To follow up on this or any other articles on the blog, contact Heritage Winnipeg's Executive Director.
|The St. John's Branch of the Winnipeg Public Library at 500 Salter Street. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library.|
|The Cornish Branch of the Winnipeg Public Library at 20 West Gate. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library.|
A History of Winnipeg's Libraries
One of Winnipeg's first libraries was the Red River Library, created in 1848. The library was created out of the donations from private collections, particularly that of Peter Fidler, a retired fur trader. The library was supported by subscriptions until operation ended in 1871. This system was common for libraries in the 19th century, with patrons paying an annual subscription fee for the privilege of accessing the books.
|Interior photo of the Carnegie Library ca. 1912. The library was created by a community that valued libraries and making books available to the community. Courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.|
The newly-created Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba (now the Manitoba Historical Society) took up the cause shortly thereafter, creating a new public library system with approximately 10,000 volumes. This library was also supported by annual subscriptions, in addition to donations from the city and provincial governments and gifts from the Smithsonian Institution and American government.
|Photo of the model of the "gingerbread" City Hall (1886-1962), found on the second floor of the current City Hall. Photo courtesy of Megan Redmond.|
In 1888, this library was moved into the newly built "gingerbread" City Hall. The library continued to grow with a circulation of 7,161 volumes in addition to the reference section. The library was now managed by a joint committee of the Manitoba Historical Society and the City but was still vulnerable to cutbacks by City Council. A juvenile section was added in 1899, causing a great jump in circulation. Much to the disappointment of the learned librarian, fiction was the most popular.
In 1898, Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American philanthropist, announced he would donate money to build public libraries in the United Sates and around the world. As a self-made millionaire, Carnegie credited his success partly to access to library books during his childhood and teenage years.
|The Cornish Library at 20 West Gate was one of four Manitoba libraries to be built with funding from the Carnegie Corporation. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library.|
Shortly after Carnegie's announcement, local librarian Mr. J.P. Robertson wrote to Andrew Carnegie, requesting funding for the construction of a public library building in Winnipeg. The response came from his secretary in October of 1901:
"If Winnipeg will pledge itself to maintain a free public library at a cost of no less than $7,500 yearly and provide a suitable site, Mr. Carnegie will be glad to give $75,000 for the erection of a library building." (City of Winnipeg Historical Report: 380 William Avenue)
|Architect S. Hooper's sketch of the William Avenue facade of the Carnegie Library. Image courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.|
|The Carnegie Library at 380 William Avenue ca. 1905. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.|
In 1905, almost four years after Carnegie's initial offer, Winnipeg's first public library opened at 380 Williams Avenue. The building was built and furnished with the $75,000 Carnegie grant while another $25,000 was spent by the City on landscaping and acquiring the property. The Governor General of Canada, Earl Grey, and his daughter formally opened the library on October 20, 1905.
In January of 1907, the first children's room in a Canadian library was opened under the direction of the Carnegie's first librarian, James H. McCarthy, who held the position until his retirement in 1928.
By 1910, the Carnegie Library had become the second largest library in Canada in volume of books loaned - that year alone 341,000 books were checked out, while numerous newspapers, periodicals, and reference books were read on the premises. To meet the demand, plans for an expansion of the library were drawn up and an addition was completed in 1908, also funded by Carnegie to a sum of $28,000.
|The completed addition can be seen in this 1910 photo of the Carnegie Library. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.|
Over 28,000 books were in library's system but losses were frequent through the branch stations, and the last one closed in 1929, for the most part having been replaced with branch libraries.
|The front entrance to the Carnegie Library, ca. 1969. Photo courtesy of the City of Winnipeg Historical Report.|
All three of Winnipeg's Carnegie-built libraries have heritage designation from the City of Winnipeg. The William Avenue Library received designation on July 30, 1984, followed by the Cornish Public Library on January 15, 1993. The St. John's Library was the last to be designated, on February 8, 2011.
|The Cornish Library is still in use today. Photo courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library.|
"It is also worth noting that most libraries now serve as repositories for local community history resources, and help researchers piece together data that leads to important designations of historic places." ~ Canada's Historic Places: Carnegie's Canadian Libraries
Keep your eyes peeled for more detailed histories of the St. John's and Cornish Libraries later in the summer!
Centenary CelebrationsTwo of Winnipeg's public libraries are celebrating their centennials this month - the St. John's Library at 500 Salter Street and the Cornish Library at 20 West Gate.
|The St. John's Library celebration is June 12, 2015. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library.|
|The Cornish Library celebration is June 15, 2015. Click for larger image. Image courtesy of the Winnipeg Public Library.|
Doors Open Winnipeg 2015 People's Choice Awards
Heritage Winnipeg cordially invites you to attend our 5th Annual Doors Open People's Choice Awards. For the fifth year, the public has voted for their favourite buildings from Doors Open.
Join us as we announce the winners!
One winner from each of the five categories will be awarded a beautiful piece of art by local artist Jordan van Sewell celebrating the heritage value of their building:
Best Guided Tour/Programming
The 'Hidden Gem'
Best Overall Experience
Sources & Links
The First Half Century: A Sketch of the Early Years of the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba
Memorable Manitobans: James Henry McCarthy
Memorable Manitobans: James Henry McCarthy
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