The building is the oldest purpose-built, social service facility in Calgary. Constructed in 1911 as a YWCA facility, the building was a hostel, created to address the needs of single women new to the city. Along with temporary and long-term shelter, it offered services including language classes and assistance for immigrants, and recreational opportunities for women at a time when their access to such resources was much poorer than it is today. The building became the “Old Y” in 1971 after the YWCA vacated the premises and completed their new building on 5th avenue, at which point the City of Calgary took possession. Since that time, the Old Y building has housed dozens of diverse community-serving, grass-roots and non-profit agencies. At first it was managed by Interfaith under the City of Calgary Neighbourhood Services Department.
In 1979 the City of Calgary threatened to redevelop the site due to the prohibitive cost of maintaining the aging building. In response, the groups renting offices united to form a tenants association called the Old Y Action Groups. Together they rescued their beloved building from demolition, and began to formalize the lease agreement with the landlord, the City of Calgary. The tenants association registered as a non-profit society under the Provincial Societies Act and worked
to protect the building by establishing it as a historical site with provincial heritage status. The Old Y building became a registered historic resource in 1982, while at the same time the tenants’ association officially changed its name to “Old Y Centre for Community Organizations.” Since then, it has functioned under the umbrella of the tenant organization as affordable office space for dozens of diverse grassroots and non-profit agencies, in sectors ranging from arts and culture, immigrant community associations, youth agencies, LGBTQ community resources, environmental groups, social justice advocacy and more. Recent activities in the building (including regular events, skill share series, Community Forum and facility upgrades) have increased public awareness and excitement about the building as a community
In 2012, the Old Y became COMMUNITYWISE. This name change reflects a maturation of our vision and an acknowledgement of the role that the facility plays in linking all these diverse groups together, through Calgary’s past, present and future.