Eastern European families afflicted by religious persecution and economic hardship in their homelands were immigrating to Toronto in large numbers. The city’s Jewish community quickly realized that the immigrant youth had few recreational outlets. Thus, several small athletic clubs began operating to meet these community needs. The clubs soon became a place for teenagers to meet with their peers and channel their energy positively, keeping them off the streets and out of mischief. The first documented club that arose was the Young Mens’ Hebrew Athletic Club Ltd. in 1901. Other clubs developed by the Jewish community included: the Jewish Girls’ Club; the Jewish Boys’ Club; the Hebrew Literary and Athletic Club; and several others run by philanthropic organizations and synagogues.
1950s and '60s
On December 12, 1952, a new Jewish Community Centre was built with $1,500,000 in funds raised during two separate campaigns. The first began in 1948, and was spearheaded by Samuel Godfrey, Campaign Chairman, in association with the Wingate Branch of the Royal Canadian Legion. This campaign raised approximately $350,000. The second -- a joint campaign with the Jewish Old Folks Home – with Samuel Godfrey and Abe Posluns as Co-Chairmen, raised approximately $1,250,000. Although the new building was referred to as the Jewish Community Centre, the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. remained the official name, due to its historical association with the community.
OUR 70TH ANNIVERSARY BEGINS HERE...
On February 3, 1953, the new Y (our home at the corner of Bloor Street and Spadina Avenue) was officially dedicated. During its first year, the Y celebrated its most successful season. Membership increased from 2,100 members in 1953 to 6,700 members in 1954, with 2,400 on the waiting list. By the end of the 1950s, it was providing services for all ages, ranging from a nursery school to its Good Age Club for seniors. Subsequent decades saw a rise in membership and community involvement in the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. The Y continued to promote the same values that were the basis for the original club: providing a sense of Jewish identity and camaraderie through physical, educational, cultural, and community-based programming.
In 1961, when the Bathurst branch of the JCC was constructed, many presumed that Federation would sell its downtown branch and invest in the northern population shift but thanks to member-turned-executive director Irwin Soren, a fundraising campaign was launched instead and raised $300,000 to improve the Bloor JCC's facilities and "stay put".
By the mid 1910s, concerns were being voiced in the community about the state of the Jewish athletic movement in Toronto, since no central athletic building existed and there was a great deal of duplication in the services being offered by these clubs. There were also worries concerning the fact that so many Jewish youth were members of Christian athletic clubs, like the Y.M.C.A., where anti-Semitic acts and policies banning Jews from the clubs were becoming more frequent. Many believed that the Jewish clubs could function more effectively if they amalgamated. Of course, they would also need a new building with proper facilities such as a gym, pool, showers and clubrooms. Thus, in 1919, a community meeting was held to discuss these issues. As a result of this meeting, several of the athletic and social groups formed an umbrella organization known as the Hebrew Association of Young Men’s and Young Women’s Clubs, the precursor to the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A.
1970s, '80s and '90s
The Y 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 physical activity. Massage and steam rooms, as well as a roof-top solarium for sunbathing, were also added.
Jazz and Modern dance classes were all the rage, and Dances in the Gym were the place to be seen and to meet other young Jewish singles.
In the late '70s, the Downtown Jewish Community School opened inside our building. Inclusive and pluralistic in both philosophy and composition, the DJCS recognized the diversity of the community and strived to represent a wide range of Jewish beliefs and practices.
In 1975, the Pray and Play Gang formed - a group of men who would workout together on Thursday and Sunday mornings and then would head to the chapel and pray. A 1980 Toronto Star article noted how it was 'not unusual to see men praying in shorts, sweatpants, and tefillin.'
The Downtown Jewish Community Council (founded by the Bloor Y) was created in 1996 with the intention of bringing together dozens of downtown Jewish schools, youth groups, prayer communities and congregations, social service agencies, and cultural and recreational programs. The DJCC invigorates our community by promoting cooperation, resource-sharing, partnerships and collective action between its member organizations. We are committed to the Jewish values of diversity, accessibility and inclusion, motivating the work of our council.
1920s and '30s
This association grew substantially throughout the 1920s, but by the late 1920s, programming became more geared toward young boys. As a result, ‘Young Women’ was dropped from the name and it became known as the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (Y.M.H.A.) – the name under which it was incorporated in 1930. Athletics remained its primary focus, but new cultural and educational programs were also introduced. For close to two decades, the Y had rented rooms in the Brunswick Avenue and College Street area, including the basement facilities of the Brunswick Avenue Talmud Torah. By the mid-1930s, these facilities were overcrowded and unable to support the growing membership, particularly when young women’s programming was reintroduced in 1936. As a result, in 1937, the Y.M.-Y.W.H.A. constructed its own athletic building at 15 Brunswick Avenue, next door to the Talmud Torah, to ease the overcrowding. However, the Y still had to make use of five scattered buildings to meet its needs, including the Central Y.M.C.A. gym for its basketball teams. The Y was staffed by volunteers who were granted free memberships in exchange for their time and expertise. It was entirely self-funded, relying on membership dues and auxiliary funds from dances and yearbook advertising to cover its operating costs.
2000s to Today
In 2001, the Bloor JCC began a major renovation project thanks to the support of the community through UJA Federation's Tomorrow Campaign and a lead gift from Miles Nadal. Officially opened in the summer of 2003, the renovations provided us with space for tenants such as the Second Cup and the Paul Penna Downtown Jewish Day School. Other additions included The Al Green Theatre, improved aerobics studios, a new chapel, offices, and meeting rooms. The renovations revitalized our aging community centre and our membership soon tripled in size.
In 2014, we partnered with the Bloor Annex BIA in their inaugural Festival on Bloor -a summer street festival celebrating the Annex’s diverse businesses, eclectic cuisine and exceptional talent. Extending from Spadina to Bathurst, this annual downtown extravaganza attracted close to 20,000 visitors each year.
When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020, we had to close our doors, leading to many challenges that still linger today. Fortunately, we have brought together diverse partners for support. We’ve worked together to leverage our shared resources, create communities of practice, and deliver training and programming. These same community partners, along with our kind and generous donors, have allowed us to adapt, remain viable, and deliver meaningful impact to the communities we serve.
The MNjcc is now home to the state-of-the-art Phil Granovsky Fitness Centre and Freddie Shore Aquatic Centre with downtown Toronto’s only indoor saltwater pool. We also house the 263-seat, accessible Al Green Theatre, two schools, a wide range of arts, cultural and Jewish community programming including our signature Jewish&, and we offer one of the most recognized accessibility and inclusion programs in the city.
Throughout the years we have become a place of belonging not only to the Jewish community but to the beautifully diverse population of the city in which we live. From infants to seniors (or babies to bubbies), we welcome people of all abilities, cultures, genders and sexual identities.
at the corner of bloor & spadina
"Congratulations on 70 years of service and support to our community. We value our longtime partnership with the MNjcc and look forward to what the next 70 years have to offer!"
FRIENDS OF THE J INC.