Winnipeg’s Carnegie Library celebrates 100th birthday
18 October 2005
The Carnegie Public Library was officially opened on October 11th, 1905 by Governor General Earl Grey. The first public library building in Winnipeg, constructed with a grant of $75,000 from American industrialist and philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, it functioned as Winnipeg’s central library until the completion of the Centennial Library in 1977. Following completion of the Centennial Library, the Carnegie Library was closed. However, community appeals resulted in the reopening of the building as the William Avenue Branch Library in 1978. The William Avenue Branch was closed in 1994. From 1977 to 2005, space for library services and programs was gradually reduced and reallocated to storage of the City’s archival records which number approximately 7,000 metres of records of the City and amalgamated municipalities dating back to 1874.
Historical Background Notes
- First public library building in Winnipeg, constructed with a grant of $75,000 from American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. Two other Winnipeg libraries the St. John’s Branch on Salter Street and the Cornish Branch on West Gate were also built with Carnegie funds (a twin grant of $35,000 in 1915). Through Carnegie’s generosity, 2,500 libraries were built around the world, including 124 in Canada. The Carnegie Library on William Avenue was the forty-ninth library in Canada to be built with funds from the Carnegie endowment.
- Controversial design competition. Citing cost, local contractors declined to bid on tenders for the first and second prize designs (H. S. Griffiths and Samuel Hooper respectively). A revised design by Hooper resulted in a successful tender from builders Smith and Sharpe.
- Construction began late in 1903.
- The library was opened on October 11, 1905 by Governor General Earl Grey. (see anecdote below)
- A two-story addition also financed by Carnegie was added to the back of the building in 1908.
- Following completion of the Centennial Library in 1977, the Carnegie Library was closed. However, community appeals resulted in the reopening of the building as the William Avenue Branch Library in 1978. The branch was closed in 1994.
- From 1977 to 1994, space for library services and programs was gradually reduced and reallocated to storage of the City’s archival records.
- Over the years the portrait of Carnegie was damaged and finally removed to basement storage. · 380 William Avenue is presently the home of the City of Winnipeg Archives where the City of Winnipeg keeps the permanent records of civic government and administration since its incorporation in 1874.
Carnegie Library Architectural Features
- Restrained classical style combining elements of Greek and Roman architecture.
- Window shape and detail, pedimented porticos, and a heavy arched entranceway provide interest.
- Adorned with stone cartouches on either side of the front door, reading “History & Literature” and “Arts and Science”.
- Engraved above the front door archway, “Free to All”.
- Finished in native grey limestone.
- Marble staircase to second floor.
Opening of the Library Manitoba Free Press Wednesday, October 11, 1905:
This afternoon at 2:30 the ceremony of opening the new Carnegie library will be started. The Vice-Regal party will be attended by a guard of honor composed of a company of school cadets from Norquay, Alexander and Somerset schools. Countess Grey will unlock the great front doors with a key which will be presented to her by Alderman Sandison. The party will then enter and the Governor-General will be asked to open the building formally. As soon as the institution is declared open, His Excellency will be presented with the first Carnegie library ticket, and he will take out a book in the usual way.
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