre, and a classroom.