YWCA Muskoka History

In the spring of 1994, a group of women came together to explore the need for supports and services for women and girls in Muskoka. Their

commitment to better life opportunities and increased options for women and girls in our community led to the establishment of Community YWCA of Muskoka in the fall of 1997. Two programs, Women in Business and Girlz Unplugged, were developed and launched in these formative years, providing the foundation for many programs and services to follow.

YWCA Muskoka is proud to be one of 32 Member Associations of YWCA Canada. For more information on YWCA Canada please visit www.ywcacanada.ca

YWCA Canada is a member of World YWCA, an international movement uniting some 25 million women working in over 100 countries to achieve social justice imperatives by increasing the participation of women at all levels of society. World YWCA members join together to work for peace with justice, sustainable development, human rights for all, and environmental integrity. Please visit www.worldywca.org to find out more about World YWCA.

YWCA Muskoka Backgrounder

20 years ago, women in Muskoka turned a corner.

A history – or “herstory” – of YWCA Muskoka
In spring 1994, a circle of local women gathered around a living room to share a vision – a vision to fill a gap in the community and build an organization with programs and services to help girls and women build self-confidence, encourage independence and make informed choices. Their vision came to fruition in fall 1997 and Muskoka became the smallest community in Canada to ever develop a YWCA. 

Initially, two programs – Women in Business and Girlz Unplugged – were developed and launched in these formative years, providing the foundation for many YW programs and services to follow.

We use a decentralized model – a YW without walls – to serve our vast region and bring programs and services directly into all of our Muskoka communities. We serve over 1000 people each year and constantly strive to find ways to be more inclusive.  


1994Community YWCA of Muskoka was first established. 

  • At this time, there was no organized opportunity for mentorship or leadership of girls and women and no organized body to advocate for women’s social and economic change. 

  • In the beginning, we were a small working board who did everything: promotion, publicity, event coordination, partnerships and supervising the few part-time staff members.

  • Our first flagship program for young girls, “Creative Adventures” was launched – today known as “Girlz Unplugged”.

  • Workshops were run for youth that highlighted non-traditional work and provided mentorship opportunities.

  • Supported the establishment of youth drop-in centres and the “bus project” at the Rotary Centre.

  • As part of the national YWCA movement, we brought the “Week Without Violence” to Muskoka and organized local events in celebration of International Women’s Day.

  • Established “Enterprising Women” self employment seminars to provide opportunities for women to share their working experiences.

March 8, 1997 – Our first Annual General Meeting is held at Browning Hall, Bracebridge. We have our first interim Board of Directors

Fall 1997 – Community YWCA of Muskoka officially became an incorporated, non-profit organization.

  • A job creation grant allowed us to hire staff and rent an office on the hill by The Bracebridge Falls. This became the first Muskoka Women’s Resource Centre – a space shared with community agencies, sexual assault services. A space where we offered programs such as leadership and life-skills training. 

1999 – First “Women in Business” program coordinator was hired

  • Funding was secured through the Ontario Women’s Directorate to provide much-needed women’s self-employment programs and organizational stability. Today, “Women in Business” continues to be one of our signature programs. 

January 2000 – Moved to Manitoba Street location.

  • While our organization continued to grow, we still struggled with a limited budget. We attended town council meetings to secure whatever space and funding we could get to leverage our tiny budget and ensure we could host our programs in all towns. Those meetings covered the hard topics: poverty, job losses, the economy – real issues hiding behind the Muskoka cottage and tourism brand. 

2001 –Techno Splash programs launch in the summer, they are offered for children 5-12 yrs old on PA Days, school holidays and summer from 2001 to 2009. 

November 2002 – First Women of Distinction Awards Gala. These awards are recognized nationally as one of Canada’s most prestigious awards for women; they celebrate women whose achievements contribute to the well-being of our community.

2003 – Carolyn Bray is hired as the YWCA’s first paid Executive Director. Cath Armstrong is hired as the CAP coordinator and for youth programs.  

2004 – Girlz Unplugged Program shared with YWCA’s across the country.

  • Our locally-created, Girlz Unplugged, captured the eye of YWCA Canada and we were asked to package our program curriculum for other member associations. We became the go-to organization for programs that catch people before they fall through the cracks. We focused on prevention.

2004 – Only remaining YWCA in Canada that can have men on the Board of Directors. 

2005 – Lynda Hutt (Women in Business), Marcy Hill and Hannah Lin (youth programs) all join the YWCA staff team. They receive their 10 years of service in 2015. 

2006 – Girlz Unplugged is in all 17 elementary schools in Muskoka. Girlz Choice programs for high school girls start with a pilot at BMLSS. 

2007 – YWCA moves out of Manitoba Street to a new location on Ecclestone Drive. 

