Three Montreal-area YMCAs — Guy-Favreau, Pointe-St-Charles and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve — will close at the end of next month for financial reasons, the head of YMCAs of Quebec announced Wednesday.
Stéphane Vaillancourt, president and CEO of the YMCAs of Quebec, confirmed the YMCA is “undergoing a transformation” that will involve closing three of Montreal’s 10 full-service sports and community centre YMCAs.
In an interview with the Montreal Gazette shortly after he broke the news to employees Wednesday afternoon, Vaillancourt said the Pointe-St-Charles and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve YMCAs have been running “several hundreds of thousands of dollars of deficits each year” for the past 30 years.
For its part, the Guy-Favreau YMCA would require expensive renovations to remain financially viable and the cost of those renovations has increased to the point of being untenable, Vaillancourt said.
“The YMCAs of Quebec is one legal entity,” he said. “There are some centres that run surpluses while others may have difficult years, and we could function like that for a while. But when it has been 30 years that certain centres are running deficits … it is not something we can continue over the long term.”
The organization intends to continue some non-sports programming in rented locations in all three neighbourhoods, he said.
For example, a program called Loisirs Intégrés, which provides coaches to help people with physical disabilities stay active, will continue for at least three months in Hochelaga-Maisonneuve after that Y closes on Dec. 31. A program offering fitness activity to homeless people called Gym Alternatif operating out of the Pointe-St-Charles Y will be moved to the downtown YMCA.
A daycare that rents a location in the Pointe-St-Charles YMCA will have the option of remaining in the building for at least the next 12 months, he said.
Members of the Guy-Favreau, Pointe-St-Charles and Hochelaga-Maisonneuve Ys will be able to access sports and recreational facilities at any the remaining YMCAs in the Montreal region with their current membership cards, at no extra cost.
He stressed that the YMCA is a charity that provides much more than sports centres in communities it serves. The organization has 40 points of service across the province, including day and summer camps, a language school, and a residence for asylum seekers.
Its 10 full-service sports and community centres are all in Montreal, but the organization is building an 11th centre in Quebec City’s St-Roch neighbourhood.
Vaillancourt acknowledged the YMCAs that are closing are in poorer communities, but said it was time to pull the plug for the financial health of the whole provincial organization.
“We have to be vigilant about our financial situation, and in situations where deficits are ongoing, we have no choice but to make some difficult decisions.”
Community activists in the neighbourhoods where the Ys will close expressed concern Wednesday.
“For the young people here, because we have no high school in the neighbourhood, the Y is a really important place for youth to hang out, in a positive sense,” said Fiona Crossling, executive director of Share the Warmth, a community group that fights hunger and poverty in Pointe-St-Charles. “Lots of activities go on there, and kids need sports.”
She said she is also worried about the future of certain youth programs the YMCA has developed in recent years.
“My concern is for continuity and support for families,” she said. “When you are struggling as a family or a child, change is hard.”
May Chiu, an activist for equality rights for Quebec’s Chinese community, said closing the Guy-Favreau YMCA will be a big loss to members of that community who live in Chinatown.
“The Chinese women’s groups and seniors groups really depend on the Y for a lot of their sports and social activities. I don’t think they will make the trek all the way downtown,” to use the Stanley St. Y facilities, she said. She noted the Guy-Favreau facility was tailored to the needs of the Chinese community and employed some of its members to lead classes and activities.
Vaillancourt said about 165 workers — 20 full-time and 145 part-time — will be affected by the closings. Not all will lose their jobs, he said, as the YMCA will attempt to relocate or rehire in another capacity as many of those workers as possible, if they are willing.
Montreal’s other seven YMCA centres will continue operations as usual.
The Guy-Favreau Y was threatened with closing in 2017, when a rental agreement with the federal government expired, and its rent shot up from a nominal $1 a year to $240,000 a year. After a public outcry, the federal government gave the centre a year’s reprieve. A new agreement had the Y paying $1 until spring of 2018, and then $5,000 a month since.
Vaillancourt praised the federal government for its efforts to help keep that Y open, but he said the cost of needed renovations to the centre’s change rooms, shower and entrance sealed the decision to close that facility.
The Guy-Favreau Y opened in 1986, the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve Y in 1980 and the Pointe-St-Charles Y in 1860.