Showing posts with label canadian library history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label canadian library history. Show all posts

Sunday, March 11, 2018


From 1775 to 1850, small membership subscription libraries acted as public libraries dispensing educational resources and recreational reading to Canadian users on a geographic-community or common-interest reading basis. The variety, number, and collective status of subscription libraries ushered in the persistent nineteenth-century concept of the semi-private public library administered by trustees and populated by members who voluntarily agreed to accept entry charges, annual dues, and fundraising. The collegial space provided by the subscription library fostered a greater sense of publicness in an emerging Canadian nation before 1850. It also forged numerous associative identities in localities for like-minded reading groups. Subscription library development reveals that significant attributes of post-1850 municipal public libraries--especially the public library association which continues today--were inherited from Canada's colonial library era.

Beginning at Quebec City (1779) and Montreal (1796) and spreading to other colonies and the Canadian west, a variety of subscription libraries were established ranging from the exclusive share-holding archetype (e.g., at Halifax) to the more inclusive, general interest library supported by modest entry charges and annual fees in small towns and cites. Over time, these libraries developed on an irregular, parochial basis in differing colonial environments, although common public features are evident, such as claims for societal betterment. It was not unusual for a subscription library to be integrated with the work of specialized societies and associations (esp. in Quebec), or for the library to be aligned with news or reading rooms. This multifaceted public interface helped to bridge reading from the private to the public realm, to improve access to print resources, and to invest libraries with a communal significance in the Victorian period before Confederation. By the mid-point of the nineteenth century, subscription libraries occupied the middle ground between the personal realm and the state where formation of ideas on private liberality, community interests, and governance converged.

In the course of seven decades, subscription type libraries evolved into "library associations" regulated by public statutes stipulating control by the members and an elected a governing board. These libraries were identified less with earlier joint-stock, proprietary, or subscription business terminology and more with the appellation "public library" that was in use throughout the entire period, i.e. a library that was accessible to all residents of a community, but not generally free because it required voluntary personal payments. These small libraries performed a public function but were not state agencies. In some instances, they received token payments from different government levels, but legal sanction for state financial aid did not exist in legislative acts. In the evolution of public libraries in Canada, attempts by subscription managers to achieve a public profile by seeking financial support from colonial parliaments and by staking claims to publicness (the interests of the people as a whole) were significant steps.

At the midway point of the nineteenth century, the Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute Act of 1851 became a critical foundation for the subscription library’s conversion to the Canadian "association library." In accordance with enabling legislation that would become the hallmark of twentieth-century Canadian provincial public library legislation, the 1851 law for the two Canadas (Ontario and Quebec) recognized that a public library association was to be available for persons on a voluntary membership basis. The law established that library associations would be governed by local boards of trustees independent from control by municipal politicians (a "special purpose body" later identified by political commentators and academics on local government). Further, it provided public recognition of association libraries, thereby creating the opportunity for provincial grants which supplemented local fundraising efforts. Similar legislative arrangements in other provinces, such as British Columbia, ensured that the subscription model, re-labelled as a ‘public library association,’ would continue to coexist with its "free library" cousin well into the twentieth century and beyond.

Complete information is available in my article published in Library and Information History, a quarterly journal publishing articles by authors on all subjects and all periods relating to the history of libraries and librarianship and to the history of information. The article can be viewed at:

For access to a free link with a limited number of PDFs, go to

Tuesday, February 06, 2018


The general history of college and university library development in Canada has not been examined extensively. There are few studies that synthesize the entire history of Canadian academic libraries and normally two core themes are emphasized—library growth and progressive advances in librarianship. But these two perspectives can be applied to other types of libraries and do not serve to highlight the distinctiveness of academic libraries or librarians. There are some valuable, informative accounts of Canadian libraries in higher education that are commonly regarded as "institutional history." Because the library is positioned within its parent institution, librarians have understandably chronicled library support for the needs and plans of a particular university or college. Individual libraries, such as those at the Universities of Toronto and Alberta, are notable in this regard: Robert Blackburn’s Evolution of the Heart: A History of the University of Toronto Library up to 1981; and Merill Distad’s The University of Alberta Library: The First Hundred Years, 1908-2008. These institutional histories may be considered the foundation for more general histories that explore particular themes and developments. Added to these local studies are are many other contributions as articles, pamphlets, and theses. Many works concentrate on more recent decades after the 1960s when “growth” and “progress” were central features.

