CommunityWise Online Fundraiser: Histories & Mysteries of the Old Y Building!


Each time $250 is collectively raised, we’ll reveal a hidden secret or charm about the Old Y Building on CommunityWise’s social media platforms with a story attached to it! You can also keep track of updates here. Donate to our campaign:






















REVEAL #5: November 12, 2018

We're very thrilled to have reached $1250! With this reveal, we'll be focusing on a person who played a pivotal role in the history of the building…CHAPPIE!

Jessie Marie Chapman (“Chappie”) lived and worked in the building for 40 years from the 1920s to the 1960s. 40 years! Chappie was a manager and organizer for the Travelers’ Aid Society at the building with the YWCA.

There are some truly wonderful stories about Chappie. Through stories told at the building’s centennial event in 2011 and from reading YWCA committee meeting minutes from over the decades, CommunityWise has come to greatly appreciate Chappie, her contributions, and her presence at the building. There are stories of community, comfort, care, difference, frustration, sadness, and tragedy. Stories have also been shared about what women’s days and experiences were like going to school, work, and classes while living at the building, what it meant to come here and leave, and what they, their families, and communities were like.

During these 40 years, Chappie really had these women’s and girl’s backs in so many ways. Life at the building was and still is filled with all of the mundane AND intense things that can and do happen in life… like when a baby was born at the building, for instance!  

Year after year Chappie and members of the YWCA Travelers’ Aid Program would walk downtown to meet every single train arriving to the city. In 1935 for example, Chappie reported that the Travelers’ Aid Society met nearly 4000 trains and provided people with information, directly helping almost 3000 individuals in need of both minor and significant supports.

In 1967 (centennial of the declaration of the country of Canada), Jessie was given a national honour for her work with the YWCA that noted her contributions through the Travelers’ Aid Society in particular.  

Chappie was a fixture in why and how things were done at the Y for the community. There are endless quotes and stories about her. At times it feels really hard, from the distance we have today, to communicate or share about a person who obviously touched so many people. Sometimes when we talk about history or one person’s life as part of a greater thing, it can bring up very moving impressions and pieces of their life. These are parts of a puzzle where you try to imagine or understand the impact we all have on each other. Sometimes when we walk the halls of the building, we reflect on this and the legacy that each and every one of us weaves into the fabric of the building’s history. There are many ways to read about Chappie and see the different ways that she was as a person. There were critical times when people needed Chappie to be strong, and she was. Chappie passed away in the summer of 1981.  

The former manager’s residence is today an awesome office with a growing history now beyond Chappie’s time! And we’ll tell you more about this office in the next reveal!

REVEAL #4: November 9, 2018

The time for Reveal #4 is here! (we've reached $1000 in our HISTORIES & MYSTERIES Fundraiser!)…

The title of this one is: THE STAIRCASE(S)

First, the not-so-secret staircases of CommunityWise:

You know and love the beautiful main central staircase. Graced by millions of trips up and down over the years as people use it as the main way to navigate the different areas of the building. Its levels, curved banister, width, and supports are one of the most identifiable things about the building. As a provincially registered heritage building it’s one of the “official” heritage defining elements of value. 

You may also know about the creaky narrow south side staircase. Recently described by visiting youth as “straight out of hell on wheels”…not sure if that’s cool but we like it. The back staircase is used by lots of people and is usually where we grow our tomato plant seedlings for the garden.

BUT how many of you have heard of the secret staircase? Underneath where we store the folding tables in the main floor common room there is a sealed over staircase! Even as late as the 1990s it was in use. 

About 5 years ago CommunityWise helped put in a new fire alarm system. The old one was in serious need of replacement. Working fine but had to be totally updated. This is one of the responsibilities we have as tenants here to the City of Calgary as our landlord. CommunityWise is on the hook for capital projects to keep this increasingly used building going strong. It is part of our mandate to heritage preservation.

The funny thing is that, up until this year, there wasn’t really a good blueprint of the building in existence. Electricians doing the fire alarm installation were fussing over what might be the best way to get from the main floor to the basement without drilling another giant hole in the floor to run a pipe when they came across the surprise staircase and we had an opportunity to get in! It is sealed off on the other side in the basement leading to the Pathways Indigenous Youth Hub (Grand opening November 23 and you are invited!). We placed a few trophies and photographs in there and sealed it back up!

The inspired painting inside the secret staircase is the work of youth and youth program coordinators. Glad to see the spirit of creativity was so strong. CommunityWise has always tried to help members make this space their own in the context of a diverse shared space that needs to function for people with different needs and wants.

So now you know!

Now in all seriousness we really want to thank everyone for contributing so far. We are steadily working towards our goal of $5000 to help pay for certain upkeep and maintenance projects on the building. This fundraiser, which we hope you can share, is also in place to help respond to the unknown and often unexpected repair work that needs to happen more and more often:

REVEAL #3: October 30, 2018

$765 raised! Amazing! This means that we've now reached the required amount to share another story…

Here we go…onto reveal #3!

The Old Y Building has a microlift which is a small elevator or lift for objects rather than people. These lifts were originally controlled manually by ropes and pulleys and eventually converted to electric.

