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Heritage at Risk: The former Carnegie Library - City of Winnipeg Archives

The former Carnegie Library is located at 380 William Avenue, aptly named for the $75,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie, was built in 1905 as the city's very first public library, and is currently owned by the City of Winnipeg. It was designed in the Classical Revival style by notable Winnipeg Architect Samuel Hooper (appointed provincial architect in 1904), and features the Manitoba crest on its pediment. This year, the National Trust of Canada included Winnipeg's former Carnegie Library on their 2018 Top Ten Endangered Buildings. Unless action is taken soon to repair this historic building and re-occupy it, damage will continue to occur until the building's repairs become too cost-prohibitive to be feasible.

Carnegie Library, present day
Heritage Winnipeg has a more extensive post on the history of the former Carnegie Library - you can check that out here
Source: Manitoba Historical Society

The former Carnegie Library is one of the most at-risk buildings in Winnipeg, from the National Trust for Canada:
...the former Carnegie Library remains empty and in limbo with no funds allocated by the City for restoration, and an active search is underway for a new long-term home for the Archives.
The former Carnegie Library is noted not only for its impressive exterior, but also the two original front rooms on both the first and second floors, and was designated as a Grade II historical resource on July 30, 1984. The former Carnegie Library's inclusion in the category of at-risk historic buildings, and on the National Trust's Top Ten Endangered buildings list in 2018 is a needless - it has Grade II heritage building status, but stands empty from extensive water damage. This story is the result of renovations that started in 2013 to turn the historic building into a state-of-the-art archival facility - a hole in the roof had been left uncovered by contractors, and ensuing rainstorms had easy access to the second floor. The City of Winnipeg Archives had to be moved out of the building to protect the archival materials, and since then the building has stood with no word on what its future holds.

An extensive Facility Renewal and Redevelopment strategy report was done in 2010 by Cibinel Architects Ltd. to outline the rehabilitation plans for the former Carnegie Library. The City Council had committed $3.5 million dollars over six years for the repairs to the former Carnegie Library, as well as for the installation of new archival facilities in keeping with the building's historical character. The City of Winnipeg received an additional $400,000 from federal funding for conservation of the former Carnegie Library, as well as $2 million in previously approved capital. As for the city archives, they are currently housed in three separate facilities: one space leased from Manitoba Government Records Centre (410 DeBaets Street), one space leased at 50 Myrtle Street (the only space with public access), and one space leased at 311 Ross Avenue, which is little more than a storage container.

John Palmerston Robertson, who helped found the Manitoba Curling Club, was the
first provincial librarian and worked out of the Carnegie Library.
Source: Manitoba Historical Society

The City of Winnipeg has a responsibility on behalf of all Winnipeggers to provide an appropriate, dedicated, archival facility to house the valuable city archives, and to provide the current and future citizens with an account of the city's history. However, there have been suggestions that the $2 million allocated specifically for the repairs of the former Carnegie Library be used to expand the inappropriate facilities that the Archives are currently being housed in. To use this funding, designated for the historic former Carnegie Library, on another building - and in the process avoid restoring the Archives' proper home - would be a travesty. There are no other single suitable sites that were identified for the City of Winnipeg Archives - they belong in the former Carnegie Library, a city-owned designated heritage building. On the front facade just above the entrance, is engraved "FREE TO ALL", a message that knowledge, books, and learning should be available for everyone to access.
From 1903 to 1977, the Carnegie Library was the flagship of the Winnipeg public library system. Them impact of such an institution cannot be measured in a community, but as a society as a whole, we must agree with philanthropist Andrew Carnegie that libraries play an important and positive role in the stimulation and distribution of the ideas to a great number of people. The distinguished architecture of the library, in partnership with Hooper's Normal School down the block, is definitive to the street and the district.
 -From the City of Winnipeg Long Report, 1984

The Carnegie Library is not only significant because of its architecture, history, and landmark status, but as a permanent home for the Winnipeg City Archives, as it was for over two decades. Previous mayors and councillors made a commitment to this ideal. If the renovations could be completed as they were originally planned, Winnipeg would have a iconic, state-of-the-art heritage building in which to house the City Archives, joining the ranks of cities like Montreal and New York. The Carnegie Library's historic reading rooms could be available again for researchers, historians, students, professionals, government, community organizations, and the general public to come in and learn about the city's history in an inspiring historic building.

The Carnegie Library is at risk more and more with every year that it sits without work being undertaken. While the rainstorm did damage the building, letting the building sit without renovations will result in further damage, until the repairs become overwhelmingly cost-prohibitive. In the heritage preservation community, "demolition by neglect" is a term that is used to describe a loophole in many preservation bylaws. Although owners cannot demolish heritage buildings without a permit, if they allow the building to sit too long without proper attention, demolition becomes the only option, prior to its sale.  Since the Carnegie Library has had no repairs since 2013, Heritage Winnipeg suspects it could become victim to demolition by neglect. If that were to happen, we would lose a critical part of Winnipeg's early public built heritage.

A large part of Heritage Winnipeg's mandate is to advocate for heritage buildings in the city - for their protection as designated heritage buildings, for their maintenance, restoration, and long-term revitalization. Recently, some of the success stories in heritage advocacy in Winnipeg include the Fortune and Macdonald block on Main Street, currently being restored to their former glory; Kinsmen Sherbrook Pool, which finished its $2.7M renovations in 2017 and participated in Doors Open 2018; and our 2018 Heritage Winnipeg Conservation Award winners: Manitoba Legislative Chambers, the Inglis Building, former William E. Milner House, Leatherdale Hall addition, and the Confederation Life Building. It's so gratifying to see these buildings taken care of and being given new uses the way they deserve to be, which is not only good conservation but sustainable as well.

Heritage Winnipeg has been raising a few concerns with the city in regards to the former Carnegie Library. What happened to the insurance money and was it used for repairing the damages sustained? Why did the City of Winnipeg not repair the building and relocate the archives back there? What happened to the monies originally earmarked for further rehabilitation? Does the city plan to sell the building if they are not committed to returning the archives?

These questions are critical to hold the current Mayor and City Councillors accountable for their decisions that will impact future generations. Now on election year, let our local politicians know that this is worth saving, to not make the misguided and regressive decision to let a national treasure sit vacant and derelict, just as past elected officials have done!

Help Heritage Winnipeg in our advocacy efforts - Let us know if the Carnegie Library is important to you, by emailing us at Public support is a powerful force - let your councillor know if the Carnegie Library has your vote!

Written by Natassja Brien for Heritage Winnipeg

With files from Heritage Winnipeg Resource Centre


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