Members launch petition to stop impending closure of beloved Guy-Favreau YMCA

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Members launch petition to stop impending closure of beloved Guy-Favreau YMCA

For 25 years, Myra Shuster has been slipping away from her desk at the Immigration and Refugee Board's Montreal office in the Guy-Favreau Complex at lunchtime and going downstairs for a quick workout.

"Every single day, you sweat with the same people," Shuster says. "You really build memories." Not to mention strong legs and a healthy heart, after all those spinning classes.

But the Guy-Favreau YMCA will be reduced to nothing but memories, if the plan to close it for good goes ahead on May 31.

"I haven't really accepted that it's closing yet. I sure hope that something comes together that keeps it going," Shuster told CBC Radio's Daybreak earlier this week.

After more than 30 years of operation in its basement space in the federal government complex on René-Lévesque Boulevard, the YMCA can no longer afford to run the community centre and gym.

Loyal Y members like Shuster and Phil Chu aren't willing to let it close without a fight. Chu started a petition, which had more than 2,300 signatures by Friday.

"What we're hoping to achieve is to let the government know that this centre really matters. It's not just a number; lives are going to be affected by this," he said.

Symbolic rent allowed Y to thrive

The YMCA's rent in the Guy-Favreau basement space was around $240,000 last year, but that wasn't always the case.

For the first 20 years of operation, the YMCA was paying a symbolic $1 annually to the federal government for its lease.

That's because in order to build the federal government complex three decades ago, Ottawa expropriated a number of buildings in Montreal's Chinatown.

"The building became de facto compensation for the Chinese community; it helped in relationships at the time," said the CEO of the YMCAs in Quebec, Stéphane Vaillancourt.

However, that deal ended in 2006, when the then-Conservative government introduced a policy that set rent for commercial space in federal buildings according to market value.

Rent has gone up, year after year, ever since.

As a result, for the past three years, the Guy-Favreau YMCA has been operating on a deficit, despite having 2,200 members and 5,500 annual users.

Last year, the YMCA began meeting with Public Service and Procurement Canada to see if a solution could be found.

Vaillancourt said a return to the symbolic $1 rent was the only feasible option, but the federal government wouldn't consider it.

So the Y sent the federal government official notice that it wouldn't be renewing its lease. Still, Vaillancourt remains hopeful something might change.

Every Y member has a story

Chu hopes the petition will communicate to the government the significance of the Guy Favreau Y and step in to help save it.

A volunteer and member, Chu met many of his friends – and his girlfriend – at that YMCA.  He also says it plays a central role in the Montreal's Chinese community.

"I know members of the Chinese community that come from all over Montreal just to this centre," Chu said.  

Penny Ahtipis, who has been working out at the YMCA for 17 years, says she feels "at home" at the Guy-Favreau location – and cannot imagine that coming to an end.

"It's like you're losing another family," she said.