Montreal’s YM-YWHA renovates and hopes to rebuild membership after COVID lockdowns

Sylvan and Margaret Adams cut the ceremonial ribbon at the opening of the Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA’s new fitness centre. With them are Y officials, from left, Jonathan Goodman, Jeff Bicher, Tina Apfeld Rosenthal, Andrea Rosenbloom and Robert Fainer. (PBL Photography photo)

The Sylvan Adams YM-YWHA, which was closed for all but eight months over two years of the pandemic, is hoping that a new multimillion-dollar fitness centre will convince former members to return and others to sign up.

The major upgrade was made possible by a $10-million donation from Sylvan Adams, the former Montrealer now living in Israel who underwrote a full facelift of the building, which dates back to the 1950s, completed in 2016.

The upside of the long shutdown was that the Y was able to complete the work more quickly than it would have if it had been in operation.

The first phase of the project was an extensive renovation of the locker rooms and health club facilities. The second was the construction of a 13,500-square -foot multi-level fitness centre, surrounding the area where the basketball court used to be. That court has been relocated to another part of the building.

Key features include:

  • 9,000-square-foot functional fitness room
  • 4,500-square-foot mezzanine with dedicated space for small group training
  • Two-lane 100-metre indoor running track
  • Two large group exercise studios
  • Exercise equipment, including non-motorized Assault Fitness stationary bikes and treadmills

The $10-million infusion includes $2 million for an endowment. Adams and his wife Margaret, who made aliyah in 2015, were on hand for the official opening.

“Thanks to your generosity, the Y is uniquely positioned to be the centre of the Montreal Jewish community,” said president Tina Apfeld Rosenthal.

Like all fitness facilities in Quebec, the Y had to lock down in March 2020 and chose to remain closed until the end of September that year. It was open for just one week before Montreal went into the high-alert “red zone” and gyms were shuttered again.

 The Y began resuming normal operations, with limited capacity, last July, but once more had to close when the Omicron variant emerged in December until February.

Membership fees, a critical revenue source, dried up over that extended period, as well as income from programming and rentals. The Y Country Camp also did not run in the summer of 2020.

Through a determined drive, Y membership now stands at 2,300, about 500 short of its pre-pandemic level, said chief executive officer Jeff Bicher.  “It’s been like wildfire; once people are comfortable coming back in, and see what we have, they are in to stay.”

The Y boasts that the new fitness centre rivals any in the city and should put the 112-year-old institution on the right footing to exceed the membership it had before COVID.

“Our mission is to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment to all members of the community while promoting physical fitness and well-being,” stated Bicher. “I wish to stress that we are an organization based on Jewish values that is entirely open to all people regardless of religion, race, colour or language.”

Adams, who has been a top amateur cyclist in his age category, concurred. “Fitness—and cycling in particular—has been my passion for years. This project allows us to give back to Montreal while promoting fitness for citizens of all backgrounds. I am particularly proud of the calibre of our fitness centre, which includes top-quality equipment that is available to all at a fraction of the cost of for-profit gym memberships.”

He emphasized that his motivation was to reinforce Jewish identity and “keep our youth here,” as it was when he became a lead donor to the new Herzliah High School built next door to the Y a few years ago.

The 63-year-old billionaire was a successful real estate developer in Quebec, following in the footsteps of his father Marcel Adams, a Romanian-born Holocaust survivor who died two years ago at age 100. For 25 years the younger Adams was president of Iberville Developments, however, he kept a low personal profile.

That changed when he immigrated to Israel, where Adams devotes his time to promoting the country’s image. His calling card reads “self-appointed ambassador at large for the State of Israel.” He is the only Israeli to have signed the Giving Pledge, a project started by Warren Buffet and Bill Gates that commits the ultra-rich to giving away the majority of their wealth to philanthropic pursuits.

Winner of the 2017 World Masters Championship in Manchester, England, Adams is co-founder of Israel’s first professional cycling team and built the first velodrome in that country and, in fact, the Middle East.

In 2018 he brought the Giro d’Italia, one of the Grand Tour cycling races, to Israel, the first time a stage took place outside Europe.

On July 12, Adams will be inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in Netanya and presented with its Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to Israel and society in general through sport.