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 #15: December 13, 2018

Here is HISTORIES & MYSTERIES REVEAL #15, part 2, where we’ll be answering one last question we’ve recently received. This question relates to the recent reveal about the exposed brick in the CommunityWise offices as a result of the testing work that was done.

QUESTION #4: Why re-cover the brick with lath and plaster at all? It looks so cool!

ANSWER: We’re not experts but our view is that there are a number of aesthetic and practical reasons to cover the brick with plaster. Some things that come to mind are that having the lath and plaster on the interior helps with sound dampening, insulation, and also strengthens the walls. It probably also was/is in keeping with making it easier to tie in an adjoining interior wall. Exposed bricks, especially over long periods of time, can also shed joining mortar and brick pieces leading to faster deterioration. There you have it!

We’ve amazingly now reached $3750 in funds raised, and so here is HISTORIES & MYSTERIES REVEAL #15, part 1, where we’ll be answering another question we’ve recently received:

QUESTION #3: Does CommunityWise have a time capsule like the one found at City Hall during their restoration?

ANSWER: Historian Harry Sanders is quick to point out that the artifacts found at the City Hall site were part of a cornerstone (to be opened during a move, demolition, or construction), rather than a time capsule (to be opened at a specific date/time in the future).

We learned earlier this year that as the YWCA prepares to move from their current 5th Avenue location to a new location, they came across artifacts from the era the Old Y Building was built. More info on that here:

Whether the Old Y Building contains other yet-to-be-uncovered cornerstone artifacts or time capsules somewhere in its depths is still unknown!

However, we did do a short-term time capsule of our own during the 3 month backyard construction period this year. This was a fun activity, but probably not quite what the person asking the question had in mind! Contents included three categories: 1) something that breaks down quickly, 2) something that takes forever to break down, and 3) a note to the building or backyard. We recently opened up this short-term time capsule and noted how interesting it was to look back at the near history.

AND, BEGINNING AT THE WINTER PARTY THIS AFTERNOON, we’ll be putting together a new short-term time capsule to be opened on the 40th anniversary of our organization’s incorporation date (May 22, 2019)!

Thanks for reading and for supporting!

REVEAL #14: December 12, 2018

Now that we’ve raised #3500 (yay!), we’ve got some more reveals for you! 

Since starting this series of postings a little over a month ago we’ve seen increased interest in the social, cultural, and physical history of the building. People dropping by our office and even long-time members are starting to ask questions about the space and share really cool stories from their own experiences. We’ll now provide answers to some of the questions we’ve received: 

QUESTION #1: Why does the main floor have a weird step? Why would you put that in?

ANSWER: The original construction design of 1910 had the main floor as all one level, as it should be. During construction, last minute adjustments were made to the swimming pool design to accommodate proper headroom (still very low by modern standards) in the basement below. They weren’t able to dig deeper due to increasing problems with dampness from groundwater in the area so instead had to build up. So this step, which certainly does not help make the building as accessible as it should be, is not something that was added later but was in fact part of the original construction. This feature is certainly keeping the City on their toes for developing a plan to fix this long term!

It’s been like this since the beginning.

QUESTION #2: Why is there a sign in the backyard that says “No Parking?” Are you trying to be ironic? Also, can I park in the back?

ANSWER: The sign is a relic of a different age, a time when there truly was an alleyway behind the building. The sign was needed to ensure a thoroughfare and to not have vehicles block the way. There probably hasn’t been an alley since the building next to us (now a hotel and previously low cost apartments for seniors as well as immigrant communities largely from East Africa) was built in the late 60’s(?). The building has been fully hemmed in in this dense, vibrant neighbourhood ever since. Maybe it’s similar to how signs like Lido (Kensington) and Cecil Hotel (East Village) are still up in places but the sites themselves have been demolished. Maybe it’s not like that at all. Either way, the sign never got taken down and while it serves no utilitarian function today, it’s there to say something of a different time. We have no plans to take it down. You can park a bike in the back but that’s about it right now!

Thank you again for your participation in this fundraiser and for caring about the stories of the Old Y Building! The remaining questions will be answered once we reach $3750!

You can park bicycles out there….but that’s about it these days!


REVEAL: #13: December 7, 2018

Thank you for getting us to $3250!

Here’s a short one for you: as part of some testing work currently being done on the building, pieces of wall in various locations have been cut off. Guess what’s been revealed underneath? 

Answer: gorgeous old brick!

Take a look for yourself below. We continue to learn about the different layers of this wondrous old building all the time.


REVEAL #12: December 6, 2018

#12 for $3000 raised! Another milestone reached! 

The book Our Past Matters: Stories of Gay Calgary was released recently by historian, activist, and amazing friend of CommunityWise, Kevin Allen of the Calgary Gay History Project. We would really encourage everyone to pick up a book (available at Shelf Life) and explore the incredible queer history of Calgary. CommunityWise (formerly and always lovingly The Old Y) has since our beginnings almost 40 years ago been tied to this history. 