Of course, the development of academic libraries on a national basis as well as the careers of the “college librarian” or the “university librarian” began before the Sixties. I wrote, in 2016, about the contribution of the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY) to the development of Canadian university and college libraries during the Great Depression. This was one instance of a change in philosophy of service. From 1932-35, thirty-four institutions of higher education shared in library grants totaling $214,800 in a national (Canada and Newfoundland) project conducted by a Canadian Advisory Group established by the CCNY. George H. Locke, Toronto Public Library, headed the group which awarded Carnegie financial aid for the improvement of undergraduate print collections. The attempts by Canadian administrators to adapt library collections, organization, and staffing to local circumstances to improve interwar undergraduate library services was an unusual step towards national thinking about the role of college and university libraries. For this post, see The Carnegie Corporation Advisory Group on Canadian College Libraries, 1930-35, made on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 with an accompanying link to my article published in the journal, Historical Studies in Education/Revue d'histoire de l'éducation.

Another period, the postwar (1945-1960), is another seldom referenced period that is of interest. After the Second World War, the expansion of Canadian post-secondary was notable for several modernizing trends: the infusion of federal funds for academic research, the frequent erection of campus buildings, increased enrollments, the establishment of new universities, the independence of previously affiliated small colleges, and the creation of comprehensive research efforts and graduate programs. In this changing environment, the per-eminence of the humanities and undergraduate teaching gave way to scientific and technological research, business and professional orientations, and graduate studies.

Libraries and librarians responded to these challenges in many similar ways. There are many contemporary accounts in relation to library architecture, the acquisition and organization of collections, administrative library structures and staffing, services for faculty and students, and efforts by librarians to realize professional standing, to achieve recognition as “professional librarians.” The architectural redefinition of libraries, the impetus to establish research collections, the maturation of academic librarianship, and the increasing complexity of library operations were prominent features in the postwar period. The gradual evolution of academic libraries toward more uniform organizational purposes and structures on a national basis following World War II can be considered a period of “mid-century modernization” that preceded the more memorable and better documented decades of the 1960s and later.

The postwar history of academic libraries was deeply influenced not just by local conditions and persons but also by broader trends occurring in the nation’s universities and colleges and the library community across North America. Examination of sources for the period mirror general currents in the Canadian post-secondary sector that made library provision of resources, assistance, and information more integral to the work of students and faculty. Of course, the national pace of change from 1945 to 1960 was moderate compared with the succeeding period, the dynamic 1960s that loom large in the history of Canadian libraries. The Sixties ushered in many educational changes, especially the establishment of provincial systems of higher education and vastly improved funding for libraries in higher education. Nonetheless, library development in the 1960s should not be viewed simply as a break with the past but as an outgrowth of many changes already underway. The national pace of change from 1945 to 1960 was moderate compared with the succeeding period, the dynamic 1960s that loom large in the history of Canadian libraries. The Sixties ushered in many educational changes, especially the  establishment of provincial systems of higher education. Library development in the 1960s should not be viewed simply as a break with the past but as an outgrowth of many changes already underway.

More complete information on the postwar era is in my article, “Postwar Canadian Academic Libraries, 1945–60,” at the Canadian Journal of Academic Librarianship website.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


The common characteristics of free public libraries that were legislated in Ontario (1882), the City of Saint John (1883), and British Columbia (1891) served as a guide for public library development towards the end of the nineteenth century. In this version, the 'free public library' or 'free library' was a municipal institution governed by a board of management and funded by primarily by local taxes. These libraries were accessible to all community residents who were not charged at the point of entry. Local decisions, based on provincial legislation, mostly determined the establishment and governance of libraries. Community members participated on a voluntary basis and the nature and extent of services varied from one community to another.

