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Friday, December 22, 2017


British Columbia became the second province to pass an act allowing local governments to establish free libraries in 1891. Generally, municipal conditions were different in B.C. compared to its eastern counterpart, Ontario. There were only a handful of cities and towns able to fund and maintain libraries adequately: the total population of the province in 1891 was 98,173 and Vancouver, with 13,709 people, was the largest city. But libraries in a variety of forms--subscription, mechanics' institutes, literary societies, and commercial circulating libraries--had existed for many years in different localities such as Vancouver, Victoria, and New Westminster.

Consequently, legislation was introduced in March 1891 that enabled a local council that had received a petition from 100 electors to submit the issue to be voted upon by ratepayers and, if successful, for council to pass a bylaw establishing a free library which might also include a free news-room, or museum, branches, as well as evening classes for artisans, mechanics and workingmen to promote mechanical and manufacturing arts. Essential features of this Act (54 Vic. chap 20) were similar to Ontario's 1882 legislation:
  • a board of management composed of the mayor or reeve of a municipality, and three other persons appointed by the council, and three by the public school board (or the board of education) governed the operations of the library;
  •  councils were mandated to levy a "Free Library Rate," a special annual rate not to exceed one half a mill upon the assessed value of all rateable real property to furnish the estimated budget submitted by the library board each year.;
  • all libraries, news-rooms, and museums were to be open to the public, free of all charge;
  •  mechanics' institute and library associations were authorized to transfer property and assets to a municipality for the purpose of the Act;
  • municipal councils were authorized to raise by a special issue of debentures (termed the "Free Library Debentures") amounts required for purchasing and erecting buildings and, in the first instance, for obtaining books and other things required to establish a library.
For the most part, British Columbia's legislation followed Ontario's law; however, one distinctive clause included in the B.C. Act permitted boards to conduct evening classes and to appoint and dismiss salaried teachers or instructors.

B.C.'s library act was primarily aimed at larger urban centres in a developing province. There was no provision for establishing libraries in the rural districts and no provincial financial or organizational assistance provided to undertake such work. The beneficiaries of the 1891 legislation were communities that had previously struggled to establish a public library by various means: Vancouver, Victoria, and New Westminster. In Victoria, for example, a public referendum had been held in 1887 to transfer the assets of the Mechanics' Literary Institute to the city for the purposes of establishing a public library. Vancouver's city council had begun granting small amounts for a public library earlier in 1889. New Westminster had provided accommodation in a central building for its library in 1890. Now these communities were eligible for an annual library rate. As well, there was a major unanticipated benefit to the 1891 legislation. A decade later, when Carnegie money became available for free public libraries, all three communities automatically were eligible for a grant to erect a new building.

The 1891 Act marked another late Victorian Canadian milestone in the recognition of free libraries--how to establish and administer a library, what services would be provided, and how operations would be financed. The Act would remain in place until a complete revision was undertaken in 1919.

Further reading on B.C.'s Carnegie library heritage:

Vancouver, 1903:  now the Carnegie Centre
Victoria, 1906:  opened at the at the corner of Yates and Blanshard Streets

Monday, December 04, 2017


The 1880s were a critical turning point for free library legislation in Canada. Ontario was not alone in enacting legislation for free public libraries, that is, library service owned and funded by a local government accessible to local residents without charge at the point of service. Unlike Ontario, however, in the Maritime provinces specific legislation for the establishment of a free public library was the typical method chosen by Legislatures. Saint John became the earliest incorporated library to assume this course in 1883.

In the nineteenth century, Saint John was served by various subscription-membership libraries, notably the St. John Mechanics' Institute, in operation from 1839-90, and the St. John Society Library, in operation from 1811-69. Agitation for a free library, similar to the Toronto experience, began as early as the late 1870s. The success of a project which secured more than 2,000 books for a free library led to the appointment of a city commission in 1880 charged with forming a free library. After accommodation in the city's central market building was secured, the library eventually opened on 13 June 1883.

A month before, on May 3rd, a provincial act had established the library's legal basis. This Act allowed for appointment by city council of a nine-person board of commissioners to manage the library. The law allowed city council to assess $500 per annum for the library maintenance (this trifling amount was raised to $2,500 by an 1890 amendment). One article authorized council to appoint women as commissioners, not to exceed four in number. In fact, a committee entirely composed of ladies had been instrumental in helping raise funds to create the library before 1883 and it continued to assist in this way after the library opened. Each year, the library was required to submit an annual report to council; in effect, the library board was a semi-independent body within local government.

The act for St. John was singular in nature, shorter, and different from the Ontario enabling law of 1882. For example, it did not have a specified rate clause; it did not stipulate that commissioners could operate branches or newsrooms; it formally provided for bequests and gifts to be held by the library for its own use; it did not authorize appointments by school boards; and it did not enable the transfer of property by a mechanics' institute. Because of the circumstances leading to the library's foundation, there was no need for electors to vote on establishing the library.

Although the St. John law did not serve as a model for other communities in New Brunswick (or Nova Scotia), it did demonstrate an interest in the formation of Canadian free libraries at the local level by means of public statutes, a concept that was repeated in British Columbia (1891) and Manitoba (1899) before the end of the 19th century. The principle of local municipal appropriations, however, was emulated later in separate acts for free public libraries at Woodstock in 1912 and Moncton in 1927 before a general New Brunswick library was enacted in 1929.


An Act to establish a Free Public Library in the City of Saint John.

1 City Council to appoint Board of Commissioners.
2 Commissioners incorporated.
3 Continuance and succession of Commissioners; proviso.
4 After organization, property to vest in Commissioners.
5 Powers and duties of Commissioners.
6 Commissioners to make bye laws.
7 Females may be appointed to Board of Commissioners, proviso.
8 Vacancy in Board, how filled.
9 Report of receipts and expenditure to be made to Council annually.
10 City Council to order an annual assessment.
11 Assessment, to whom paid, and how applied.
Passed 3rd May 1883.

WHEREAS a number of persons have made large and valuable gifts of Books and Records, and also contributions in money, for the purpose of founding in the City of Saint John a Free Public Library, and it is desirable that a corporate body should be constituted for the management and continuance thereof;—
Be it enacted by the Lieutenant Governor, Legislative Council, and Assembly, as follows:—

1. It shall be the duty of the Common Council of the City of Saint John within sixty days after the passing of this Act to appoint a Board of nine persons, to be Commissioners for the management of a Free Public Library in the City of Saint John.

2. The persons so appointed by the Common Council shall, upon acceptance of the office, constitute and be the Board of Commissioners of the Free Public Library, and they and their successors are hereby constituted a body corporate by the name of “The Commissioners of the Free Public Library of the City of Saint John,” and by that name shall have the general powers and privileges by law incident to Corporations.

3. The continuance and succession of the said Corporation shall be as follows:—Upon the first day of June in each year after the year of the passing of this Act, two of such persons so appointed shall retire from the Board, in the order hereinafter in this Section prescribed, and two persons shall be annually appointed by the Common Council to fill the vacancies so made: The two persons last and eighth named upon the first appointment shall first retire, and in the next succeeding year the seventh and sixth named in the first appointment shall retire; and in the then next year the fifth and fourth; and in the next year the third and second; and the next year the first named in the first appointment shall retire, and also the first in seniority who may have been appointed to fill the first vacancy by retirement; and thereafter two persons in each year shall retire in the order of seniority of appointment or re-appointment; provided that the Common Council may in their discretion re-appoint any person or persons so retiring: Three Commissioners shall constitute a quorum, and shall be at all times a sufficient number for the legal continuance of the Corporate body.

