My Canada, 108/150: Library love

Like children from many towns and cities in Canada and a dozen other countries, I spent formative chunks of my childhood hanging out at a Carnegie Library.

Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American businessman, donated money to build 2,500 libraries around the world, including 125 in Canada, mostly in Ontario. Many, like the one in my hometown, were built from red bricks with pillars flanking a central door.

I read so much that, at one point, I had pretty well exhausted the children’s library, even going so far as to read all the Hardy Boys books after finishing the Nancy Drews. The children’s librarian, Mrs. Rudiscilla, decided I could start a “grown-up” serial of books and took me upstairs to the adult library, where children were not allowed to roam unaccompanied lest we get into Something Inappropriate For Young Eyes. She pulled The Building of Jalna, which is the first book, by story chronology, in the 16-book epic written by Canadian author Mazo de la Roche covering 100 years of history of the Whiteoak family, Brits who settled in Canada. I was still in grade school, and that took care of that summer’s reading. It was also my first real exposure to Canadian literature.

That library was also where I had my first ongoing job, first as a library page part-time during my last two years of high school and then filling in as the children’s branch librarian, for several weeks my last summer before leaving for university, when the full-on adult who held that role was ill.

Even though many people have moved away from print books, and the shelves upon shelves of reference books and printed encylopedias have been overtaken online sources, libraries are more crucial than ever in our towns and cities. They provide a dignified and safe space for anyone to access the internet, allow people to meet and work together, provide videos, magazines, and, yes, still many books for those who cannot afford them or who would prefer to borrow and share material, rather than buy and clutter up their homes. Pundits go on now with great frequency about how “the sharing economy” is our zeitgeist; libraries are fundamentally founded on a sharing economy, supported as a public good by philanthropists and government money, long before business monetized sharing via Uber and Airbnb.

In Canada, libraries also form urban hubs that energize and enliven their cities. Here are my three favourite.

Toronto Reference Library, Ontario

109 Toronto library
Located just north of Yonge and Bloor streets, this is the country’s largest reference library, designed by noted architect Raymond Moriyama and opened in 1977. It has a well-regarded gallery whose exhibitions often draw on the sizeable archives maintained by the library, a Balzac’s café, literary and cultural programming at the Bram & Bluma Appel Salon, and many other activities. Patrons can book work or study spaces. It’s one of 100 branch libraries serving Canada’s largest city under the Toronto Public Library system. Photo: Kelley Teahen

Halifax Central Library, Nova Scotia

109 Halifax Library
I was grumpy when I heard the old Spring Garden Memorial Library, where I went when a university student in Halifax, was being shuttered and replace by something new. But it’s turned out to be a jewel for the downtown. Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd., a Halifax firm, partnered with Danish architects schmidt hammer lassen (yes, they use lower cases) to create a new central hub that’s caused great excitement both for Haligonians and amid those who give awards for well-designed buildings. The building has floors stacked, like a pile of books, and the highest floor is cantilivered and gives a fantastic view of the city and its harbour. Photo: Courtesy Ellis-Don

Vancouver Public Library main branch, British Columbia

109 Vancouver library
Opened in 1995 and designed by architect Moshe Sadfie, the main branch of the Vancouver Public Library has the shape of a Roman coliseum, whose curved form creates inner soaring courtyards and public spaces. The building is undergoing a second phase of development, which I hope to see next time I’m in Vancouver: a publicly accessible roof garden and new library space in the two top floors of the building, used until now government office space, are part a $15-million renovation that launched in 2017. Photo: Courtesy Vancouver Public Library

Main photo of Elmira Branch of the Waterloo Regional Library: Kelley Teahen


Main photo: Kelley Teahen

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Obviously Pat and I shared your love of libraries. We met getting our library science degrees at U of T’s School of Library and Information Science. We added to our love of libraries a love of librarians,, that is each other.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. One story I “neglected to mention”: there are birds living in the Toronto Reference Library! I saw one flying around this winter and rushed to a staff person to report. She looked at me, wearily. Yes, the birds got in there a long time ago and there doesn’t seem to be a way of getting them out.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s