In 1904, Ernest Coulter started a movement that would grow to affect millions of lives around the world- child and youth mentoring.  He encouraged his friends to get involved by helping young boys and young men in father-absent homes.  Before long, the Big Brother movement was born.

Fast forward nine years to a growing delinquency rate in Toronto and the need for an innovative solution. Several businessmen became aware of what was happening in America to combat the same problem and after seeing the positive effect the program had for our neighbors to the south, Big Brothers came to Canada.

Our History in St. Catharines

Big Brothers was founded in St. Catharines on May 28, 1937.

It all started when Judge Stanbury wanted to provide a way to guide youth and promote leadership among boys in the community of St. Catharines.  On May 19th, 1937 and Stanbury and Ellis Jones teamed up to found the Big Brothers Association in St. Catharines, ultimately serving 24 boys in the opening year.  While the organization dispersed during the Second World War and reorganized in 1957, the momentum continued over the next 10 years with 14 more matches in 1964 and up to 114 in 1970 and a wait list of 34 boys now waiting to have a Big Brother in their lives.

In 1983 the United Way approached the organization and asked if they would open a Big Sisters program to assist girls, who were also in need of the program. On May 27, 1983 Big Sisters was incorporated and launched in St. Catharines.  Long serving Board Director and former Big Brother, Robert Miller supervised the incorporation of the Big Sisters program and the organization was renamed Big Brothers Big Sisters St. Catharines-Thorold & District. Ten girls were matched in that year.

At Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Catharines-Thorold & District  we’ve been impacting the lives of children for over 79 years.

And we’re just getting started.

The organization celebrated its 75th Anniversary May 28, 2012.

Much has changed over the 79 years, including the move to bring together Big Brothers Big Sisters under one agency , a new building and an expanded number of programs to meet the changing needs of families and young people…through it all the mission has remained the same as when Stanbury and Jones started it all…empowering youth through Mentorship.

The organization has seen great gains over the years and a massive increase in youth served. Between 2008 and 2015, the numbers of children who have been matched has more than doubled, from 645 to 1,200. And, there are over 200 children on the wait list for the organization’s five programs.

The men and women who help Mentor these children, whether through the traditional Big Brother Big Sister one to one match or the School-based and group programs,  are the key to the organization’s success.  Our case workers are responsible for making sure each and every match gets the support they need. The result, youth that grow into successful contributing adults that provide a return of $18 for every $1 invested.

They generously donate  their time, talent and resources to make the community a better place for the children and youth we serve.

Although much has changed over  time, our commitment to mentoring youth has not. To this day, we mentor boys and girls to be more self-confident, more equipped, and civically aware to better participate as well-rounded, contributing citizens, and positive influences in our community. Our programs are founded on a powerful premise that when children feel they are valued and cherished by and adult, they experience and increase in self worth.

We know their future is in our hands and our future is in theirs.

More than 100 years later, Big Brothers Big Sisters remains true to our founders’ vision of bringing caring role models into the lives of children. And, today, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada currently operates in 10 Provinces, one Territory — and in 12 countries around the world.

Historical Timeline

1904Ernest Coulter founds the organized Big Brothers Movement in New York upon asking a number of his friends to spend some of their time - lending a hand to youngsters, starting with 39 volunteers.
January 1912Appointment of the Toronto Juvenile Courts first Commissioner, Reverend J.L. Starr. The creation of this court provides the initial framework within which the Big Brothers movement begins its' work.
June 1913The Big Brothers Movement has its' formal beginnings in Toronto with the appointment of Eleanor Hunter as General Secretary, after Clarence Noble arranges for her to attend the Juvenile Court to get the names of youth appearing there. In the first 10 months of her appointment, 250 boys are assigned matches.
September 1913A meeting of a council is held on September 18, made up of representatives from the different religious denominations to discuss how to carry on the work of the Big Brother Big Sister Movement. Through the results of Miss Adam's efforts to date, the program was officially launched.
December 1914The sustaining group is formally organized. This action formally establishes the "Big Brother Big Sister Movement" as a privately maintained social agency for delinquent and pre-delinquent children under 16.
February 1916The Big Sister Association is established as an independent agency. Big Sister representation continues on the Big Brother Board for a period of time.
April 1920The Big Brother Movement of Toronto formally incorporates the agency under provincial letters patent. It's primary objective is "to promote the welfare of boys."
June 1920The first Big Brothers Big Sisters convention is held in Toronto.
1930Big Sister Association is legally incorporated as the Big Sister Association of Toronto and York.
May 28, 1937Big Brothers is founded in St. Catharines
1939 - 1945St. Catharines Agency dispersed during the Second World War.
1940's - 1960'sThe Toronto Chapter of Big Brothers is joined by other groups including Hamilton, Halifax, Vancouver, Niagara Falls, St. Catharines, and several other cities in Ontario.
*1948Norman Rockwell produces the sketch that becomes a symbol for the Big Brothers Association (USA - but used in Canada too)
1957Cecil Walker and Murray Goldman start the Big brothers movement in BC.
July 1963Several Big Brothers Associations in Ontario meet in Hamilton to plan a national body.
October 1964A meeting is held during which an agreement is made to apply for a Dominion (National) Charter under the name Big Brothers of Canada (BBC) - a non-profit organization.
December 1964The Canadian Secretary of State signs the Charter on December 15th which outlines the mandate of Big Brothers of Canada Incorporated. The charter members included Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver, St. Catharines, Peterborough, Owensound, Niagara Falls, Kitchener-Waterloo, Welland, and Oakville.
1965The first annual Big Brothers of Canada convention is held.
1967Office opens in Nova Scotia (St. Stephen's).
1969Offices open in Manitoba (Winnipeg) and New Brunswick (Fredericton).
1972Big Sisters Society of Edmonton is established.
*1972Bowl For Kids Sake, Big Brothers Big Sisters largest national fundraising campaign is launched.
December 1972Big Brothers of Canada separates from the US and becomes a self-governing group. Within four years, Big Brothers of Canada grows to include 110 agencies across Canada, serving 8,000 boys.
1975Offices open in Newfoundland (St. John's), Northwest Territories (Yellowknife), and PEI.
1975The first joint Big Brother Big Sister agency in Canada is formed in Halifax.
1976Offices open in Saskatchewan.
1976The office in Montreal opens and by the end of the following year, four agencies are established in the province: Montreal, West Island, Victoriaville, and Quebec City.
1977Big Sisters International and Big Brothers Association merge forming Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
May 27, 1983Big Sisters was incorporated and launched in St. Catharines.
*1988Big Brothers Big Sisters International is founded.
2001Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada, Big Sisters of Canada, and Big Sisters Association of Ontario merge to become Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada.
*September 2005Toronto Mayor David Miller proclaims September as Big Brothers Big Sisters Month in Toronto.
December 2010As of this date, the number of young people being served exceeds 33,510. The number of children served in Canada since 1913 is over 472,000.
*2011Big Brothers Big Sisters of Canada launches national mentoring and re-branding initiative, Start Something.
*April 2012First Youth Summit in Ottawa. Youth aged 16-19 took part in workshops and seminars that helped in developing their leadership skills, as well as the ability to articulate one's own ideas for social change and to put those ideas/plans into action.
May 28, 2012Big Brothers Big Sisters St. Catharines - Thorold * District celebrates 75th Anniversary.
2013100th Anniversary
2018BBBS St. Catharines-Thorold & District merge with BBBS Grimsby, Lincoln, & West Lincoln to form Big Brothers Big Sisters of North & West Niagara