4. Upon the organization of the Board of Commissioners under this Act, all books, records, moneys and other property now held by certain Trustees heretofore appointed by the Common Council to receive and hold such property, shall vest in the said Corporation constituted under this Act; and upon delivery thereof to the said Corporation, the Trustees shall be and thereupon are hereby discharged of all further responsibility, and relieved of all trusts and duties relating thereto.

5. The said Corporation constituted under this Act shall have full power to take and hold all books and other property coming into their hands for the purposes of this Act, and to receive and take all gifts, bequests and grants of money or chattels of any description, to be held by them for the purposes of this Act.

6. The said Corporation shall have full power and authority from time to time to make and ordain bye laws not contrary to law, for the management and control of the property held by them and the appointment of their officers; and to establish rules and regulations for the care and use of the books and other chattels for the maintenance of a Free Public Library.

7. In the first or any subsequent appointment under this Act, it shall be lawful for the Common Council in their discretion to appoint any female or females on the Board of Commissioners; provided that the female members at such Board shall not at any time exceed four in number.

8. Whenever any vacancy occurs in the Board of Commissioners by death or resignation, such vacancy shall be reported by the Board to the Common Council, who shall proceed to fill such vacancy by the appointment of another Commissioner, who shall hold office for the residue of the term of the person whose place he fills.

9. The Corporation constituted under this Act shall make an annual Report to the Common Council, with a statement of receipts and expenditures.

10. It shall be the duty of the Mayor, Aldermen and Commonalty of the City of Saint John in Common Council, in every year after the present year from and after the passing of this Act, and they are hereby authorized and empowered to order and direct an assessment upon the whole City of Saint John and the inhabitants thereof, in addition to the yearly assessment for other civic purposes, for the sum of five hundred dollars besides the costs of levying and collecting the same, to be assessed, levied and collected at the time of levying and collecting other City rates, and therewith and in the manner provided by The Saint John City Assessment Act 1882, or any other Act for the time being in force relating to the levying, assessing and collecting of rates and taxes in the City of Saint John.

11. The moneys so assessed and collected under the last preceding Section of this Act shall be paid to and received by the Chamberlain of the City of Saint John, and shall be by him paid over as collected to the Commissioners of the Free Public Library in aid of the expenses of management of such Public Library.

Thursday, November 30, 2017


The first province-wide legislation to establish free public libraries in Canadian cities, towns, and villages was enacted in Ontario in 1882 (Ontario Statutes, 1882, chap. 22). These libraries were available to municipal residents at the point of entry without direct charge and were financed primarily by local tax revenue. The Ontario Act exemplified Victorian liberal-democratic ideas about local control, municipal taxation, and public access. To begin the process, a petition approved by ratepayers in a municipal election was required prior to formation of a library board by council bylaw--in effect, boards were created by popular assent. Second, three elective bodies normally shared board appointments: the municipal council and the public- and separate- school authorities. In theory, this practice helped safeguard library boards from sectarian and party interests. Third, appointments were for limited two- or three-year periods on an overlapping arrangement to allow for continuity, an important planning consideration at a time when municipal terms of office were usually only one year in length. Finally, the library board was entitled by law to levy a modest ‘Public Library Rate’—originally a maximum one-half mill on taxable assessment—and was obligated to submit its yearly estimates to council for approval. With an eye to the future, article 10 of the Act permitted the managers of local Mechanics' Institutes or Library Associations to transfer property to a municipality for the purposes of establishing a free public library. After Guelph citizens voted to establish a free library in January 1883 (officially founded on 10 February), the Mechanics' Institute became the first to transfer its holdings to the newly established Guelph Free Public Library on 15 March 1883.

The adoption of permissive legislation that specified semi-independent, appointed board status, secure (but modest) funding, and free access for local residents served Ontario reasonably well for decades. The law satisfied the liberal-democratic belief that libraries generally were educative institutions and the conservative (or elitist) preference for non-elective offices in which ‘prominent persons’ could exercise some form of direction in local government. The Ontario 1882 Act became a very influential model for subsequent legislation in western provinces: BC (1891), Manitoba (1899), Saskatchewan (1906), and Alberta (1907). In Ontario itself, the legislation was revised many times in the following eighty years and completely revamped in 1966 by a new Public Libraries Act to address the realities of rural library service and changing political realities in provincial and local government.

This general provincial act was, of course, permissive legislation allowing municipalities to establish free public libraries. Citizens in local communities were required to circulate petitions and submit the issue in local municipal elections. Nonetheless, the mandated principle stipulated in article 9 --  "All libraries, news-rooms, and museums established under this Act shall be open to the public, free of all charge"  -- would subsequently become a centerpiece for promotion of public library service in Canada.

The re-quoted Act follows:


An Act to provide for the establishment of Free Libraries

[Assented to 10th March, 1882.]

HER MAJESTY, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario, enacts as follows:–

Short title
1. This Act may be cited as "The Free Libraries Act, 1882."

Establishment of free libraries
2. A free library may be established in any city, town, or incorporated village, in manner hereinafter provided.
(2) Where a free library is so established, there may, without any proceedings for the purpose under this Act, be connected with the library, a free news-room, or museum, or both; and there may be established a branch library, or branch libraries, and a branch news-room, or branch news-rooms, in the municipality.
(3) In case a petition is presented to the Council of a city, town, or incorporated village, signed by not less than one hundred electors in the case of a city, or not less than sixty in the case of a town, or not less than thirty in the case of an incorporated village, praying for the establishment of a free library under this Act; the council may pass a by-law giving effect to the petition, with the assent of the electors qualified to vote at municipal elections given before the final passing of the by-law as provided by the Municipal Law.
(4) In case the vote of the electors is adverse to the by-law, no new by-law for the same purpose shall afterwards be passed by the Council, to be submitted to the electors within the same municipal year.

Appointment of Board of Management
3. In case of the establishment of a Free Library under this Act, the general management, regulation and control of the library, and of the news-room and museum (if any) shall be vested in and exercised by a Board to be called the Board of Management; which Board shall be a body politic and corporate, and shall be composed of the mayor of the city or town, or the reeve of the village, and three other persons to be appointed by the Council, three by the Public School Board, or the Board of Education, of the municipality, and two by the Trustees of the Separate School, if any.
(2) No person who is a member of the body entitled to appoint shall be qualified to be a member of the Board of Management.
(3) Of the representatives appointed by the Council, and the Public School Board, or Board of Education and Separate School Trustees, respectively, one shall retire annually, but may be re-appointed.
(4) Of the three members first appointed by the Council, and Public School Board, or Board of Education respectively, one shall hold office until the first day of February after his appointment, one until the first day of February in the following year, and one until the same day in the year next thereafter; and of the two members first appointed by the Separate School Trustees, one shall hold office until the first day of February after his appointment, and one until the first day of February of the following year, but every member of the Board of Management shall continue in office after the time named until his successor is appointed.
(5) In case of a vacancy by the death or resignation of a member, or from any cause other than the expiration of the time for which he was appointed, the member appointed in his place shall hold office for the remainder of his term.
(6) Subject to these provisions, each of the members appointed by the Council, or Public School Board, or Board of Education, shall hold office for three years from the first day of February in the year in which he is appointed; and each of the members appointed by Separate School Trustees, for two years from the first day of February in the year in which he is appointed.
(7) The first appointment of members of the said Board shall be made at the first meeting of the appointing Council or Board, after the final passing of the by-law. The annual appointments thereafter shall be made at the first meeting of the appointing Council or Board, after the first day of January in every year; and any vacancy arising from any cause, other than the expiration of the time for which the member was appointed, shall be filled at the first meeting thereafter of the appointing Council or Board. But if for any reason appointments are not made at the said dates, the same shall be made as soon as may be thereafter.
(8) The Board of Management shall elect one of their number as chairman, who shall hold office for one year; he shall preside at meetings of the Board when present; in his absence a chairman may be chosen pro tem. The chairman shall have the same right of voting as the other members of the Board, and no other.
(9) The Board shall meet at least once every calendar month, and at such other times as they may think fit.
(10) The chairman or any two members may summon a special meeting of the Board by giving at least two days' notice in writing to each member, specifying the purpose for which the meeting is called.
(11) No business shall be transacted at any general or special meeting unless four members are present.
(12) All orders and proceedings of the Board shall be entered in books to be kept by them for that purpose, and shall be signed by the chairman for the time being.
(13) The orders and proceedings so entered and purporting to be so signed, shall be deemed to be original orders and proceedings, and (such books) may be produced and read as evidence (of the orders and proceedings) upon any judicial proceeding whatsoever.