However, widespread acceptance of this 'model' developed slowly, in part because other views identified the 'public library' as one that was accessible to all residents of a community, but not generally free or a constituent part of local government because it relied on voluntary personal payments or contributions from philanthropic individuals, community groups, or persons willing to pay a membership fee. This type of library performed a public function but was not a state agent, i.e. the municipal, provincial, or federal government. Often, the establishment of libraries open free to the public was furthered by philanthropic efforts and managed by privately.  In some cases these libraries received assistance and direction from government in recognition of their beneficial public function.

It is these atypical or hybrid libraries that will be discussed here in a Canadian context. They were public libraries open freely to the public without direct charge or with small personal (or family) charges. They were clearly regarded as community-based service agencies. In many ways, they characterized the importance of nineteenth century ideas about voluntarism, civic promotion, and public-private partnerships working in the interest of the public good. They were distinctive in their own right and founded in all parts of British North America as the following few examples illustrate.

New Westminster, B.C. --- In 1865, New Westminster was the capital of the mainland colony of British Columbia. There were two initial inducements to establish an institute and public library: a collection of books offered by the disbanded Columbia Detachment of Royal Engineers and Queen Victoria's donation of a copy of her late husband Prince Albert's speeches "to the public libraries of her more important colonies." The New Westminster Library and Reading Room opened on 15 August 1865 on Columbia Street supported by a grant from the colonial government and by membership and regular subscription rates, e.g. to borrow books a member paid $5 a year. The library operated from a building that formerly housed the colony's official Mint and was run by a board of management composed of four colonial officials and the president of the municipal council. This happy state of affairs continued for a few years until the colony's government funding was withdraw by 1868. Subscriptions--a common method of financing 19th century local libraries--supported library operations thereafter until 1890. At this point, the federal government offered the Mint property to the city provided a new building would be erected and opened as a free public library. The offer was accepted: the mint was demolished and a new building opened in 1892 with renewed funding from the municipality. For most this period, the library was never a 'free library' in the modern sense but exhibited a private-public partnership to support a 'public library' that was not unusual in the 19th century.

Montreal Free Library/Gésu Free Library (est. 1889) --- "Any bona fide resident of Montreal, irrespective of class or creed, is entitled, under certain conditions, to draw books from the Gésu Free Library." So read the introduction to an 1895 catalogue of circulating books for the Gésu Free Library opened on 4 October 1889. It was aimed at primarily English-speaking Catholic Montrealers. The library was essentially a parish library situated near the Jesuit Collège Sainte-Marie on Bleury Street. The library owed its existence to the dedicated work of a few ladies active in the Promoters of the League of the Sacred Heart who raised funds through annual afternoon teas. They desired to promote books based on Christian beliefs and morals. A small committee, ultimately responsible to the Sacred Heart Union, managed the library. By 1895, the library was circulating 15,000 books to an extended public in downtown Montreal and receiving in-kind donations and money from private citizens. The library offered titles in English, with translations of French authors who were mostly Catholic. Notably, however, there fiction books for youngsters, such as Frances Hodgson Burnett's Little Lord Fauntleroy, at a time when many public libraries maintained age limits excluding children. There were also popular British novelists: Dickens, Trollope, Collins, Bulwer-Lytton, and Scott. American authors, such as Irving and Cooper, and few women authors, such as the Irish novelist Rosa Mullholland and Lady Georgiana Fullerton, were also available. The Montreal Free Library (sometimes called Sacred Heart Union Library) was not a municipal institution of course, it was a small library without charge at the point of entry and based on the ideas of its Catholic promoters that good reading (including fiction). Considering the mid-19th century controversies in Montreal about liberal works and fiction in general regarding the closure of the Institut Canadien de Montréal, this was a progressive step. Books for children was another important ingredient that would eventually become an orthodox feature of public libraries.

