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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.