Duties of Board
4. Subject to the restrictions and provisions hereinafter contained, the Board are, from time to time, to procure, erect, or rent the necessary buildings for the purposes of the library or of the library, news-room and museum (as the case may be); to purchase books, newspapers, reviews, magazines, maps and specimens of art and science, for the use of the library, news-room and museum, and to do all things necessary for keeping the same in a proper state of preservation and repair; and to purchase and provide the necessary fuel, lighting, and in other similar matters; and are to appoint and dismiss, as they see occasion, the salaried officers and servants employed.

Board may make by-laws respecting use of library
5. The Board may make by-laws or rules for the safety and use of the library, news-room, and museum, and for the admission of the public thereto; and for regulating all other matters and things whatsoever connected with the management of the library and of the news-room and museum (if any), and with the management of all property of every kind under their control for the purposes of this Act; and the Board may impose penalties for breaches of the by-laws or rules, not exceeding ten dollars for any offence; and may from time to time repeal, alter, vary, or re-enact any such by-laws or rules.
(2) After any such by-laws or rules have been published weekly for at least two weeks in a newspaper published in the municipality, or in a newspaper circulated therein if no newspaper is published therein, the by-laws and rules so published shall be binding on all parties concerned; but any judge or magistrate, before whom a penalty imposed thereby is sought to be recovered, may order a part only of such penalty to be paid, if he thinks fit.
(3) Nothing herein contained shall preclude the recovery of the value of articles or things damaged, or the amount of damage sustained, from parties liable for the same.

Board to make yearly estimates
6. The Board of Management shall, in the month of March in every year, make up or cause to be made up, an estimate of the sums required to pay, during the ensuing financial year:
The interest of any money borrowed as hereinafter mentioned;
The amount of the sinking fund; and
The expense of maintaining and managing the libraries,
           news-rooms or museums under their control, and
           of making the purchases required therefor.

(2) The Board shall report their estimate to the council not later than the first day of April in each year.

Board to keep regular accounts
7. The Board of Management shall keep distinct and regular accounts of their receipts, payments, credits and liabilities, and the accounts shall be audited by the auditors of the municipality, in like manner as other accounts of the municipality, and shall thereafter be laid before the Council by the Board of Management.

Special rate for library purposes
8. For the purpose of providing for the expenses necessary for carrying this Act into effect, the council of the municipality, in addition to all other rates and assessments levied and assessed for municipal purposes, shall levy and assess from year to year a special annual rate sufficient to furnish the amount estimated by the said Board to be required as aforesaid, but not exceeding one half of a mill in the dollar, upon the assessed value of all ratable real and personal property, such rate to be called "The Free Library Rate."
(2) The council may also, subject as hereinafter provided, on the requisition of the Board of Management, raise by a special issue of debentures of the municipality, to be termed "Free Library Debentures," such sums as may be required for the purpose of purchasing and erecting the necessary buildings, and, in the first instance, for obtaining books and other things required.
(3) During the currency of the debentures so issued the council shall withhold, and retain as a first charge on the said annual rate, such amount as shall be required to meet the annual interest of the debentures, and a sinking fund for the retirement thereof as the debentures become due, such sinking fund to be invested and dealt with as in the case of other municipal debentures.
(4) All moneys levied or raised as aforesaid shall be received by the treasurer of the municipality in the same manner as other municipal funds, and be paid out by him on the orders of the Board; save as to the amount required to meet the interest and provide a sinking fund for debentures issued as aforesaid.
(5) It shall not be necessary to submit to the electors a by-law authorizing the issue of debentures, provided the annual sum required to meet the annual interest and sinking fund do not, with a reasonable allowance for annual expenses, exceed the said limit of half a mill in the dollar.

Admission to be free
9. All libraries, news-rooms, and museums established under this Act shall be open to the public, free of all charge.

Mechanics' Institutes may transfer property to corporation of municipality for the purposes of this Act
10. At any time after the adoption of this Act in any municipality, any Mechanics' Institute or Library Association in the municipality may by agreement with the Board transfer to the corporation of the municipality, for the purposes of this Act, all or any property, real or personal, of the Institute or Association; but any transfer which, but for this section, the Institute or Association would not have authority to make, shall only be made in the manner provided by the Act respecting, the power of Mechanics' Institutes and Library Associations to deal with their real estate (42 Vic., cap. 29).
(2) In case the transfer is to be made on terms involving the assumption of any liability of the Institute or Association, or the payment of any money in consideration of the transfer, the agreement shall not be binding, unless approved of and consented to by by-law of the municipal council.

Act to be incorporated with Municipal and Assessment Acts
11. Upon the coming into operation of this Act in any municipality, it shall, as regards such municipality, be deemed to be incorporated with the Municipal and Assessment Acts from time to time affecting such municipality.

12. The forms in the schedule hereto may be used for the purposes of this Act, or any forms to the like effect and the recitals contained in the said forms shall be deemed sufficient, any provisions in the Municipal Act to the contrary notwithstanding. 



To the Municipal Council of
    We, the undersigned electors of the said city of                                                                               [or as the case may be], respectfully pray that a Free Library may be established in this municipality under the Free Libraries Act, 1882.


A By-law to provide for the establishment of a Free Library in the city of                                                 [or as the case may be].
    Whereas              electors have petitioned the council of the said city of                                     [or as the case may be], praying for the establishment of a Free Library under the Free Libraries Act, 1882;
    Be it therefore enacted by the said Municipal Council of the said city of                                      [or as the case may be] that, in case the assent of the electors is given to this By-law, a Free Library be established in this municipality in accordance with the provisions of the Free Libraries Act, 1882.
    And be it further enacted that the votes of the electors be taken on this By-law on                             the                            day of                              , 18       , commencing at nine o'clock in the morning and continuing until five o'clock in the afternoon, at the under-mentioned places : [Here insert (1) the ward; (2) the polling sub-division; (3) the place for holding the poll and the name of the Deputy Returning Officer.
    That on the                          day of                    next, at his office in the                      , at              o'clock in the           noon, the                                    [Mayor, Reeve, or as the case may be] shall appoint in writing, signed by him, two persons to attend to the final summing up of the votes by the Clerk,  and one person to attend at each polling place on behalf of the persons interested in and desirous of promoting the passing of this By-Law, and a like number on behalf of the persons interested in and desirous of opposing the passage of this By-law.

     That the Clerk of the said Municipal Corporation shall attend at the                       at the hour of                o'clock in the                noon, on the day of                  , 18        , to sum up the number of votes given for or against the By-law.
Notice by Clerk.
    The above is a true copy of a proposed By-law which will be taken into consideration by the Council of                        after one month from the                           day of                            , 18      , being the date of the first publication thereof, and the polls for taking the votes of the electors will be held at the hour, day and places named in the said By-law.