Fraser Institute, Montreal (est. 1885) --- In his 1870 will, the businessman Hugh Fraser placed most of his possessions amounting to $200,000 in trust to John J. C. Abbott and Frederick Torrence to establish an institution--a free public library, museum, and gallery open to all Montreal's citizens regardless of class and without any fee. The Fraser Institute was incorporated by a statute in 1870 that determined its course: "to aid in the diffusion of useful knowledge by affording free access, to all desirous of it, to books and to scientific objects and subjects, and to works of art, and for that purpose to erect appropriate buildings, and to procure books, scientific objects and subjects, and works of art, making always the acquisition and maintenance of a library the leading object to be kept in view." The Institute was managed by an elite Board of Governors; however, legal battles over Fraser's will delayed progress. Finally, a building was acquired and opened in 1885. The Institute, located at the corner of University Street and Dorchester Boulevard, initially was a reference library. A circulating collection commenced operations in 1889. Thus, after almost 20 years, the Institute was able to fulfill its original purpose outlined in the 1870 Act. Hugh Fraser's philanthropic vision involved a private institution--starting as an endowed library--operating in the public interest to further educational standards. It had a self-perpetuating incorporated private board of managers which, from time to time, made substantial contributions to its success and ensured free access.

Yarmouth Public Library, N.S. (est. 1872) -- Loran Ellis Baker, a prominent local businessman and politician, was instrumental in establishing a public library in Yarmouth in 1872. He first purchased 2,500 books and then presented a library, housed on the second floor of the Young and Baker building, to the town's citizens. The library was open for limited hours each week, but books circulated free of charge. All the library expenses, including the salary of a custodian who also maintained the library, were assumed by Baker. From time to time, townsfolk contributed books and material objects which eventually formed the basis for a museum. For more than a quarter century, Baker's generous civic-mindedness served local residents well and in the 1890s, the Yarmouth Council made small appropriations to the library. When L.E. Baker died in 1899, his will stipulated that the library, its books and materials, as well as $8,000 would be made available to an incorporated body with the proviso that an equal amount be raised to establish a free public library and museum within five years. The Yarmouth Public Library and Museum was incorporated in September 1904. It was a 'free library' operated by a private body--the Yarmouth Free Public Library Association--that did not charge a fee for borrowing books. Residents could, however, pay a nominal fee to become a member of the Association managing the library and museum.

Town of Portland, N.B. (est. 1882) -- After Isaac Burpee, a prominent MP representing the local riding in Parliament, provided a small collection of books for Portland, the town turned to the local branch of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) for assistance. The members of this branch had built a Union Hall for the promotion of temperance and social and moral reforms, a fitting home of a town library. In 1882, the Portland WCTU incorporated (45 Vic. Chap 93, Act of NB 1882). The management of the library within the Hall was vested in the hands of the WCTU. Although the town provided support for the building and its maintenance, a small fee was also charged for library use by the WCTU library committee. This situation continued for a few years until Portland was annexed by Saint John in 1888, after which this library began to receive regular grants provided residents would not be charged for borrowing books and use of the library. The activity of the WCTU was an early manifestation of the interest by women's groups in promoting and maintaining public libraries across the nation.

