Our Past

For 100 years, BGC Ottawa, a registered charity, has provided programming directly to children and youth in vulnerable neighbourhoods.

In 1923, concerned individuals in Ottawa recognized the need for a guidance agency to help the growing youth population in the area. Many young people were turning to the streets, leading to increased crime and violence. To address this issue, the decision was made to establish a club for young boys.

Brother Barnabas, a Boy's Club worker from New York, was invited to Ottawa to assist in setting up the club. St. Patrick's Hall on Laurier Avenue was chosen as a suitable location.

Brother Barnabas recommended Fred C. McCann, an experienced professional from the Griffintown Boy's Club in Montreal, to be the club's full-time worker. However, McCann encountered difficulties in attracting members to the club, so he personally searched for young boys and eventually found the first two members playing in Cartier Square Park.

The club mainly focused on counseling troubled youth, and its reputation grew as a reliable source of support. Membership and public support increased, as the community recognized the value of the club's guidance programs.

In 1924, McCann acquired land on Mink Lake, where he established "Camp Minwassin" for Ottawa boys to spend time in the summer. By 1932, 160 boys had the opportunity to attend
A 1932 survey revealed that 40,000 boys had attended the Club during an eight-month period. At that time there were 60 Board members, 20 of whom formed an Executive Committee, and all volunteered their time and talents towards enriching the programs and finances of the Club. The Kiwanis Clubs, the Kinsmen Clubs and many other service clubs of Ottawa were most generous in their monetary contributions towards the financial success of the Club.

Since its inception, the Boy’s Club had strong ties to the Roman Catholic church. In 1936 the Club took a big step towards lessening their dependence. The Club By-laws stipulating that “the Catholic complexion of the directions and providing that the pastors of the City’s five English-speaking Roman Catholic parishes to be ex-officio Directors” would be dropped. The strong ties with the Catholic church were thus broken and a Board, without religious affiliation, was elected. This same year the Club was accepted as a Red Feather (later to become the United Way) agency. The Red Feather was to become the strongest financial supporter of the Club and by the seventies were financing almost ninety-five percent of the operation. Governor General Lord Tweedsmuir visited the Club on April 23, 1936, and addressed the boys.

By 1937 the summer camp had evolved from canvas to cabins with oil burners and then to a “modern” electrical facility. Besides sports activities, campers were instructed in first-aid. Winter brought new activities as an Ottawa Boy’s Club powerful hockey team, “the Shamrocks” emerged.

On November 24, 1937, the boys were invited to bring their little sisters to the Club for the first time. Following this, girls were sometimes invited to join the activities and, on occasion, the Club would hold a “Little Sister Contest” where girls could be judged as “the youngest”, “the most curls”, “the most freckles” etc. Times were slowly changing!!
With World War II, the forties saw the Club’s emphasis shift from sports to military training. It was a sad time as some members went to war, never to return. The Department of National Defence for Naval Affairs ultimately acquired St. Patrick’s Hall and the Club was forced to relocate. At this same time, the City of Ottawa suggested that the Club assume responsibility for its two swimming pools, the Plant Bath and the Champagne Bath.

In keeping with the times, the Club decided it would be appropriate to start an Air Cadet Program and in November 1941 the 86th Squadron Air Cadets were formed with 18 members of 3 the Club enlisting to serve in the ranks of the RCAF. The Club decided to drop this program in 1945 as it was felt the space could be more appropriately used.

By 1948, with the assistance of the City, the Club acquired a new gymnasium. Many prominent figures and sports heroes visited the Club and Governor General Viscount Alexander participated in the Club’s 25th-anniversary celebrations on January 31, 1949.
The fifties brought prosperity and good news. Sponsorships from the Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions Clubs permitted the building of cabins at Camp Minwassin as well as the construction of a fully-equipped medical lodge under the patronage of the Associated Canadian Travellers. A financial campaign was undertaken to cover the erection of a new main clubhouse. The area around Bronson and Queen Streets was designated for urban renewal and the present site on the corner of Nepean and Percy Streets was purchased.

On January 25, 1956, the “dream building” was opened by Governor General Vincent Massey who was also the Honourary Patron of the Club. The new Centertown Club facility officially began operation on March 7. The need for trained supervisors proved paramount and volunteers and part-time staff were required.