 A By-law authorizing the issue of debentures for the purposes of a Free library.

     Whereas a By-Law of the Municipal Council of the city of                                               [or as the case may be] , was passed on the                          day of                                     establishing a Free Library in this municipality under the Free Libraries Act, 1882;
     And whereas a sum of  $                is required for the purposes of acquiring a site, erecting buildings, etc. [as the case may be], for the said Free Library, as appears by the special estimate for that purpose furnished by the Board of Management to the Council;
     And whereas it will require the sum of                  annually for a period of                          years, to pay the interest of the said debt, and the sum of $                      annually during the said period for the forming of a sinking fund of                                  per centum per annum for the payment of the debt created by this By-Law, making in all the sum of                                    annually as aforesaid ;
     And whereas it is necessary that such annual sum of                         shall in each year during the said period of years be charged on the special rate mentioned in the eighth section of the said Act.
     Be it therefore enacted by the said Municipal Council of the said city [or as the case may be] of                                    [or as the case may be], pursuant to the provisions of the Free Libraries. Act, 1882.
      That the Mayor [or as the case may be], of the said municipality may borrow on the credit of the said annual Library rate as aforesaid,  and may issue Free Library Debentures of the corporation to that amount in sums of not less than  $100 each, and payable within                     years from the date thereof, with interest at the rate of                             per centum per annum, that is to say in [insert the manner of payment, whether in annual payments or otherwise], such debentures to be payable at                              and to have attached to them coupons for the payment of interest.
     That during                        years, the sum of                          shall be raised and retained annually for the payment of interest on said debentures, and also the sum of                       for the purpose of forming a sinking fund of                     per centum per annum for the payment of the principal of the said loan of                                in               years, making in all the sum of                              to be raised and charged annually as aforesaid on the special Library rate unless the said debentures shall be sooner paid, for the purpose of paying the said sum of                          , with interest thereon as aforesaid.

No.                                                        Province of Ontario.                        $                  
[Name of Municipality.]

    Under and by virtue of the Free Libraries Act, 1882, and of By-law No.        of the Corporation of                        passed under the powers in said Act contained,
     The Corporation of                            promise to pay the bearer or                            in                    the sum of  $                                  on the                            day of                       A.D.                            and the half yearly coupons hereto attached as the same shall severally become due.
              [L.S.]                                                                                A. B.
                                                                                    Mayor [or as the case may be].

Friday, November 03, 2017


By the middle of the 19th century in the Province of Canada (present day Ontario and Quebec) many local groups had formed library associations and mechanics' institutes. A few organizations, such as the Toronto Mechanics' Institute, Quebec Library, or the Montreal Mercantile Library Association, were incorporated under separate laws in the 1840s. Legislators recognized the need to provide general public legislation regulating the establishment, holdings, and activities of dozens of existing and potential new subscription/membership organizations. Robert Bell, the MP for Lanark (Ontario), introduced a Bill to facilitate the formation of institutes and library associations in the 3rd Parliament of the United Provinces in summer 1851. The Act did not stipulate public funding, however, legislative grants were made to dozens of institutes and associations (as well as combinations of both) each year until 1858 when funding ceased due to an economic downturn.

The 1851 legislation continued in force after Confederation in Ontario and Quebec under Chapter 86 of the Consolidated Statutes of Canada, 1859. The law was important because it fortified the concept that a "public library" could one that was accessible to all residents of a community, but not generally free because it required voluntary personal payments. This type of public library formation was readily accepted by the mid-19th century in British North America. The Act served as a guide for other provincial jurisdictions to formalize library development. Nova Scotia passed a similar law, ‘An Act Respecting Library Associations and Institutes,’ on 18 April 1872, as did British Columbia on 24 February 1871, ‘An Act Respecting Literary Societies and Mechanics’ Institutes.’ Association Libraries would coexist into the Twentieth Century alongside Free Libraries--ones supported with municipal taxation and not requiring membership fees at the entrance point.

The 1851 Act was 'enabling legislation' which became the basic foundation for general provincial public library acts in post-Confederation Canada. The 1851 law (and subsequent similar provincial acts) contained influential ideas about public libraries. It recognized that a public library would be available to persons through voluntary decisions, not mandated legal provisions. It established that libraries would be governed by local boards of trustees independent from control by municipal politicians, a ‘special purpose body’ in public administrative terminology. Further, it provided public recognition of libraries as incorporated bodies through public legislation, thereby creating the opportunity for provincial grants in the public interest that supplemented local fundraising efforts. Consequently, hundreds of library associations and mechanics' institutes were formed and continued in provincial legislation into the 20th century.

The re-quoted 1851 text follows:

1851—14 & 15 VICTORIAE, CHAPTER 86

An Act to provide for the incorporation and better Management of Library Associations and Mechanics' Institutes

                                                                                           [30th August, 1851]

WHEREAS it is expedient to encourage the establishment of Library Associations and Mechanics' Institutes, and for that purpose to provide for the incorporation of such Institutions, and to grant them certain powers enabling them better to protect their property and manage their affairs: Be it therefore enacted by the Queen's Most Excellent Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada, constituted and assembled by virtue of and under the authority of an Act passed in the Parliament of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and intituled, An Act to re-unite the Province of Upper and Lower Canada, and for the Government of Canada, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That any number of persons, not less than ten, having subscribed, or holding together not less than Twenty-five Pounds in money or money's worth, for the use of their intended Institution, may make and sign a Declaration (in duplicate) of their intention to establish a Library Association or a Mechanics' Institute, or both, (as the case may be,) at some place to be named in such Declaration, in which they shall also state the corporate name of the Institution, its purpose, the amount of money or money's worth subscribed by them respectively, or held by them for the use thereof, the names of those who are to be the first Trustees for managing its affairs, and the mode in which their successors are to be appointed, or new Members of the Corporation admitted, or in which Bye-laws are to be made for such appointment or admission, or for any other purpose, or for all purposes, and generally such other particulars and provisions as they may think necessary, not being contrary to this Act or to Law: or in case of a Mechanics' Institute or Library Association (or both united) already established or in existence, then, that the Directors, Trustees or the Office Bearers and Committee thereof for the time being, may make and sign a Declaration as aforesaid, of their wish or determination to become incorporated, according to the provisions of this Act, stating in such Declaration the Corporate Name to be assumed by such Institution or United Institutions,—and also with such Declaration, to file in the manner hereinafter provided, a copy of the Constitution and Bye-laws of such Institution and or United Institutions, together with a general statement of the nature and amount of all the property, real or personal, held by or in trust for such Institution or United Institutions: and one duplicate of such Declaration shall then be filed in the Office of the Registrar of Deeds for the County by one of the subscribing parties, who shall, before such Registrar, acknowledge the execution thereof by himself, and declare the same to have been executed by the other parties thereto, either in person or by their Attorneys; and the Registrar shall then keep one of the said duplicates, and deliver the other to the person filing the same, with a Certificate of the same having been so filed, and the execution attested before him, and such duplicate, or any copy thereof certified by such Registrar, shall be primâ facie evidence of the facts alledged in such Declaration and Certificate.

  II. And be it enacted, That when the formalities aforesaid have been complied with, the persons having signed such Declaration as aforesaid, or the Directors, Trustees or the Office Bearers and Committee for the time being, of any such Institution or United Institutions now established or in existence as aforesaid, and their successors, shall be a body corporate and politic, and shall have the powers, rights and immunities, vested in such bodies under the Interpretation Act and by Law, with power to such Corporation, in their corporate name, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, to have, take, acquire, hold, possess and enjoy to them, and to their successors, to and for the uses and purposes of such Corporation, any messuages, lands, tenements or hereditaments, of what nature or kind soever, situate within this Province; but the yearly value of the real property to be held by any such Corporation, shall never exceed One Hundred Pounds currency.