The steady succession of queer social service agencies and grassroots community groups at the building has helped define who we are and has created an environment of inclusion and support. Over the years, LGBTQ2S+ groups have been at the heart of what has made and continues to make this centre work. Groups like Apollo Friends in Sports, Rocky Mountain Singers, Calgary Pride, GLCSA, One Voice Chorus, Calgary Men’s Chorus, A People’s Liberation Coalition, Gay information and Resources Calgary, Alberta Rockies Gay Rodeo Association, Calgary Outlink, Calgary Queer Arts Society, Lesbian Mothers Defence Fund, and the Miscellaneous Youth Network/Mosaic Youth Group. The amazing Of Colour Collective, which began meeting and organizing at the building in the 1990s, worked to address racism, sexism, homophobia, and their intersections from within, which is extremely important to acknowledge. You can read more about Of Colour, and their connection to the group we highlighted last time, the Women of Colour Collective, here

Overall, LGBTQ2S+ community members and groups have played a hugely pivotal role in ensuring that CommunityWise exists at all to this day. They importantly have made, and continue to make, this world a better and more just place despite present, past, and future resistance.

REVEAL #11: December 3, 2018

$2750 raised! We’re at last catching up on the past couple of reveals!

This time we’re focusing on a piece of social history about the building: the Women of Colour Collective (WOCC). This is a story we previously shared last year, but we feel that it’s a really important and still timely piece of history to share again.

Here’s an excerpt:

“By the 1980’s, the women’s movement was a recognized movement working to gain equal rights for women in the workplace and beyond, but something the movement did not address was that the fight for equality was vastly different for women of colour…”

Read the full story here.

Thank you to Susan Gwynn, who researched and wrote this story. We’re also indebted to Janet Yee, a co-founder of WOCC, for taking the time to speak with Susan about her time with the collective.

Lining the halls of CommunityWise are posters, signs, and information about many past and present member groups. Prominently placed on the second floor outside the current Board Room is the framed poster for the Women of Colour Collective. See this picture below!Again, thank you SO much for your tremendous support throughout this fundraising campaign. We’re steadily making our way toward our December 31 goal! —>












REVEAL #10: November 26, 2018

$2500 raised! We’re HALFWAY there! Thank you so much everyone for your contributions and for spreading the word about CommunityWise! 

Today’s reveal is again about a historic building feature. 

THE RADIATORS: built in 1910 and original to the construction of the building, these iron contraptions still heat our building using radiant heat. They are wonderful in many ways. They hiss and express stream regularly and can get quite hot. There are several types located throughout the building (see photos). 

Can you name another public building in Calgary that still solely relies on radiators for their heating? These radiators were sure built to last! 

That said, we did have a valve break down on one of the radiators this year on the third floor. It was really unlucky in that it was right below one of the fire alarm sensors (see that photo, too!). Moisture from the steam spilling out set off the fire alarm at 3am in the morning! Very concerned CommunityWise staff headed down to the building in the wee hours of the morning and had a nice chat with the fire department. Nothing was damaged and the fire alarm was repaired soon after. Just another day in community facility operations! But, also an example of the unanticipated costs we sometimes face.

As you may have already heard, tomorrow (Nov 27) is #GivingTuesday. Can you help us get to $3000 on this annual day for giving back? (we’re currently just $350 away). Visit our campaign page here: and thank you again!

REVEAL #9: November 25, 2018

This is the reveal for the $2250 mark! Our next two reveals will provide a snapshot of historic building features. 

THE BOILER: though we have a gas boiler now, the Old Y Building used to have a coal fired boiler. Horses would pull cartloads of coal to the west side of the building. The hole in the first photo is a coal chute and is actually located underground. Workers in the building would stoke the coal throughout the winters. No more coal today! Check out the old doors though. The small one is one side of the furnace and the big one is still the current entrance to the amazing boiler room.

Again, we can’t thank everyone enough for the support we’ve received through this fundraiser so far! We’re a small nonprofit supporting other small nonprofits + grassroots initiatives and the funds raised go a long way toward covering our 2018 operating costs. Please continue to spread the word!

We also just really love sharing these building tidbits with you.

REVEAL #8: November 22, 2018


Fists in the Air for 39 Years! 

note: quotes labeled “CB” below are from Christine Bye’s 1979 article “Why tenants fought for their shabby home”.

