25 cents, old car and a tent: how two sisters created the first youth hostel in Canada

by | Apr 10, 2021 | Hostelling

It was summer in 1933 in Bragg Creek, Canada when two sisters: Mary and Catherine Barclay headed towards the Canadian Rockies with the old car and a rented tent.

They had a simple idea in their heads: setting up a cheap place to sleep for the travelers, surrounded by Canadian nature.

This rented tent was the first Canadian hostel-like experience and also the beginning of Hostelling International Canada.

On one sleepless night, Mary had an idea

Youth hostels were already a thing in Europe back then. Mary and Catherine got inspired by the new type of affordable accommodation which was sweeping Germany.

You see, both sisters were outdoor enthusiasts and spent countless days hiking. 

During one of such campings, Mary had a sleepless night, scratching her head. How could she make it easy for others to engage with nature and stay there without breaking a bank?

I have no idea if she had this big “Aha” moment. Or she had her sister Catherine telling her about the European hostelling movement.

The thing is: she figured it out. 

And two sisters didn’t know that they would set in motion a new way of life, enabling young and old to travel and explore Canada on the budget.

woman in front of a big tent
Yes, this is the first hostel-like experience in Canada (Source)

They started in a simple way 

With a rented tent and their old Ford Model T, sisters took off to the mountains. 

They have pitched the tent in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies and rented it out to their friends for 25 cents a night.

People fell in love with the experience, so in the following year, sisters built nearby a stronger structure. 

Later, sisters formed Canadian Youth Hostels Association, which was building more hostels and encouraging hostelling. 

This eventually converted into Hostelling International Canada, with 54 hostels and over 30,000 members.

Maybe Mary and Catherine didn’t think they were doing something significant with a rented tent and 25 cents a night. However, they inspired a lasting movement, much bigger than them.


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Posted by Ewa Gabara

Posted by Ewa Gabara

Founder of Don’t Mess With The Receptionist. I geek out on hostels and I’m a long-time receptionist turned into a copywriter. I help the hospitality and travel brands conquer the world with words.

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