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.
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 > .
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.
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
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
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
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
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 >
“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 >