   III. And be it enacted, That the affairs of such Corporation shall be managed by the Directors or Trustees thereof for the time then being, appointed as hereinafter, or by any By-law of such Corporation provided, who, or a majority of whom, shall have full power to exercise all the powers of the Corporation, and to act in its name and on its behalf, and to use its Seal, subject always to any provisions limiting the exercise of such powers in the Declaration aforesaid, or in any By-law of the Corporation; and such Trustees, or a majority of them, shall have power to make By-laws binding the Members and Officers thereof, and such others as shall agree to be bound by them, for all purposes relative to the affairs and business of the Corporation, except as to matters touching which it is provided by the Declaration aforesaid, that By-laws shall be made in some other manner.

   IV. And be it enacted, That the Members of such Corporation, at their Annual Meeting, to be held on such day as may be provided by any By-law of the said Corporation, may choose from among themselves a President, and may appoint (except in so far as it may be otherwise provided in the Declaration or By-laws) a Librarian, Treasurer, Secretary, Lecturer, and such other Officers and servants of the Corporation as they may think necessary, and fix and pay their remuneration; and also a Board of Directors or Trustees of such Corporation, who shall hold office for one year, or such further time as may be hereinafter limited or permitted.

   V. And be it enacted, That a failure to elect Trustees on any day appointed for that purpose by the Declaration aforesaid, or by any By-laws, shall not operate the dissolution of the Corporation, but the Trustees then in office shall remain in office until their successors are elected, which they may be (if no other provision be made therefor by the Declaration or By-laws) at any Meeting of the Members of the Corporation at which a majority of such Members shall be present, in whatever way such

   VI. And be it enacted, That any such Corporation shall have power by its By-laws to impose a fine not exceeding One Pound, on any Member contravening the same, or on any person not being a Member of the Corporation, who shall in writing have agreed to obey the By-law for the contravention whereof it is imposed; and any such fine, if incurred, and any subscription or other sum of money which any Member or other person may have agreed to pay to the said Corporation, for his subscription to the funds of the Corporation for any certain time, or for the loan of any book or instrument, or for the right of entry to the rooms of the Corporation, or of attending any lectures, or for any other privilege or advantage afforded him by such Corporation, may be recovered by the Corporation by action in any Court having jurisdiction in civil matters to the amount, on allegation and proof of the signature of defendant to some writing by which he shall have undertaken to pay such subscription, or to obey such By-law, and of this breach of such undertaking, which breach shall be presumed until the contrary be shewn, as regards any promise to pay any sum of money, and may be proved by the oath of any one credible witness, as regards the contravention of any such By-law; and in any such action, or any other to which such Corporation may be a party, any Member or Officer of the Corporation shall be a competent witness, and any copy of any By-law bearing the signature of the defendant, or bearing the Seal of the Corporation, and the signature of some person purporting to have affixed any such Seal by authority of the Corporation, shall be primâ facie evidence of such By-law; and all fines so recovered shall belong to the Corporation for the use thereof.

   VII. And be it enacted, That any such Corporation may,  if it be so stated in the said Declaration, be at the same time a Mechanics'  Institute or a Library  Association,  or either of them, and their business shall accordingly be the ordinary and usual business of a  Mechanics'  Institute or of a Library Association,  or both,  as the case may be,  and no other,  but may embrace all things necessary and useful for the proper and convenient carrying on of such business;  and their funds and property shall be appropriated and used for purposes legitimately appertaining to such business,  and for no other.

   VIII. And be it enacted, That if it be provided in such Declaration as aforesaid, or by the By-laws of the Corporation, that the shares of the Members, or of any class of Members, in the property of the Corporation, shall be transferable, then they shall be transferable accordingly, in such way, and subject to such conditions, as shall be mentioned in such Declaration, or in the By-laws of the Corporation, if by such Declaration, such transfers are to be regulated by them; and all such shares shall be personal property, and by such Declaration of By-laws provision may be made for the forfeiture of such shares in cases to be therein named, or for preventing the transfer thereof to others than persons of some certain description, or resident within some certain locality.

   IX. And be it enacted, That provision may be made for the dissolution of such Corporation, by the Declaration aforesaid, or it may be therein provided, that such provision may be made by the By-laws of the Corporation to be hereafter passed: Provided that no such dissolution shall take place until all the liabilities of the Corporation are discharged.

   X. And be it enacted, That nothing in this Act contained shall prevent any Mechanics' Institute or Library Association (or both united) from being and becoming incorporated by a separate Act of Parliament, as if this Act had not been passed; nor shall this Act be held in any way to affect or extend to any Mechanics' Institute, or Library Association already incorporated.

Five years after its passage, the 1851 Act was amended to allow local boards of management to hold property of value up to £500. The amended act, which applied to Canada West (Ontario) and Canada East (Quebec)  follows:


An Act to amend the Act for incorporating Library Associations and Mechanics' Institutes.

                                                                                       [Assented to 19th June, 1856]

WHEREAS it is expedient to amend the second section of the Act passed in the session held in the fourteenth and fifteenth years of Her Majesty's Reign, and intituled, An Act for the incorporation and better management of Library Associations and Mechanics' Institutes, so as to enable such institutions in certain towns and villages to hold property to a larger amount than the sum therein limited: Therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Assembly of Canada, enacts as follows:

  I. From and after the passing of this Act, it shall be lawful for any Library Association or Mechanics' Institute incorporated under the said Act, and situate in any village or town having of more than three thousand inhabitants or more, to hold real property not exceeding in annual value the sum of five hundred pounds; and for any Library Association or Mechanics' Institute incorporated under the said Act, and situate in any town or city not having more than three thousand inhabitants, to hold real property not exceeding in annual value the sum of two hundred and fifty pounds; any thing in the said section to the contrary notwithstanding.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


My article on public library legislation that was not passed by legislators of the United Canadas in 1866. Originally published in Ex Libris Association Newsletter 44 (Fall 2008): 10-13. The bill's sponsor, Alexander Morris, was a Liberal-Conservative member for the riding of Lanark South (Canada West) in the Legislative Assembly. The text of Morris' 1866 bill, discharged in August 1866 at the end of the Province of Canada's 8th Parliament (1863-66), is included at the end. Morris supported the concept of free public libraries but also allowed a role for potential donors to contribute to the support and management of  local libraries.