The YWCA originally used this lift to move things like laundry and other materials from one floor to another. There was a laundry facility in the basement, a kitchen on the main floor, and residences on the second and third floors where women lived. Lined with sturdy hardwood planks (tongue and groove joints) and gorgeous oak doors, this lift would have carried its small metal box clanking and sliding along, moving its cargo in the most modern of methods for the time. While this offered ease, we also bet it added a raucous tune to the breath and voice of the building which is no longer heard. Today, many people spending time at CommunityWise during the winter months hear the knocking of hot and cold water in the pipes for the old radiators (staff confess that they would find the loss of this sound in the cold times unsettling). We can only imagine the sounds of the lift but its existence as a historical feature remain. 

About 7 years back CommunityWise hosted a centennial event for the building. Some women who had spent time living here, primarily between the late 1940’s and mid 1960’s, attended and had a chance to catch up and even share stories and photos over tea. We heard many wonderful and touching stories and have also read accounts of times when women coming back to the YWCA after curfew used the fire escapes and even this lift (or had others help them use the lift) to get up to their rooms and avoid main floor staff. 

Several years back on International Women’s Day (March 8th) we reopened the doors to the lift. Inside on the beautiful hardwood panels we found names, dates, notes, and drawings from women who had spent time here dating back as far as 1920. Early 20th century tagging! We are really happy that these had been preserved and that their marks remain to this day. It inspired us to read further into the history of the time and people.

Today, the best preserved access points are located on the second and third floors. One is just outside of the offices of member Brown Bagging for Calgary's Kids, who work in partnership with Calgary and area schools to make and deliver 4,400 daily free lunches to students who would otherwise go hungry. The other lift access point is just outside of the Calgary Ethiopian Community Association offices. Members for 20 years and celebrating their 35th anniversary this year, CECA continues to provide essential settlement sponsorship, cultural, education and relief services. CommunityWise is lucky and honoured to have worked with members like this over the years!

Enjoy and share this fundraiser with your friends! It is really important to us in our effort to cultivate a community by and for everyone: We also really love sharing the stories of the Old Y Building with more people.

REVEAL #2: October 26, 2018

Reveal #2 of our "Histories & Mysteries" fundraiser is already here! This means that we've reached $500 in donations ($600 in fact)!

So, this is actually Part 2 of our last post. It's basically the "mystery" part of the historical Pool story.

The “Pool” that we described last time has a good number of secret and little known features. One of the coolest is that there is a tunnel. That's right, a tunnel. From the basement boiler room all the way to the other end of the building is a dark and kind of scary tunnel that runs underneath it all.

This tunnel was originally used to access the water lines of the pool. It features a now covered-over trap door, narrow openings, and 108 year old water lines (some still in use!). When we first checked it out we found some Earth First graffitti. Recently, as we were recarpeting for the Indigenous Youth Hub move in, we took some newer photos.

Enjoy and share this fundraiser with your friends! It is really important to us in our effort to cultivate a community by and for everyone:

We also really love sharing the stories of the Old Y Building with more people.

REVEAL #1: October 26, 2018

Well that was fast! Our first $250 raised. Thank you! First reveal of the "Histories & Mysteries" fundraiser (…Here we go….

What is 50 feet long, 20 feet wide, 5.5 feet deep (actually measured by the Calgary Herald in 1911)?

This thing was also one of the first places where women and girls enjoyed public access indoor swimming instruction in the city…

ANSWER: The “Pool”! 

Built in 1910 and in operation until 1943 when the YWCA closed it to convert it to dormitory accommodation to meet ever-increased demand for short term housing and to be a rendezvous room for service women during World War Two. After which, women and girls through the YWCA in Calgary had access to a swimming pool only once a week on Saturday nights. It wasn’t until 1951 when the YWCA built the building next to us with a new larger pool that all week and year round swimming opportunities were restored for the YWCA. The building next door is currently the Beltline Fitness Centre and is run by the City of Calgary. Check out their recently renovated facility sometime!

While it isn’t a pool anymore, the foundations of it remain. Today, it is a large open space in our basement. Since CommunityWise took over the whole building at the end of the 1970’s, the “Pool” area has been mostly used for youth programming in one form or another. Save for a few times, like when it was occupied by CommunityWise member the Drug Hot Line (later became the Distress Centre we all know today…they had a pretty groovy logo in the 1970/80’s and attracted a good deal of police scrutiny for having in-person drop in support at that time). Also, CommunityWise member, the Calgary Birth Control Association, an exceptionally important and rad women’s health and advocacy organization (today, the Calgary Sexual Health Centre), used the space in addition to many other areas of the building over the years

In recent times the Beltline Youth Centre and the Beltline Boys and Girls Club called the “Pool” area home, creating a wonderful and open space for youth to learn, play, create, and be themselves. In 2017, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Calgary moved out. We were really sad to see them go. Their caring, encouraging, empathetic, and fun staff helped create a space in the Beltline where resident youth had access to great recreation, arts, tutoring, peer support opportunities, and one of the coolest recording studios around.

This year we are honoured to welcome the brand new Indigenous Youth Hub to the “Pool” space. Operated by Pathways CSA, something very special is being created in the space.They have just recently opened their doors but are already holding awesome programs and drop-in activities for Indigenous Youth aged 12-24. We couldn't be more pleased and just want to say how important it is to acknowledge Indigenous people and the land we are all on at all times. Reconciliation, culturally and organizationally, is a significant priority for CommunityWise. 

This is 108 years of the “Pool” and for our part in this history, 40 years of laughter, tears, running children, people finding hope and community, countless countless meetings, and so much more.












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