March 2009 – Carolyn Bray and daughter Jolene Robinson are in a tragic accident and leave YWCA staff, friends and community mourning and heartbroken. Lynda Hutt steps in as interim Executive Director and works with Virginia Hastings, Board Chair to keep the organization stable. 

From 2009 to 2016 Young Women’s Scholarships are awarded to a graduate at each of the secondary schools. 

2010 – YWCA Muskoka is an early adopter in the movement and pilots boys’ and men’s programming 

  • We believe you can’t address the needs of girls and women without helping the entire family. Rama provides a grant to pilot ‘Men in Business’ programs.  After 18 months of grant writing, we received a $490K grant from the National Crime and Prevention Centre to develop and deliver Quest boys’ programs in Muskoka. Since then, close to 1000 boys have come through our doors for support.

September 2010 – Beth Ward takes the helm and joins the YW team as the new Executive Director. She teaches us to ‘get off the highway’ and really reach out to all 6 municipalities. 

2010 – December 6th Fund is established – an interest free loan program for women leaving domestic violence. As of 2018, this fund has helped 44 women escape domestic violence.

2011 – 2014 – YWCA Canada trains and supports YWCA’s as we organize annual Power of Being A Girl Conferences during Week Without Violence. Some of these become Power of Being You conferences as we learn more about the gender spectrum. 

March 2011 – We celebrate International Women’s Day with the 1st annual Women in Film Festival. It brings community groups, film, art, dance, community groups, youth and women together for over 8 years. 

2012 - A successful Status of Women Canada grant launches 3 years of YW4Work – a gender-based project engaging women in economic development for Gravenhurst and Lake of Bays. YWCA adult staff are offering women’s financial literacy workshops and introduce Getting Ahead in a Just Gettin’ By World which help people to increase self-advocacy, examine resources, break the cycle of poverty. 

2012 to 2014 - The Enterprising Women series connect local entrepreneurs and conference brings key presenters from the Dragon’s Den, Ladies Learning Code, and Rotman School of Business to Muskoka. 

2012 – Girlz Unplugged is solidly backed by a Canadian Women’s Foundation grant for the 3 years. YWGRO a new mentorship program for girls and young women is developed and launched. 

2013 – Relationship building with Moose Deer Point First Nation leads to Girlz Unplugged, Quest and youth workshops at MDP for the next 5 years.  

July 2014 – Hannah Lin is hired as the Executive Director.

May 2015 – Volunteers organize YWCA’s first Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event and 77 men turn out to walk Manitoba Street. Together they raise over $15,000. 

2015 - YWCA and 13 partnered organizations launch a licensed chapter of Circles for Muskoka with a five year Ontario Trillium Foundation grant. Bridges out of Poverty training is now offered annually.  A weekly group starts in Huntsville with 10 families, 24 volunteer allies and a community team in January 2017. 

August 2015 – Beth Ward initiates YWalk for Women and Girls, a walk of 190 kms through all of Muskoka. 15 members of Wahta First Nation walk with her across their territory and a new relationship begins between Wahta and YWCA. 

2016 – YWCA girls programs are nominated by Canadian Women’s Foundation for their grassroots community approach and shortlisted for the international With and For Girls Award 

Feb 2017 – The classroom becomes The Gathering Space and YWCA staff are able to  offer more drop in and individualized coaching opportunities for women. 

2017 - Began the practice of acknowledging the land and the indigenous people who came before and walk with us still wherever we are in Muskoka.

YWCA starts a Youth Social Action Council and hosts the Muskoka Youth Summit for 120 youth  to discuss life after high school; relationships; stress, mental well-being and financial literacy. 

2019 - The first She Talks Muskoka event is held at the Algonquin Theatre in Huntsville. Adapted from our sister organization, YWCA Cambridge, the event brings together women to share their personal stories of tenacity and grit.

YWCA Muskoka Lifetime Membership model is introduced. 

2020 - The Covid-19 pandemic hits the world and YWCA Muskoka adapts its programming to online and meet the specific needs of seniors, youth and families across Muskoka.

YWCA Muskoka moves to 205 Manitoba Street in Bracebridge. Our new, more accessible space allows us better serve women, families and youth in Muskoka.

Today, YWCA Muskoka continues to champion positive change for women and girls through education, leadership and advocacy. We strive for a future in which all women and girls across Muskoka are thriving. 

We serve over 1,000 people annually; we are in 21 schools across Muskoka; we provide 15 different programs and services that aim to: 

  • Provide Youth Education and leadership

  • Prevent Violence Against Women

  • Build Economic Resilience and Social Capital

  • Create an Innovative, Resourceful and Sustainable Organization

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205 Manitoba Street, Unit 4, Bracebridge ON P1L 1S3