The 4-H movement began in the US at the turn of the 20th century; the first similar club in Canada was organized in Roland, Manitoba, in 1913, and the concept quickly swept through the settled agricultural regions of the country. As the movement spread across Canada, national agencies (eg, the railways, the federal Department of Agriculture) became involved, helping, for example, to sponsor a national judging competition in connection with the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair in Toronto. By 1930 the need for a national organization to help sponsor and co-ordinate the program across Canada became apparent, and in January 1931 the Canadian Council on Boys and Girls Clubs was organized. In Canada the name "Boys and Girls Clubs" was used until 1952, when the name 4-H, used in the US and many other countries, was adopted. The Canada 4-H Council combines private and government efforts and resources and offers a forum for national discussion and exchange of information as well as many national programs for 4-H members and for their leaders.
The stated purpose of the early Boys and Girls Clubs was to provide rural young people with the opportunity to learn farming and homemaking skills. The 4-H program now emphasizes all aspects of the mental, emotional, social and physical growth of its members. The motto "Learn to Do by Doing" is the basis of all 4-H activities. Members are responsible for developing and executing projects as varied as raising a calf, sewing a dress or learning photography. By helping members acquire a positive attitude toward learning, 4-H helps them increase their knowledge and develop valuable skills. Agricultural Extension Services (see Agricultural Education) have traditionally provided organizational leadership, while encouraging members actually to run their clubs. Volunteer leaders are vital to the success of the 4-H program. Over 8000 adult volunteers provide guidance to 26 000 members aged 8 to 21 (age varies in each province) who regularly recite the 4-H pledge: "I pledge my Head to clearer thinking, my Heart to greater loyalty, my Hands to larger service, and my Health to better living, for my Club, my Community, and my Country."