Our HERstory in brief

A HERstory for building on

1914 marks the start of our HERstory. That year the organization known today as YouthLink was launched as Big Sister Movement of Toronto. Our members would change the name 2 more times over the years, to the Big Sister Association of Metropolitan Toronto and to Huntley Youth Services, before finally settling on its  name today. Along the way they would make a positive impact on tens of thousands of lives, as well as on Toronto and Canada.


Our evolving program menu

In the beginning we served teenage girls who had no family support and found themselves in the justice system.  Our members at the time, calling themselves Big Sisters, voluntarily provided for the well-being of these young women whom they called their “little sisters.”  The older Sisters gave the younger ones food, clothing, employment and educational opportunities. They also taught the necessary skills for lifelong well being to their young charges.

In time, the Big Sisters would also provide their little sisters with funds (‘scholarships’) to cover the costs of tuition, books, clothing, and lunches. Some Big Sisters would also make and buy other clothes for their girls as well as tutor them and cook their Wednesday night suppers. At Christmas time, many gave their young women presents and food baskets.

Eventually the Big Sisters would add to that services list counselling, supportive housing, Canada’s first needle exchange program, a drop-in for youth experiencing homelessness, … well just take a look below to see the full list.

Or to see what YouthLink offers youth and their families today, click < HERE > .


Our changing geographical reach

Once the Big Sister Movement organization was off and running, the women who belonged to it and were its volunteers found it more effective to work in groups. In 1922, they formalized these groups into Big Sister “circles”. The first circles were set up in the communities of Lawrence Park and York. Over the next 50 years, others would be launched, disbanded or merged together. Their names were as colourful as their members, and included: Rosedale Circle, Margaret Scott Circle, Hope Page Circle, Gay Venture Circle, Oriole Circle, Hill Circle, Kingsway Circle, Avenue Circle, Jubilee Circle, and Humber Circle.  Today, Gay Venture, Humber and Hope Page members continue to gather monthly for Circle meetings.  Some women have been involved in this undertaking now for 70 years!

That said, YouthLink today focuses its services on Scarborough. That’s because, historically, there have been insufficient services available to the youth of this fast-growing community.


From this generosity of hundreds of Toronto women volunteering as Big Sisters, a rich story of change and contribution to Toronto and now Scarborough emerged. Their legacy descends to this day, summarized below in point form. If you’d like to add to this list, or comment on it, please click < HERE > to contact us. We very much want to keep our HERstory at the forefront of our ongoing work and our community.


Our HERstory in the field of counselling

1914  Begins a befriending service to teenage girl offenders

1922  Starts serving young women released from prison

1926  Hires a social worker to train and support the volunteer Big Sisters. Also launches professional counselling to girls aged 12 to 18

1950  Opens the Big Sister counselling service

1960  Raises the age limit for its counselling service from 18 to 21

1957  Adds counselling of parents and families to its menu of services

1974  Extends service to boys and young men

1979  Adds YouthLine. Eventually this will be spun out as an independent organization, to be known as Kids Help Phone, in 1989

2010  Adds a walk-in counselling clinic

2018  Signs on as one of Ontario’s providers of urban tele-psychiatry


Our HERstory in the field of community outreach

 1980  Establishes the Inner City Drop-In for homeless youth. This is Canada’s first outreach program for reducing youth homelessness

2016-17  Co-leads the planning of a province-wide strategy to prevent youth suicide


Our HERstory in educational, employment and career support

1920  Launches a scholarship fund to cover school necessities for girls based on their grades

1952  Expands the fund to cover post-secondary tuition for young women based on their  financial need

1974  Adds one-to-one tutoring

2008  Partners with Pathways to Education to bring educational, employment and career supports into Scarborough Village


Our HERstory in the field of supportive housing

1965  Establishes a home for young women over 16, not living at home and in need of support on their path to adulthood. This is Canada’s first group home.

1973  Purchases its first co-op house, accommodating 4 young women and supporting them to live independently. Big Sisters visit weekly to mentor and model life skills for the young women in residence. Following this, 3 more houses are purchased for this purpose, now with paid live-in mentors. The program soon consists of 1 residential treatment centre for girls, aged 11-15, and 3 co-op houses for young women and men who are 16 to 19 years old

Coming in 2018: Opens Scarborough’s only transitional home for homeless youth. This will be the only such facility from Victoria Park Avenue to Durham region


Our HERstory on our own growth and development

1953 Bought 34 Huntley Street to serve as its main office

1964  Opens a consignment Big Sister Thrift Shop on Avenue Road in north Toronto to raise funds. The shop was a thriving business for 43 years and provided an important source of revenue for the agency until its closing in 2007

1974  Accepts males as Board members, staff and clients

1974  Also changes its name to Huntley Youth Services

1983  Launches service in Scarborough 1983, specifically establishing a branch office here

1989 Changes its name to YouthLink

2004  Following a capital campaign, sells the Huntley Street property and relocates the YouthLink main office to Scarborough. Urged on by the United Way of Greater Toronto, YouthLink commits to moving all of its programs to this community. This requires that it sell properties throughout the city, and purchase their equivalents in Scarborough. This will address the acute lack of services available for a rapidly growing population of vulnerable youth in this area.

2007  Adds BluesLink as annual fundraising event

2017  Launches Drive4Youth2Thrive Charity Golf Classic as a second annual fundraising event

2017  Also, is chosen by the United Way of Toronto and York Region to be an anchor agency. For more information about this, click < HERE >


Quotable quotes from our HERstory

“I want to be quite frank with you. In this country you have coped most admirably with tuberculosis and with venereal diseases, but not with mental defectiveness, which is the greatest danger. The only way to get results is to stir up the governments. Women have the power of the vote, which they won during the war, and that together with the power of nagging their husbands at home, can bring great results. Men don’t realize these things, but every woman is a mother at heart, and that’s why the Big Sister Association is such an amazingly good organization.” Lady Byng to the 1921 Annual General Meeting of Toronto’s Big Sister Association.

“Dare the impossible.” Mary Lugsdin, Executive Director, 1951 – 1973)

“So long as there is such a deplorable lack of suitable accommodation, there are definite limitations to the effectiveness of a counselling service …” (Big Sister Annual General Meeting, 1958)

‘Councillors, homelessness can happen anywhere and it can happen to anyone. Just because it does happen though doesn’t mean it has to endure. Janice Hayes, Executive Director, 2017, to the Toronto City Council Committee on Community Development and Recreation

 To return to the Introducing YouthLink page, click < HERE >