History of the YWCA of Regina
The following is abridged from a written history compiled by Mrs. R. J. Rowe, Mrs. W. B. Clipsham, Mrs. R. B. LeDrew, Mrs. G. H. Pope and published in Building Fellowship, circa 1955.
In Retrospect: The Early Years
"It is a blessed privilege to have a part in the beginning of things, and we of the great west are specially favoured in that regard." Those were the opening words of the report presented by Mrs. George Young at the laying of the corner stone of the YWCA building in Regina.
On that afternoon of October 10, 1911, the skies were sunnier than they had been for days in Regina. Crowds gathered inside and in front of the YWCA to witness the ceremony of the laying of the corner stone; the men working on the building stopped to watch and listen attentively from their places on the steel beam of the second story. After Mr. W. E. Mason had opened the ceremony, the Baptist male Quartet led in the rousing singing of "How Firm a Foundation". Addresses were given by His Honor Lieutenant-Governor Brown, Mayor McAra, Mr. Bake, a member of the British House of Commons, the Rev. Murdoch McKinnon, and Mr. James Balfour, President of the YMCA.
The Regina Association was part of a fast growing national and international movement. Within the short space of eighteen months, the Association had been organized, and a fine new building, complete with residence and cafeteria, club rooms and gymnasium, was on its way. That building was in part the fulfillment of the dreams, the work and prayers of a group of women who laid the foundation for YWCA Regina as just one means of helping to meet the needs of the girls and women of their day, and of the years to come.
In those days, women were just beginning to find their place in business and industry. It was estimated in 1910 that 800 girls were at work in the City of Regina. They were arriving daily from the eastern provinces and from the British Isles, some as members of families, many alone - all seeking a new way of life. Regina could not begin to accommodate the influx of people; hotel accommodation was limited, eating places a few. For a woman in particular, problems were doubly difficult. If she wished to be considered respectable, she dared not appear in a hotel dining room or in a café without an escort or chaperon.
Regina's Council of Women took action to organize a local association as part of the YWCA movement that had begun in England in 1855 and had spread to the cities of Eastern Canada and the West Coast. The provisional committees established that space would be available for lease in the old Leader Block and operating costs would be about $2,234. A Board of management of 42 ladies was elected, with Mrs. Water Scott as Honorary President and Mrs. McKay Omand as President.
Furnishings and repair committees were formed. Members took their turns in washing windows and walls, scrubbing floors, painting and struggling with the stains of printer's ink. In between times, funds were raised by sponsoring an entertainment and canvassing for memberships amongst women "of fifteen and over, of good moral character". Honorary memberships at $5 and $25 were available for gentlemen.
From its opening May 25, 1910, the cafeteria at 1769 Hamilton Street became a haven for the young employed woman in Regina. After lunch she could spend the balance of her noon hour sitting primly in the restroom doing fancy work for her hope chest under the observing but kindly eye of the General Secretary, or if the block she lived in did not have a bath, she could get one at the YWCA for 10 cents provided that there was enough hot water left after the supper dishes were done.
Programs grew apace. A young women's auxiliary was organized. Classes were opened in literature, physical science, domestic science, dressmaking, Bible study, first aid, current events, modern languages, and an institute was held for volunteer workers. Meantime, two meals a day were served in the cafeteria, lunch and supper. Volunteers from the Board put up fruit for the cafeteria and tied comforters for the beds of overnight guests. A sign was hung in the railway depot to acquaint women travelers with the services available.
As programs outgrew the space provided, prayers were offered for help in making the right decision as to a building site. Then the site next to the Metropolitan Church became available and the decision was made to erect a building costing not less than $50,000.
The community rallied behind the campaign for funds. Sermons were preached from pulpits on Sunday, March 12th, 1911 on the work and support of the YWCA. The general canvass started on Monday, March 13th and closed Saturday, March 18th. The citizens of Regina backed the project wholeheartedly by voting in favour of a city grant of $15,000 to the YWCA building fund. The building was ready for occupancy by March 1912, with a term of six months for the residence girls.
With the support of the churches, Travelers' Aid workers were deployed at the station. Women and children were brought from the station to wait for their train, or to stay overnight at the YWCA. An old report written at this time reads, "the necessity of this work at the station can only be realized after hearing the many pathetic stories of those who have failed to meet their friends---and sometimes of the one who has been saved from a reckless downward step."
On June 30, 1912, the cyclone struck Regina, leaving in its wake a stunned city, death and destruction. The roof of the new building was ripped off and the south wall and north walls partially demolished but no lives were lost. A cyclone loan of $8,000.00 was borrowed from the city and the building rebuilt at a cost of $10,000.00.
The decision was reached by September 1912 in view "of the important calisthenic work to be undertaken this winter" to build lockers and dressers in a room near the gymnasium, and to engage a Physical Director at a salary of $500.00 a year and board. Gentlemen were permitted the use of the gymnasium on Saturday nights.
Problems arose in residence. Girls brought in friends who visited with them, often for several days without reporting this or paying for accommodation. A deputation from the young women of the Association was received. Their spokesman asked that they be allowed the privilege of dancing at their December "At Home" and that they be permitted more freedom in that respect at other times. Old minutes read at that time "After sympathetic and serious consideration of the request present, we feel unable to undertake the responsibility of initiating any such step as has been proposed, feeling that it would be unwise now and would involve difficulties and perplexities which we do not see our way to meet--We wish to express our appreciation of the assurance received from the young ladies that our decision would be taken in good part and look to the leaders among the girls to help in finding solutions for the problems which arise."