Bill: An Act to Authorize the Formation of Free Libraries
[Mr. Alexander Morris]
[read a second time on 7 August 1866 and then discharged]

Whereas it is expedient to grant facilities for the establishment of Free Public Libraries; Therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Council and Assembly of Canada, enacts as follows
1. The Mayor of the Municipality of any City, or Town, in Canada containing by the Census made next before the Meeting mentioned in this Section, not fewer than five thousand inhabitants, or any two Justices of the Peace for the locality embracing such City, or Town, but resident in such City, or Town, each possessed of Real Estate in such City, or Town, assessed at the value of   , may at any time call a Public Meeting of the owners of Real Estate in the said City, or Town, in order to determine whether this Act shall be used and adopted with a view to the forming and maintaining a Free Public Library in such City, or Town, and ten days' notice at least of the time, place and object of the Meeting shall be given by advertising the said Meeting in at least one Newspaper published in such City, or Town, for at least ten days preceding the day appointed for the Meeting; and, if at any such Meeting two-thirds of the said Owners of Real Estate present at such Meeting so determine, then this Act shall forthwith be used, adopted and acted upon.  
2. If any Meeting so called, as aforesaid, to determine whether this Act shall be used, or adopted, shall determine in the negative, then no Meeting for a similar purpose shall be held for the space of one year, at least, from the time of holding the previous Meeting.  
3. Whenever any such Meeting shall be convened the Mayor, or, in his absence, the said Justice of the Peace present at such Meeting, shall preside, and shall make, or cause to be made, a Minute of the Resolutions passed at such Meeting, and shall sign the same; and the said Minute shall then be deposited in the Office of the Registrar of the County, or Registration division within which the said City, or Town, may be, by the Chairman of the said Meeting, who shall make oath as to the authenticity of such Minute, before the said Registrar, and the Resolutions, so signed, shall be conclusive evidence that the Meeting was duly convened, and the vote thereat duly taken, and that the Minute contains a true account of the proceedings at the said Meeting.  
4. The said Minute and affidavit shall continue and remain in the keep­ing of the said Registrar, who shall give certified copies of the same to any one requiring them, on payment of a fee of one dollar, and any copy so certified shall be primâ facie evidence of the contents of the said Minute and affidavit in all legal proceedings.  
5. Immediately upon its being decided at any such Meeting that this Act shall he used and adopted, and a Free Public Library formed in such City, or Town, the owners of Real Estate in the said City, or Town, shall become a Body Corporate by the name of "The Free Library of the City, or Town, of, (as the case may be)[ ]" and by that name may sue and be sued, and hold and dispose of Lands and immovable property in the said City, or Town, required for the purposes of their incorporation, and use a Common Seal.  
6. The affairs of the said Corporation shall be conducted by nine Trus­tees, six of whom shall be elected by the Ratepayers from among themselves, and three by those who have made donations to the Corporation of Books, or money, to the value of at least each. The first six Trustees shall be elected at the Meeting at which the adoption of this Act has been decided on, and after the two-thirds vote for such adoption has been taken; and the three Trustees to be appointed by the donors may be appointed by them at any time within one month after the election of the said first six Trustees, by Memorandum in writing signed by four-fifths of such Donors, and delivered to the said first six Trustees, or at a Meeting convened for the purpose, by any one of such six Trustees, of which three days previous notice shall be given by advertisement, of in a Newspaper.  
7. An Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers, and an Annual Meeting of the Donors then living, shall be held in each and every Year in the same month as the month in which the Meeting was held at which it was decided to adopt this Act. Any one of the existing Trustees elected by the Ratepayers, and chosen by the Meeting, shall preside at the Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers, and any one of the existing Trustees elected by the Donors and chosen by the Meeting, shall preside at the Annual Meeting of the Donors. Two of the Trustees elected by the Ratepayers, and selected by ballot at the Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers, shall go out of office each year, and their places be supplied by two new Trustees to be elected by the Ratepayers at such Meeting, but the out-going Trustees may be re-elected as such new Trustees. One of the Trustees elected by the Donors, and selected by ballot at the Annual Meeting of the Donors, shall go out each year, and his place be supplied by one new Trustee to be elected by the Donors at such Meeting, but such out-going Trustee may be re-elected as such new Trustee.  
8. A majority of the Trustees for the time being shall constitute a quorum, and the Trustees for the time being shall have all the powers of the entire body of Trustees, notwithstanding that, at any time, there may be no Trustees elected by the Donors, or the death, absence, or incapacity of any one, or more, of the Trustees.  
9. If, from any cause whatever, the Annual Meetings shall not be held at the time provided by this Act, or the Trustees shall, from any cause what­ever, not be elected at such Annual Meeting, the said Corporation shall not be thereby dissolved, but a new Meeting shall be called in the same manner as an Annual Meeting, at which, if necessary, such election may be had; and the Trustees for the time being shall retain their office and powers until their Successors, or the Successors of any one of them, shall be duly elected.  
10. The Trustees shall meet at least once in every calendar month, and at such other times as they think fit, at the Library or some other convenient place, and any one Trustee may summon a Special Meeting of the Trustees by giving three clear days' notice in writing to each Trustee, specifying therein the purpose for which the Meeting is called, and no business shall be transacted at any Meeting of the Trustees unless at least a majority shall be present.  
11. All orders and proceedings of the Trustees shall be entered in Books to be kept by them for that purpose, and shall be signed by the Trustees, or any two of them, and all such orders and proceedings so entered and pur­porting to be signed, shall be deemed to be original orders and proceedings, and such Books may be produced and read as evidence of all such orders and proceedings upon any judicial proceedings whatever.  
12. The Trustees shall keep distinct and regular Accounts of their Receipts, Payments, Credits and Liabilities, which Accounts shall be audited yearly, by two Auditors, not being Trustees, elected by the Ratepayers at each Annual Meeting of the Ratepayers. The Auditors, so appointed, shall report to the Trustees as soon as practicable, and such Report shall be open to the inspection of any Ratepayer, or Donor, at all reasonable hours.  
13. The said Trustees shall have the power to levy, for the purposes of the Library annually, a tax, not exceeding one-half cent. In the dollar, on all rateable Real property within the City, or Town, where they are elected, and the value of such rateable Real property shall be estimated for the purpose of such Tax, according to the Assessment, or Valuation Rolls, made by the Municipality of the said City, or Town, in the year next preceding the levying of the said Rate by the said Trustees. Such Tax may be levied and recovered from the Owners of the said Real property in the same manner and by the same means as are used for the levying and recovering of any other Rate, Tax, or Assessment, levied, or leviable, in the said City, or Town for the purposes of the City, or Town, Municipality, and such Tax shall, if unpaid, be a special charge and mortgage on such Real property, not requiring registration to preserve it.  
14. The said Trustees may establish and maintain Free Reading Rooms in connection with, and as a part of, such Free Libraries, and, from time to time, purchase and provide the necessary fuel, lighting, and other similar matters, Books, Newspapers and Maps, for the use of the said Libraries and Reading Rooms, and cause the same to be bound and repaired when necessary.  
15. The said Trustees may purchase and acquire Land in the City, or Town in the name of the Corporation, for the erection of a Library Building, and may mortgage the same at any time to procure funds for the erection, improvement, or repair thereof, or for the payment of any debt secured upon the same.  
16. The said Trustees shall elect from among themselves, from time to time, a President, and shall appoint such subordinate Officers as they deem expedient, prescribe their remuneration and duties, and dismiss them, and shall, from time to time, make Rules and Regulations for the management of the said Library, not contrary to this Act, and may allow the Householders and Inhabitants to borrow and take away Books from the Library, on such terms and conditions, and under such restrictions, as the Trustees may think fit to impose.  
17. The said Trustees may establish Fines for the infraction of any Rules and Regulations, to be recoverable by them as in an action of debt. 
18. The said Libraries shall be open to the Public free of charge, but any one whom the Trustees may consider to have contravened any Rule, or Regulation, may be excluded therefrom.  
19. The word "Ratepayer," whenever used in this Act, shall be construed to mean the Owner of Real Property within the City, or Town, whose property is assessed for the purposes of this Act, and the word "Donor, to mean any one who has given to the said Corporation, in Books, or money a sum not less than dollars. The word "City," shall apply to any Municipality called in any Statute a City in Upper Canada, or Lower Canada; and the word "Town," shall apply to any incorporated Town in Upper Canada, and to any incorporated Town, or local Municipality in Lower Canada.  
20. This Act shall be deemed a Public Act.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


My article on proposed public library legislation for the Province of Canada (now Ontario and Quebec) in 1852. The bill was essentially identical to the public library act passed by the American state of Massachusetts in the previous year, 1851.  It was not read a third time and died at the end of the parliamentary session. Originally published in Ex Libris Association Newsletter 42 (Fall 2007): 15-18.

