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History of the Oshawa Public Libraries
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Our Beginnings 1867-1877
Early Days 1878-1905
Growth & Expansion 1906-1954
Our Recent Years 1954-2003
Current Achievements 2004-Present
Library service in Oshawa is older than our country. Canada became a confederation in 1867, but library services in Oshawa began in 1864, three years earlier. Oshawa was incorporated as a village in 1850 with a population of 2,650. By 1864, it had mushroomed to 3,350 people, George Grierson was the village Reeve, and George Pedlar's factory on the corner of Bond and Simcoe was three years old.
A small group of interested citizens met in the village council hall one hot August day and founded the Oshawa Mechanics Institute. (Mechanics Institutes originated in industrial England as sort of training centres for mechanics and artisans to improve their job skills. Classes were offered in things like geometry, arithmetic and mechanical drawing.)
The Oshawa Mechanics Institute (located in a room behind the D. Allin Bookstore near the intersection of Simcoe and King Streets) offered courses, served as a reading room, and had a small collection of books and magazines. (Some of the subscription titles: Illustrated London News, Scientific American, New Dominion Monthly, Harper's Weekly, The Quiver, Sunday at Home, Canada Casket, Daily Globe, Daily Mail, Montreal Witness). At the end of the year, old magazines were sold off to help finance the next year's subscriptions. Dr. William McGill was the president of the Institute (equivalent to our Chair of the Board), and William Dickson was the librarian. Meetings opened with a prayer and ended with a benediction.
Like our library today, the institute was a cultural centre for the community and hosted debates, concerts and lectures with enticing titles like "The Humor of Artemus Ward", and "Man's Primeval State".
Early days 1878-1905
Funding is often a problem for public libraries, and Oshawa was no exception. The Mechanics Institute which was founded with such high hopes in 1864 had to shut its doors by 1878. Memberships ($2. each) had fallen off, the books were dog-eared; and there was no choice but to bailout on the idea of a library in Oshawa. (The books were bought by Dr. Francis Rae who later donated them back to the library.)
Then in 1882 the Ontario government passed a Libraries Act which set conditions for funding libraries though local taxes and government grants. Two years later the editor of the local newspaper, The Oshawa Vindicator, wrote a fiery editorial insisting that the 3,800 residents needed and deserved a library. And so began a public campaign which led to the formal opening of a new library (on the site now occupied by Murray Johnston Ltd Men's Wear) on Saturday, November 26, 1887. Things haven't changed much.... Our current Library Board has 10 members - 10 are citizen appointments and 1 is a member of City Council.
Our Library still operates under conditions set by the Public Libraries Act and a local Council Bylaw. And just as public pressure led to the refounding of the library and also the funding by Council, it is the same public support and pressure today which convinces our Council to fund better library service.
It was true then, it's true now - library users get the libraries they want.
Growth and Expansion 1906-1954
The Library continued on in its rented quarters until 1906 when Oshawa (like hundreds of other communities) took advantage of Andrew Carnegie's generosity and built their own library building (on the corner of Simcoe and Athol streets). Under Carnegie's terms, he would fund the building if the municipality provided a site and guaranteed the maintenance. The site cost $1,500., and the building cost $12,000.
The new library had 4,070 books, 320 members, and an annual circulation of 8,200. Mrs. E.J. Jacobi was the only staff member. When the library opened, a local historian, Col. Frank Chappell commented, "It was compact and well suited to the Town of 5,500 people. It was confidently expected that it would take care of the needs, even if we grew to a population of 10,000."
Oshawa’s population tripled by 1923, quadrupled by 1933, and was 26,856 in 1943. The library became very crowded. A Children's department was put in the basement. At one point it was also a high school library. An internal gallery was added to provide more shelving. When that wasn't enough, over 1,200 books were put in storage off site.
Nonetheless, other needs were more pressing. Between 1906 and 1954, Canada went through two world wars and a depression. Oshawa might need a new library, but that would have to wait for better times.
By 1949, it looked like the time was finally right, and city council held a rate payers vote on a by law to build a new library. It was narrowly defeated - a crushing disappointment for the library's users, the Library Board and staff. Tom Wilson, a Board member, then approached Col. R. S. McLaughlin and suggested that he might sometime consider presenting the City of Oshawa with a new library. Col. McLaughlin thought it over and wrote a letter to Rev. George Telford, Chairman of the Oshawa Public Library Board, on June 20th, 1952 which said, "I have now decided to present my native city with a library, providing rooms and equipment to accommodate the growing requirements of our young people in connection with educational films, lecture rooms and reference room, and with plenty of space for a first-class library which, according to information your Committee has given me, is very much needed."
