The Youth Hostelling movement was started in 1909 by Richard Schirrmann, a German schoolteacher. The movement was disrupted by World War I and did not reach other countries until the 1930s. Following the launch of youth hostel associations in several European countries between 1930 and 1932, the idea spread across the Atlantic Ocean. Canada was slightly ahead of the United States and the Canadian Youth Hostels Association was founded in 1933 (the American Youth Hostels Inc was not formed until 1934). North America's first hostel opened in 1933 at Bragg Creek near Calgary, Alberta.
A National Office was established in Calgary but moved to Toronto, Ontario in 1941. In 1976 the name of the organization changed to the Canadian Hostelling Association and to its current name in the 1990s.
Today HI-Canada's national office is in Ottawa and the association has 55 hostels, with hostels located in each of the provinces with the exception of Nunavut and the Northwestern Territories. Over 270,000 overnight stays are recorded in Canadian hostels each year.