The bill was introduced by William Henry Boulton, the Conservative member for Toronto in the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Canada. Boulton had also served as Mayor of Toronto from 1845-1846.

The Bill, numbered 75 for the session of the 4th Parliament of the United Canadas, was premature free public library legislation. At the time of its first reading only a handful of municipal corporations had been formed in Upper Canada (Canada West). Lower Canada (Canada East) had no general municipal legislation. Further, in the previous year an act had been passed by the Canadian Parliament to permit the formation of library associations and mechanics' institutes. As well, Egerton Ryerson was establishing public libraries in rural townships and small communities across Upper Canada, mostly in school houses.

The text of Bill 75, virtually a copy of an American state law, is included.

BILL [75] -- 1st Session, 4th Parliament of the Province of Canada, 16 Victoria, 1852

An An Act to authorize Cities and Towns to establish and maintain Public Libraries.

Be it enacted, &c.,

That any City or Town in this Province is hereby authorized and empowered to establish and maintain a Public Library within the same, with or without branches, for the use of the inhabitants thereof, and to provide suitable rooms there or, under such regulations for the government of such Library as may from time to time be prescribed by a Board of five persons, to be named annually by the Municipal Authorities of such City or Town.

II. Any City or Town may appropriate for the foundation and commencement of such Library as aforesaid, a sum not exceeding five shillings for each of its householders in the year next preceding that in which such appropriation shall be made, and may also appropriate annually, for the maintenance and increase of such Library, a sum not exceeding one shilling and three pence for each of its householders in the year next preceding that in which such appropriation shall be made.

III. Any City or Town may receive, in its corporate capacity, and hold and manage any devise, bequest or donation for the establishment, increase or maintenance of a Public Library within the same.

Saturday, October 14, 2017


An illustrated address I originally gave at the Canadian Library Association library history interest group session at Edmonton in June 1989. Thanks to Pearl Milne, University of Guelph Library, for her digital assistance with these photographs. Additional images of Ontario libraries ranging from the early- to mid-twentieth century are archived at my older University of Guelph original website, Libraries Today.

Photographs can be used in historical accounts for many different purposes. Often, they serve to illustrate the reality a writer wishes to capture, an effective and time-honoured technique. But they also may be used in their own right, not just as adjuncts to the literary record, but as original sources. Images are part of a broader methodological trend, one that has historians utilizing many non-traditional sources both to establish information about people, places, and events, or to develop new lines of inquiry. Of course, visual history is not new in itself, what has changed in the past twenty years is that more rigorous use of photographs as historical sources has evolved.

Uxbridge Library, Ontario, 1887
Uxbridge Library, c 1887
Historical photographs are being used now in a variety of critical ways in research and teaching. (Note 1) In some cases, they may establish or verify facts, an important consideration when traditional documents are lacking or present discrepancies. Visual histories depicting social or cultural values of an era or place are becoming more frequent; in these works, photographs frequently help to determine the text which may be supplemented by other resources. Sometimes, photographs can be used to reinforce historical interpretations shaped with other source materials. In library history all these photographic dimensions can be employed when different aspects concerning the history of public libraries are analyzed or narrated. (Note 2)

Many photographs pertaining to library history exist at local libraries, museums, and archives across Ontario. Although there is no comprehensive catalogue or index to holdings, they can be as valuable as surviving textual sources because they can be used to formulate new ideas about libraries or to reinterpret a period. For instance, historical works frequently refer to the four decades between 1880 and 1920 as "Victorian" or "Edwardian" or as a "Progressive Era." This period is normally characterized as one of growth and progress for Ontario public libraries, an expansive theme culminating in the revised Public Libraries Act of 1920. Like most eras, the years between 1880-1920 were ones of transition for libraries, a view confirmed by many photographs.

By 1914, distinctively modernist trends were emerging in Ontario's libraries; the Victorian synthesis of ideas and methods common to mechanics' institutes and their immediate successors, free libraries, was giving way to modern trends. Simply put, the public library in the first decade of the twentieth century was modifying its functions and assuming additional roles in society, a process allowing it to serve more people and redefine its character as "modern" at a time when Modernism, a conscious cultural rejection of the past by twentieth-century artists and scientists, was beginning to sweep western nations. At the same time, Ontario was becoming an urban province directed by new values. Historical photographs of libraries help indicate the extent of these fundamental changes.
1 - Toronto Mechanics' Institute

Victorian Heritage

In the Edwardian era there was a mixture of old and new in many Ontario libraries, particularly in cities. The physical reminder of mechanics' institutes, a symbol of nineteenth-century ideals, survived in a few places, notably Toronto where the old institute building, built in the Italian Renaissance style of the 1850s at considerable cost, lingered on, first as an undersized central library, then, after the larger reference library opened on College Street in 1909, as a community branch at the intersection of Church and Adelaide. It finally closed its doors just before the Great Depression.

2 - Toronto Church St. Branch, 1924
Other pre-Carnegie structures, specially commissioned as free libraries, existed in larger centres at Hamilton and London. London's library, designed by the local architect Herbert Matthews in 1895, reflected the popularity of eclectic exteriors, in this case, a Romanesque facade with conical towers, rounded arches, and smooth-faced red brick cladding. It was a late-Victorian revival style that imparted a sense of permanence and strength, solid qualities most communities were anxious to express in the educational facilities they were striving to build at this time.

3 - London Public Library
4 - Hamilton Public Library, c.1905
Interiors of Victorian free libraries were usually spartan: for example, in Hamilton, a building completed at a cost of about $45,000 in 1890, furnishings in the reference section, general reading room, and ladies' reading room were basic staples. These rooms flanked a main corridor leading to a large counter behind which stretched a closed stack room capable of accommodating 50,000 books. The separate reading area for women was a fashionable (and space consuming) fin-de-siècle enhancement that recognized the increasing number of women registering as borrowers. Children under 16 years were less fortunate; generally, they were denied borrowing privileges. In this respect Hamilton's library, led by Richard Lancefield, was relatively liberal; its board began to lower the age restriction for children before 1900. Children's rooms and storytelling would be future projects.

6 - Claremont Library, c.1895
5 - Dundas Library, c.1896
In the smaller communities throughout rural Ontario, libraries had to make do with more modest resources: rented offices, donated property or rooms, or combined business quarters. The small, one-room, subscription library managed by volunteers and part-time staff was commonplace. For instance, at Dundas the library occupied part of the old Elgin House block on busy King Street. In the police village of Claremont, the library operated from a commercial storefront for several years under the guidance of the incumbent shoemaker-librarian, Mr. James Jobbitt, who resigned in 1903.

7 - Streetsville Library
At Streetsville, affairs were more upscale. In 1901 the board of management received a gift comprising part of a small frame commercial building. It converted the space into a serviceable one-room library housed with a jewelry shop. Streetsville was considered advanced by small-town Ontario standards: it operated on a free basis without an age limitation for children, possessed a card catalogue, and used the decimal classification system at a time when the Education Department still clung to an outdated class system adapted from mechanics' institutes.

Edwardian Progress

Sarnia Library, c. 1903
When Carnegie grants became readily available, architects, trustees, and workers began transforming the organization of interior space and the interrelationships between staff and patrons. Improved functions, programs, and arrangements for access were under active development between 1900-10: there were larger branch libraries, children's services, improved reference service, better classification and cataloging schemes, and open access to collections. The familiar Victorian free library conventions--the emphasis on physical custody of books, on printed catalogues for holdings, and on public reading rooms; the use of indicators (a British practice) for circulation status in lending departments; and a desire to offer lectures or evening classes for the technical education of working classes--was ebbing. Libraries were changing their methods, expanding the scope of their public services, and re-evaluating their connections with another developing field, adult education. The modern public library as we know it today was emerging.