In 1957 Fred McCann, the backbone of the Club, was named “Citizen of the Year” by the Ottawa Press Club. Numerous other accolades from the Police, Municipal authorities and Service Clubs came his way. Local groups recognized that his greatest achievement was with the boys themselves and the service he was able to offer them. His vision became a functioning part of the community.

The late fifties brought change. Prior to the Christmas holiday, Governor General Massey invited the Ottawa Boy’s Club members to dinner at Rideau Hall, beginning a tradition that continues to the present day. Expansion to the west end was discussed. The Boys’ Clubs across Canada recognized that girls were also in need of guidance and thought was given by the Ottawa Club to the idea that girls should be given more access to the facilities.
Access for girls came about in the early sixties when “arts and crafts for girls” was offered two nights a week. Girls were later permitted access to the gymnasium and three hours each Saturday morning were set aside for girls’ activities. The Centretown Club remained open year-round in 1966. By 1968 the Club felt it should run a two-week summer camp for girls, but this proposal was shelved because the cost was too high.

Thoughts turned to acquiring an east end facility. Many public organizations began to attack the Club’s policy towards girls. In 1969 the National Charter was re-written to include girls and the Ottawa Club was, therefore, able to effectively increase the girls’ work program.
In the early 1970s, the Club established the Britannia Extension Project and obtained permission to use an old church building on Pinecrest Road in Ottawa. They also expanded to the east end and built the "Fred C. McCann Unit" on McArthur Road. This new unit aimed to provide equal access for boys and girls and offered co-ed programs. The emphasis on boxing and hockey shifted towards recreational activities. In 1973, the Club allowed girls equal access to all facilities. In 1974, they received a grant from the Federal Government and organized cultural awareness festivals. The Club faced financial difficulties in 1976 when the United Way froze their contributions, leading them to focus on social development and new fundraising initiatives. In 1977, the Club changed its name to "The Ottawa Boys and Girls Club," and in 1981, it became the "Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa-Carleton" as members joined from surrounding municipalities.
After years of planning and hard work, construction began on the Britannia Unit on December 14, 1979. The building was officially opened by Governor General Edward Schreyer on January 6, 1981.During the next few years, society placed greater demands and expectations on young people and there was growing disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots”. The Club continued to provide the help and guidance necessary to help prepare members for their role as good citizens. These years proved to be a time of stabilization with the focus on strengthening the three existing Clubs. Improvements were made to the facilities and new programs were introduced to help address the community’s growing drug problem.The Special Needs Program was established when children were referred to the Club from the Ministry of Community and Social Services At Home Program, from the Children’s Aid, from various special education programs, from the Children at Risk Program and from many others. In 1989 the Club was honoured by a visit from Their Royal Highnesses, the Duke and Duchess of York who were visiting Canada.
In the 1990s, the Club experienced significant growth through cooperative community partnerships. They opened various drop-in centers for young people, collaborated with YMCA/YWCA to open another center, and launched new initiatives like the Preventive Intervention Program and the Minwassin Outdoor Education Centre. They also hosted a national youth conference and established the Brian Smith Foundation in memory of a former member. The foundation provided office space and created a scholarship for leadership development.
Although the Club has grown and progressed and changed over the years, objectives established early on have never changed. The Club is still providing guidance and counselling to the boys and girls who are members. It is impossible, in this short historical update, to cover all the exciting and innovative events, projects, programs and services that are happening daily in the various locations of the organization. The Club continues to receive the full support of the United Way and of the community through the many dedicated and committed volunteers.The spirit and drive instilled by Fred C. McCann is evident as the Club progresses towards the future. The Club’s struggle to remain fully operative to meet the needs of the community continues to this day. Funding is essential to the Club if it is to meet its mandate of providing recreation and social services to children and youth. As long as there is a need, there will be a BGC Ottawa.
BGC Ottawa logo.
The Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa became BGC Ottawa on March 31, 2021. Not to be trendy. Not because it’s shorter or catchier. But because we open our doors to all kids and teens, and we believe our name should reflect that. Removing gender from our name modernizes BGC Ottawa and echoes the inclusive practices we’re known for without straying too far from our history and national brand awareness.

It also embraces the fact that we proudly serve young people and families of all ages, backgrounds and identities. New name, same legacy: 95+ years of creating opportunities for children and youth.

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