Known for his graciousness along with his generosity, Col. Sam ended his letter with, "I would feel honoured to have the city of Oshawa accept from me a library building which would be a cultural centre adequate for the needs of our people. With the understanding that a suitable site is provided by the city, I will undertake to turn over to the proper officials, sufficient funds to erect a building, attractive, commodious and well-equipped and one which will be a credit to our good city."
By 1953, the population of Oshawa was 44,101; and the old library was cramped to the point of bursting. It now had over 42,000 volumes, 16,151 borrowers, and an annual circulation of 179,047. The staff had increased to 11, and Miss Jean Fetterly was the Chief Librarian.
The city chose the corner of Bagot and Centre streets as the new site, and the land cost $36,000. Col. Sam contributed half a million dollars. A.H. Eadie was the architect, and the 29,000 square foot building formally opened on December 1, 1954. Even now, 45 years later, the McLaughlin Library is a distinguished and beautiful building known for its artwork, spaciousness, and gracious details like the Italian marble vestibule with its engraved inscription, "Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning".
Our recent years 1954-2003
Colonel R. S. McLaughlin's commitment to library service in Oshawa did not end with his generous funding of the McLaughlin Library in 1954. In 1962 he gave the library a Bookmobile and truck to service schools and outlying parts of the City. In 1966 the McLaughlin Room was renovated to house Colonel McLaughlin's mementoes, trophies and family tree. A third floor was also part of this expansion, and the Music and Film collections moved up there.
As the 1960s passed, it became apparent that more than a bookmobile was needed to provide adequate library service to Oshawans, and in 1969 the Library opened its first branch - the North Simcoe Branch (3,200 square feet), located in rented plaza space near the corner of Simcoe and Beatrice streets. The branch opened with a collection of 15,000 volumes. Within a year, circulation jumped by 40%. By 1980, the circulation was 141,000, the book collection was at 39,000, and the branch was clearly inadequate to meet the needs of its users. The Library Board responded by obtaining a site just a few blocks away (Beatrice and Ritson) and building the beautiful Northview Branch which at 14,500 square feet was four times the size of the old branch. The new branch opened in 1987 and circulation the first year jumped by 48%.
Nor were the needs of south Oshawa overlooked. In 1975 a small trailer located at the Sydenham Post offered limited library service. In 1977 Bob Hann gave the library 7,500 square feet of space in his new plaza, Lake Vista Square. His donation also included $60,000. for books and furniture for the Jess Hann Branch. His generosity has continued as he has extended the library's rent free lease for 25 consecutive years.
The McLaughlin Branch began to feel cramped by 1972. The idea for an addition had been in the board's long-term plan since 1970. In 1974 the McLaughlin Foundation indicated to the library board that a grant might be available for an addition if city council would approve. That summer the foundation granted $50,000 to start. In 1975, another $400,000 was donated by the foundation. Meanwhile, the library sought Wintario lottery assistance and received $300,000 from them, while the city supplied $332,000 from reserve funds collected from levies. The city donated the land, which had previously been occupied by the Oshawa Legion and sod was broken on April 26, 1977. Local builder Walter Schleiss was hired as building co-ordinator.
Shortly after starting, the expansion began to run over budget, but was saved by yet another donation from the McLaughlin Foundation in the amount of $150,000.
The flow of cash enabled the expansion to be increased from an original plan of 17,000 square feet to the existing 23,000 square feet.
Opened February 15th, 1978, the extension boasted better lighting, more shelf space and more storage space in addition to a ramp leading to the library auditorium. The audio-visual department was moved to the first floor; the reference area expanded and the book return section made roomier by installation of a book conveyor to the basement sorting area. Expansion also took place in the children's library and a small auditorium, Studio '77, was added. A new delivery area, bookmobile garage, fire escape and mechanical plant were also added. Premier William Davis officially opened the addition on April 11th, 1978.
