Posted by: Cornwall Community Museum | October 17, 2015

Artifact of the Week. Cornwall Free (Public) Library.


Library0001An Edwardian Cornwall Library Card.

Dedicated to elevating “the tastes of the reading public” the Cornwall Public Library grew out of the Mechanic’s Institute.  Headed by James Hall, the Institute’s directors established a lending library and reading room in the Turner Block on Pitt St. in 1890.  Supported by annual memberships, men paid 50 cents while women paid 25 cents.  Supplemented by donations and a $100 grant from the town, the library subscribed to lending magazines, lent books, and organized a night school for “a class whose education has been neglected.”  Despite these efforts, in 1893 a Toronto “Globe” reported critically noted that the library lacked “Canadian literature of any sort among its holdings.”

Undaunted by this criticism 35 local supporters donated more than $100 each for books, while over 300 petitions petitioned over 300 citizens petitioned town council to make the library free.  Headed by Institute President Dr. D.O. Alguire, council was informed that if their request was successful, that they would give the town its 1,500 books and furniture valued at $1,400.  On October 7, 1895 council consented to this appeal and the Cornwall Public Library was born.

Now house in the Glengarry Block, under the charge of librarian Nellie Hollenbrock, the collection grew to 3,500 volumes serving 710 members.

Taking advantage of a continent wide trend, library board secretary, James Bertram approached the Carnegie Foundation for funds.  Successful in its bids for assistance, a new brick library was opened in 1903.

Library0003                        An Edwardian coloured postcard of the Library on the                southwest Sydney and 2nd St. East.

Coming under the charge of librarian Miss Linda Clarke, whose “services included dusting and care of the furnace,” board members also took an active role in the day-to-day operation, with each title purchased personally signed by a minimum of 4 directors.  On the other hand, cataloguing was sporadic, and the first full time cataloger was not hired until 1938.  When they were, the library was found to have 3,300 non-fiction books, 5,000 fiction, 600 children’s non-fiction and 2,700 books for juveniles.

Library0004 The Carnegie Library looking north along Sydney Street to the McMartin House, soon to be the Nazareth Orphanage and now the site of the current public library.

Library supporters now began lobbying council for a larger building.  In recognition of the need for more space, council voted for expansion in 1941.

The war, however, put the plan on hold, while the library continued to grow.  Three years later Miss Clarke reported that the library had 14,780 circulating books, and 3,010 members.  Granted $3,134 a year, the library eked out a $304 surplus.

And still plans for expansion continued.

In 1948 John D. Fry became Cornwall’s first professionally trained librarian.  Arriving here to build a new library, he installed the first telephone, and overhauled the collection, but was forced to resign due to sickness without building his new library.  Replaced by Ethel Dewar in 1953, the long-awaited expansion plans began to jell a year when the City agreed to purchase the Cline House for a new library.  In 1956 Cline House was opened as our public library.  Library0007

The Cline House with its famous birdcage porch before being turned into a library.


Opposition Leader Robert Standfield at the official opening of the Simon Fraser Library, Cornwall’s Centennial Project.  On the stage from left to right.  Mayor Nick Kaneb; unknown, MP Lucien Lamoureux, Prime Minister Lester Pearson, women unknown, unknown, MPP Fern Guindon…

Now employing a children’s librarian, the Kinsmen Club donated $10,000 to purchase 5,500 books.  Continued community support insured that the library would soon outgrow its new home.Library0006

Fortunately Canada’s 1967 centennial celebrations (Cornwall so far has done nothing for our 150th birthday, if you are interested attend the Museum’s open house on Nov. 21st from 1 pm to 3 pm).  provided the necessary funds to solve this problem.  Prime Minister Lester Pearson laid for cornerstone for the Simon Fraser Centennial Library.

Cornwall Nick Kaneb on the right presents Prime Minister with a pair of Cornwall area made lacrosse sticks at the official opening of the Simon Fraser Centennial Library.  Cornwall has always provided dignitaries with interesting gifts.  When the Queen visited Cornwall for the official opening of the St. Lawrence Seaway, the City gave her a Larson motorboat.

Rapidly outgrowing even this addition in 1977, the Kinsmen Club, along with the City the provincial Wintario Lottery, the federal government, the Eastern Ontario Regional Library system and the community at large – contributed to the building of the $450,000 Kinsmen Wing.

This is just a very short overview of Cornwall’s library services, if you are interested in viewing more photographs or learning more history visit the Cornwall Community Museum.




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