In 2019, CommunityWise will celebrate 40 years since tenant members collectively came together, negotiated a lease with the City of Calgary, and formally took over occupation and operation of the building. It was at this time that the Old Y Action Groups (now CommunityWise) actually saved this old building from demolition. In doing so, they preserved a wonderful heritage building and created an exciting accessible space for community work to take place. “Fortunately for the Old Y, those tenants cared enough about her, old wreck that she was, to take up her cause. No one could have been better equipped, psychologically, for the battle. After all, these tiny agencies… are ideologically committed to the struggle for the underdog, the underprivileged, the hopelessly misunderstood” (C.B. 1979).

This past weekend, CommunityWise staff had the privilege of attending a reunion of the Arusha Centre with people from the 1970’s to today. Arusha has incubated more programs and projects in Calgary than we ever knew. People who once worked with Arusha are in many cases still highly active in other great non-profit organizations in Calgary. Hearing snippets of stories from 40 years of activism ranging from political prisoner and immigrant support, to environmentalism, to anti-war and anti-nuclear work, to awareness and education around the impacts of neoliberalism, to community economic development, to community-based activism through their grassroots granting program, we listened in awe to the fierceness and passion that drove 40 years of activity, many of which took place in the Old Y Building itself! Arusha continues to exist today on the main floor of the building.

The story continues today. CommunityWise’s members still do work that is highly impactful and often way ahead of its time. They still work with small, and sometimes dicey, budgets. CommunityWise’s role is to not only to provide affordable space but also to help foster a compassionate and trusting community within the building. Our approach to how we operate the centre isn’t in place just because we believe that nurturing an equitable community that is by and for everyone is the right thing to do, but also because it works.

This selection of quotes from over the years help to illustrate these themes:

“Most of the Old Y agencies say they couldn’t serve their clients as well in any other type of building” and “I feel the Old Y has certain qualities this other building lacks…It has more character, more a feeling of history, and I am concerned about these things… and I think we should make an effort to preserve them” (C.B. 1979).

“The benefits of being housed at CommunityWise for our agency have been immeasurable. Under their auspices, our agency has been able to expand our services and our vision from the offering of counselling services to the facilitation of client groups, the hosting of a platform of therapists from all over Calgary, and the organization of workshops with instructors from the city as well as abroad” (Calgary Women’s Health Collective, 2017).

“Being in CommunityWise raised our awareness of a lot of other good work happening in the city and we have been able to make connections that we might not have otherwise made” (Calgary Centre for Global Community, 2018).

Help us be able to continue to tell these stories! Share our histories and mysteries fundraiser with your friends! And thank you, again, for all of the support.

REVEAL #7: November 19, 2018

This reveal celebrates $1750 raised! We’re so excited!

Oh the artifacts we find…

Incubation, as well as long-time support, of member organizations often leads to interesting discoveries when we renovate or redo offices for groups at CommunityWise. Check out the photos below for just a few examples of interesting artifacts and building features found when we’ve undertaken small renovation projects at the building!

If you have any questions or have ever wondered about the building or parts of the building, we’d love to hear from you! We’d be happy to share more details about the histories and mysteries of this place. 

Thank you so much for your contributions to CommunityWise! Please help spread the word –>

We’ll post again soon as the fundraiser continues!

Horse hair in the old plaster; roof repairs; found hat pins (keys for scale); A Kaffeeklatsch cold brew bottle, old time lock, window runner weights, doorbell, Calgary Business College time sheet from 1962.







REVEAL #6: November 15, 2018

This is the reveal for the $1500 mark! Last time we introduced you to Chappie, who lived and worked in the building from the 1920s to 1960s. Chappie’s former residence (Room 103) is today an awesome office with a long history of its own since her time here!

Room 103 was once the offices and service centre for the Calgary Birth Control Association (CBCA) who for years provided important information and services at the building regarding sexual health, contraception, and so much more. When their funding was threatened in the late 1970s, the CBCA remained true to their principles and history of solid work and managed to continue to offer these and other essential services. In time, funding was restored after significant pushback from the broader community. Eventually, CBCA expanded and moved on from the building. Today they are known as The Centre for Sexuality! 

Several other organizations have since moved in and out of Room 103. In 2013, CSIF – The Calgary Society of Independent Filmmakers moved in. During their time here they ran amazing programs, services, and events. Remember the Secret Cinema evenings in the backyard? CSIF moved on from the building in 2017 and continue today to support a thriving independent filmmaking scene here in Calgary! Check out their Artifact Small Format Film Festival (formerly the $100 film festival) in March 2019. 

Today the room is the shared offices of Calgary OutLink and Calgary Pride. A third member will be joining the space in just a few weeks! 

The opportunity to play a supportive role for all of these members who are providing key social, cultural, and community services for so many people is an honour for us at CommunityWise. Your support through this fundraising campaign during this challenging financial time goes a long long way in our efforts to continue our work. From Chappie’s relentless efforts on a shoestring budget many decades ago to today’s diverse nonprofit hub for small organizations (still on a small budget!), we look forward to continuing to support more groups in their pursuit of mighty work!

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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