With the revolution in technology, the library's role as an information provider had to change. Automation was unfolded in stages - in 1990 the Adult Department circulation went on-line. In 1991, the card catalogue was retired with the changeover to the on-line public access catalogue. The Children's Department, Northview and Jess Hann Branches became automated the following June. When the 1990s began, few people had ever heard of "the information highway." By the mid 90s, the Library understood clearly what it meant and that we must not only navigate it ourselves but also help our users hone their information retrieval skills. We launched three Internet stations in our Reference area in April of 1998. This service was instantly popular and in such high demand that we needed to expand it immediately. Thanks to funding provided by Human Resources Development Canada, seven more Internet stations were added in early 1999. There is now Internet service at all branches. In 2000 the Library began the renovation of the Main Reading Room of the McLaughlin Library. Only cosmetic changes had been made to this room since the library opened in 1954, and this room was also the only available space for additional shelving. The original circulation desk was not adequate for the Library’s automated system. The high ceiling meant that scaffolding had to be erected to change light bulbs. The flooring needed replacement, and there were ventilation problems to be rectified. The Library was aware of these needs during the lean 1990’s, but there was simply no funding available to address them.
In 1998 a former Board member, Don Malcolm, suggested the Library Board submit a funding appeal to the McLaughlin Foundation. This was done, and the Board was delighted when the Foundation designated a $100,000. grant. However, this was matching funding only. In order to receive any or all of it, the Library had to obtain the rest of the funding from another source. Under the direction of Councillor Brian Nicholson who was on our Library Board, the City was approached for the needed funding; and it was approved in our 1999 budget. Thus, planning could begin for our second millennium project. By March, a local architect, Reg Freethy had been commissioned to design three concepts for the room; and the Library Board instructed him that the renovation was “to be a whole new look worthy of a millennium project.”
Over the summer months, there were some delays; but construction did begin on September 7th; and our wonderful new look (which is indeed worthy of a millennium project) was unveiled at a formal opening on November 6th where Mayor Diamond and Joan Sanderson, our Board Chair, officially cut the ribbon and declared our room open for business.
The Oshawa Public Library Board received a donation of $100,000 from the R. Samuel McLaughlin Foundation in September 2001. The options for use of this donation were referred to the Strategic Planning Committee. At the December 20, 2001 board meeting, the Oshawa Public Library Board passed a motion to use the donation to renovate the McLaughlin Room into a quiet study and leisure reading area. In May 2002, J. R. Freethy Architect was awarded the contract to renovate the McLaughlin Room and construction began over the course of the next year. The official opening of the room was held on November 7th, 2003.
Current Achievements 2004-Present
Oshawa is part of Durham Region, one of Canada's fastest growing areas and the Oshawa Public Libraries is committed to continuing our dual roles as a lifelong learning and cultural centre for our community.
New Logo for the Library
On March 15th and 16th 2006 the Library celebrated the official launch of its new Oshawa Public Libraries logo. It was a huge success. Mayor John Gray opened the ceremony with a wonderful plug for libraries in this age of information, followed by Library Board Chair Garth Johns discussing the Library’s focus on connection with the community and thus a new dynamic logo symbolizing this connection. Many positive and congratulatory statements were received about the new logo – it is clearly admired and approved of by the public.
Legends Centre Branch
In April 2006 a new library facility opened within the new Legends Centre Recreation Complex built on Harmony Road North, north of the Wal-Mart and Home Depot. This $39 million state-of-the-art facility also features four NHL sized ice pads for hockey, figure-skating and leisure skating, a spectacular leisure pool and waterslide, a comfortable seniors' centre, gymnasium, fitness centre, elevated indoor track and other outdoor amenities.
The library is a 10,000 square foot, full service library branch, with a reading room with a fireplace and public computer workstations.
Jess Hann Branch Renovation
In celebration of 30 years of serving the South Oshawa community, a massive renovation was performed on the Jess Hann Branch in 2007. The branch was re-opened to celebrate its 30th anniversary and renovation on Saturday May 5th 2007 much to the delight of its community. The bright, open space, new design and furnishings received enthusiastic responses from the public.
The branch is the second (after Legends) to implement RFID tagging and the new check-out system and the new security gates provide statistical counts of customer traffic into the branch.
A partnership with the Durham College Job Connect program was also established. Their staff use the Branch’s Career Centre computer twice a week, counselling customers on compiling resumes, job search strategies and interview preparation.
The Oshawa Public Libraries logo was unveiled in March 2006.
- This logo depicts interaction between the library and the public.
- It is a very modern and upbeat design that we believe has great symbolic strength.
- It embodies the sharing of information.
- It exemplifies the interplay between the Oshawa libraries and the borrowing of information from one library to the other.
- It shows movement and depicts growth of information and the versatility of the library staff.
- The different colours of the lines portray the multiculturalism of our community.
- The circles represent ‘spheres’ of information that are being circulated throughout the community.