8 - Laying Toronto Reference Cornerstone
Carnegie gifts to local communities for library buildings not only attracted public attention at openings and the laying of cornerstones but also stimulated rhetoric about the merit of libraries. The Globe covered one Toronto ceremony, presided over by Ontario's Lieutenant-Governor and Chief Justice William G. Falconbridge, the board chairman, on 27 November 1906:
His Lordship stated that there was no question in this day of the value of free libraries to communities. The objection that a preponderating number of works of fiction circulated through a free library, instead of more solid reading, was not a serious objection in the mind of the Chief Justice, who admitted that he was no enemy to novel reading. . . .
10 - Free Public Library, Belleville, 1911
The box deposited in the corner-stone contained, among other things, a catalogue of the central circulating library, copies of the Toronto daily papers, Canadian coins, and a scroll containing names of those directly interested in its construction. This type of ceremony was re-enacted on many occasions during the Carnegie years. Sometimes a benefaction other than Carnegie's was invoked, for example at Belleville, Henry Corby, a Conservative member of Parliament, donated money for a library that opened January 1908 in the remodelled Merchants' Bank building.

9 - Berlin Library, c.1905
11 - St. Thomas Library, c.1905
After 1900, the interior organization and services of libraries began to change dramatically. At Berlin (now Kitchener), the traditional plan of housing a stack room behind a barrier surmounted by grillwork and railing originally was followed, but later the board decided to permit open access to the collection except for fiction. A special area set off for children and use of the decimal classification were enterprising steps here. The same rationale about safeguarded free access to all books except works of fiction also applied at St. Thomas. The interior here was more ornate: classical busts and handsome wood columns graced the main corridor leading to the circulation desk, the reading room directly across from it, and the reference section at the end of the hall.

12 - Sarnia interior, c.1905
Sarnia's library was constructed along similar lines, but here the board adopted unrestricted access to all books, a bold move in 1903, although the building design easily allowed this measure. The board was fortunate to employ Patricia Spereman, who developed children's services and conducted story hours. She had trained at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn and became a pioneer in children's work in Ontario and Canada.

13 - Sarnia Story Hour, 1907
14 - Guelph Public Library, c.1905
Carnegie exteriors were celebrated (or detested) for their Beaux-Arts style featuring classical columns, steps, porticos, and domes. It was an exuberant style with classical lines and elements that promoted civic grandeur even in smaller cities which served as markets for the surrounding rural populace. Guelph's library was an Ontario leader in these regards and noted for its lack of functional interior space. However, some architects were influenced by local factors. In Cornwall, where a significant French-speaking community existed, a French chateau appearance was conveyed by the entrance, roof, and small corner tower.

15 - Cornwall Public Library, 1906
Some architects were able to use Beaux-Arts features in a restrained fashion; perhaps the most capable was Alfred H. Chapman, who in association with Wickson and Gregg, designed Toronto's reference library on the corner of College and St. George streets at a cost of more than $250,000. This two-storey structure featured large windows flanked by Corinthian pilasters, soft yellow brick, and main entrance set off to one side. By the standards of the day and even during the bleakness of the Great War, it was an approachable "people place."

16 - Toronto Reference Library, 1915

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In the years immediately preceding the First World War, therefore, Ontario's public libraries went through unprecedented change. The assumptions and characteristics common to Victorian free libraries--an adult clientele, priority on the safekeeping of books, limited services for users, systems of retrieval based on printed catalogues and indicators, classification and cataloguing systems that applied subject categories and accessioning practice developed in mechanics' institutes, and revival architectural styles--were being challenged and supplanted. The pace of change obviously had quickened in Edwardian Ontario, but faith in the library's contribution to societal progress, a belief that eventual improvements in society would ensue by assisting personal initiatives and stimulating their success, was unshaken. The service ethic became the most important constant in this era, a powerful rationale that spurred new library developments in a society that prized individual effort and public duty.

It is difficult to convey the spirit of any era or activity, but a review of pictures in this brief photo study reveals that it was time for libraries and librarians to look ahead, to question old views and methods, and to adopt fresh ideas.

Assistance with digitizing these photographs was kindly rendered by Pearl Milne of the University of Guelph Library.

Fig.1 The Toronto Mechanics' Institute before 1884 [AO, S-1178].
Fig. 2 An old Toronto library: the Church street branch, 8 Feb. 1924 [NAC, PA-86436].
Fig. 3 London Public Library, n.d. [NAC, PA-32789].
Fig. 4 View of Hamilton Public Library interior, c.1905 [AO, S-2042].
Fig. 5 Public library at Dundas, c.1896 [AO, S-6934].
Fig. 6 Palmer & Jobbitt store-library at Claremont, c.1895/1903 [AO, S-13475].
Fig. 7 Streetsville's new library, n.d. [AO, S-16035].
Fig. 8 Chief Justice Falconbridge laying the cornerstone of the public reference library in Toronto [AO, S-1252].
Fig. 9 Free Public Library, Belleville, 1911 [NAC, C-21464].
Fig. 10 Berlin Public Library interior, c.1905 [AO, S-2044].
Fig. 11 Central corridor of St. Thomas Public Library, c.1905 [AO, S-2055].
Fig. 12 Lending desk and stack room at Sarnia, c.1905 [AO, S-2057].
Fig. 13 After the Story Hour, 2 March 1907 [AO, S-2058].
Fig. 14 Sham pillars: Guelph Public Library, c.1905 [AO, S-2035].
Fig. 15 Cornwall Public Library, 20 Oct. 1906 [AO, S-2032].
Fig. 16 Toronto Reference Library at 214 College Street, 13 March 1915 [NAC, PA-61384].

AO: Archives of Ontario
NAC: National Archives of Canada

1. For discussions on the use of photographs see:
Carol E. Hoffecker, "The Emergence of a Genre: the Urban Pictorial History," Public Historian, 5 (4) 1983: 37-48;
Walter Rundell, Jr, "Photographs as Historical Evidence: Early Texas Oil," American Archivist 41 (4) 1978: 373-398;
Stuart T. Miller, "The Value of Photographs as Historical Evidence," Local Historian 15 (8) 1983: 468-473;
Timothy J. Crimmins, "Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Words? Illustrated Urban Histories," Journal of Urban History 13 (1) 1986: 82-91; and
W. Gillies Ross, "The Use and Misuse of Historical Photographs: A Case Study from Hudson Bay, Canada," Arctic Anthropology 27 (2) 1990: 93-112.
For library applications see Boyd Childress, "Library History, University History, and Photographic History: Some Considerations for Research," Journal of Library History 22 (1) 1987: 70-84.

2. Recent Canadian works include:
Margaret Beckman, John Black and Stephen Langmead, "Carnegie Libraries in Canada," Canadian Library Journal 38(6) 1981: 386-390 and The Best Gift; a Record of Carnegie Libraries in Ontario (Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1983);
David R. Conn and Barry McCallum, "Heritage to Hi-Tech; Evolution of Image and Function in Canadian Public Library Buildings," in Peter F. McNally (ed.), Readings in Canadian Library History (Ottawa: Canadian Library Association, 1986), pp. 123-149;
Margaret Penman, A Century of Service; Toronto Public Library 1883-1983 (Toronto: Toronto Public Library, 1983); and
Barbara Myrvold, "The First Hundred Years: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983," in McNally, Readings , pp. 65-79.