Port Elgin Library celebrates 110 years

Port Elgin Library celebrates 110 years

1908 – 2018

     Joanne Bower, Jackie Firth, Anne Judd, Jo-Anne Hamer, Kathy Samson and Debra                                                         Seyler cut the cakes

{Research and Notes by Anne Judd for Friends of the Library}

Port Elgin’s first public library shared space in the Town Hall, on the site of today’s Post Office.

In 1907, the Library Board approached Council proposing that they apply for a grant from the Carnegie Foundation in New York.

The Carnegie grant carried three conditions:

  • The Library must offer free services
  • It must provide books for children as well as adults
  • the village must agree to pay yearly maintenance costs of at least 10 per cent of the grant

S. G. Kinsey, architect of Port Elgin designed a building that would house the library and a large auditorium but the first set of plans had to be modified to meet Mr. Carnegie’s approval.

The lot at the corner of Elgin and Goderich Streets had been the site of the old Royal Hotel and later an apple evaporating plant and chopping mill. The building had burned in 1901 and Mrs. Emily Hilker, mother of the Reeve, offered the lot for $300.  On July 1, 1907, the Dominion Day Demonstration raised $200 to go toward the purchase and several concerts brought in more funds.

David Martindale prepared the lot and the brothers August and John Miller won the contract to construct the building for $6,330 and work began in the spring of 1908.  By June, they were already working on the second level.

Orders int he fall brought in the necessary furniture, an acetylene plant for lighting and 10 tons of coal for heat.  The circulation desk and large tables are still there today.

The grand opening took place on December 18, 1908 followed by an evening concert in the Town Hall.  By the end of the month, Council was holding its sessions in the large, lower-level meeting room. Saugeen Township Council met in a smaller room as did the Port Elgin Women’s Institute.

The first librarian was Miss Flora Ann MacKay, a teacher from Bruce Township.  In 1911, census records Pearl Wismer held the position at an annual salary of $250.

During the Great War, recruiting officers of the 160th Bruce Battalion used space in the Library to sign up men who enlisted for overseas service.  Those who gave their lives in service are remembered on the memorials that were placed in front of the library during Port Elgin’s 1924 reunion and are now in Cenotaph Park.

Bruce County Council met in the library for its June 1937 session at which steps began to create the Bruce County Forests.  The library also provided space for short courses held by the Department of agriculture.

In the 1940s and 50s, the library was a popular place for studying, completing homework assignments or attending Junior Farmers or Junior Institute meetings.

The county-wide co-operative which was the forerunner of the Bruce County Public Library system began in the Port Elgin library and was the home base for the bookmobile and the collection of books and magazines that traveled to other towns and villages, four of which also had Carnegie-funded libraries.

The 1970s brought big changes with expansion and renovation of the lower level for children’s books and activities.

In 1990, the library received provincial designation as a heritage building, recognizing its significant design elements and ensuring they would remain intact.

Growing concerns about accessibility prompted the Council of 1994 to consider installing a lift to help patrons reach the upper level.  Unfortunately, provincial funding levels dropped before the project would be carried out.

Some of the renovations and changes over the next decades included refinishing the hardwood floors, addition of music tape and movies to the collection and more programming for young children such as storytimes and craft activities.

Revived in 2006, a Friends of the Library group has provided adult programs, funded refinishing of original furnishings and supported or enhanced programs and services.

Expansion and renovation of the library in hits 100th year, brought accessibility to all levels and allowed more services particularly with public computer stations an other technology. The gran opening in April 2009 celebrated a successful update that complements the grand  old original Library.


     … and now… Library in 2018
Then … Library in 1908