Pettes Memorial Library, Que. (est. 1894) -- Narcissa Farrand Pettes built and donated a library to the village of Knowlton and Brome Township, Quebec, in memory of her late husband, Nathaniel Pettes. In the same year, 1894, the Quebec Legislature enacted An Act to Incorporate the "Pettes Memorial." This legislation stipulated that the Pettes building would be "a free public library and reading room, to be open to all honest and respectable persons whomsoever, of every rank in life, without distinction." Also, the building would function as "a lecture hall, to be used in connection with the said library and reading room, and solely for purposes calculated to promote and advance the interests and usefulness of the same." The purpose was clearly Victorian in mindset: the Pettes Memorial was intended to promote "the diffusion of useful knowledge, by affording free access, to all desiring it, to books, magazines and periodicals, making always the acquisition and maintenance of a library the leading object to be kept in view." An incorporated board of seven trustees was established to oversee the library. Narcissa Pettes also agreed to pay the salary for the librarian, to assume the cost of maintenance during her lifetime, and to leave funds to be invested to meet future annual expenses.

Halifax Citizens' Free Library, N.S. (est. 1864) --  At Halifax, the collections of two previous incorporated subscription libraries, the Mechanics' Library (est. 1831) and the Halifax Library (est. 1823-24), formed the nucleus of the Citizens’ Free Library by the mid-1870s in the city hall court house. In 1864, the city council accepted a generous offer from Chief Justice William Young, who had purchased the collection of the Mechanics’ Library, to administer and to open a library freely to local residents. A Halifax newspaper lent hearty support for ‘public institutions of a literary character’ especially at modest cost. Later, in 1876, the city bought books from the defunct Halifax Library, which the privileged classes had supported for half a century. In the following year, provincial legislation (40 Vic. chap. 34) permitted municipal funding for the Free Library to pay debts and maintenance costs without resort to direct personal fees: "The City Council may payout of the general assessment of the City or may add to the sums authorized to be assessed, such a sum not to exceed one thousand two hundred dollars, as may be necessary for the maintenance of the Citizens' Free Library and defraying the expenses thereof." A committee of city aldermen parsimoniously managed affairs and the library moved a few times before settling into the city hall in 1890. During this time, the library suffered a chronic shortage of funds, a situation that did not improve in the first part of the 20th-century. Nonetheless, the Citizen's Free Library was the first Canadian instance of 1) ongoing municipal tax support without a specific rate clause that a managing committee could not rely on and  2) municipal administration of a library open to the public without charge at point of access.

In the late Victorian era, commentaries on the rationale for free public libraries serving the general public were becoming commonplace. This evolution in thinking combined with legislative standards, enhanced physical library access, and claims that libraries advanced literacy, educational attainment, and societal progress, reinforced support for libraries. In a more prosperous and educated nation, with wealthier business leaders, an increasingly literate populace, a growing middle-class interested in cultural uplift, and civic-minded leaders, the formation of libraries became a cause--a movement--that attracted promoters and followers. Given the disparate state of local government across the new Dominion, a variety of options emerged after Confederation in 1867 for alternative methods of governance and private-public financial support for libraries open to the public without charge to users

Further Reading

Moodey, Edgar C. The Fraser-Hickson Library: An Informal History. London: Clive Bingley, 1977 at the Internet Archive

Hanson, Elizabeth. “Books for the People: The Fraser Institute, 1885-1900.” Épilogue : Canadian Bulletin for the History of Books, Libraries, and Archives 11, no. 2 (1996): 1–10

Montreal Free Library. Analytical and Descriptive Catalogue of the Montreal Free Library. 3rd ed. Montreal: Montreal Free Library, Library Hall, 146 Bleury Street, 1895 at the Internet Archive.

Lamonde, Yvan. “Un aspect inconnu du débat autour de la bibliothèque publique à Montréal: la Montreal Free Library (1889- ).” Les Cahiers des Dix, no. 57 (2003): 263–71.

Rotherham, G.A. The History of the Pettes Memorial Library Knowlton, Quebec, 1894-1983; The Oldest Free Public Library in the Province of Quebec. Knowlton, Québec: Privately Printed, 1983.

Free Public Library (Yarmouth, N.S.), ed. Catalogue, Free Public Library of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia: Established 1872. Saint John, N.B.: J. & A. McMillan, 1872.

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 Statues 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 point of entrance.

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.