Y.M.C.A. in the Second World War
The Canadian Young Men’s Christian Association (Y.M.C.A) was established in Montreal in 1851. YMCA staff members have worked and volunteered in the military, air and naval forces since 1871. YMCA members assisted Canadian contingents during the Fenian Raids, the Boer War, in military training camps and had been the only organization operating continuously in the battle areas with the Canadian Army throughout the First World War. At the outset of the Second World War, the YMCA contributed to the war effort as its National Council sent a telegram to the prime minister offering to “make available its expertise and resources for service to Canadian youth at [the] time of crisis.” When the Government of Canada declared war on Germany, organizations across Canada such as the YMCA responded by creating the first war services programs to assist troops.
In 1941, the War Services Fund donated a substantial amount of money to the YMCA. Six other nation-wide agencies applied for funding, yet the YMCA was deemed the organization that needed funding the most due to the diverse activities it supports. For example, the “Canadian Y.M.C.A War Services [served] the navy, the army and the air force in 332 locations in Canada, England, Iceland and Newfoundland.” Also, the YMCA organized physical, social, educational and religious activities for troops in embattled areas. The organization also supplied and held in reserve, vast quantities of military equipment. Over the course of the Second World War, the YMCA rendered over 11,990,000 services to hundreds of thousands of boys away from home.
The Beaver Club was established in 1940. Its existence was demanded by the High Commissioner of Canada. The club was a service centre for troops. It provided sleeping, washing eating and even entertainment facilities as well as luxury services for Canadian servicemen. From its opening, attendance demonstrated that the Club satisfied real service needs. The Club would receive anywhere from 226,000 to 600, 000 visits annually. In 1942, the Club recorded its largest daily and weekly attendance, 13,000 and 70, 000, respectively. The Club closed its doors on February 19th, 1946. Yet, the significance of the center is captured below:
The first needs of a man arriving in town on leave are simple – food, shelter and cleaning facilities. To make good use of his time, he desires entertainment and guidance as to where to go and what to see. To satisfy these needs, the Beaver Club provided full facilities. In the Check Room he could deposit his kit, with certainty that it was safe until he required it. Also, shower and tub baths with hot and cold water were provided. A shave, hair-cut, shampoo and even elegant treatments were to be had in the barber shop. Mud acquired in military camps was soon removed in the Shoe Shine Parlor. Valet service ironed rumpled uniforms and gave trousers a pronounced crease. Telephones and Message Rooms were provided onsite. There was little that the Beaver Club did not provide to Canadian servicemen.
The letter below is another example of a serviceman’s appreciation of the Beaver Club:
Royal Canadian Air Force
April 3, 1946
Mr. J. C. Miller
Area Secretary Y.M.C.A
330 Alberta Corner
Dear Mr. Miller:
I wish to thank you for the valuable services rendered by every individual supervisor in the units of the north, their untiring effort to organize entertainment, hobbies and pastimes for personnel under very difficult circumstances. During my trips to the northern territory, it was very gratifying to find that your supervisors were enthusiastically organizing outdoor pastimes, parties, study groups, movie nights and even library supplies.
I would also like to thank you and your supervisors for services rendered as personal advisors to Airmen under trying circumstances.
In voicing this thanks to you, I would like to point out that two thousand Airmen benefited by your organization. We are deeply indebted to you for your inspiring and cheerful cooperation in North West Air Command.
T. A. Lawrence