History of the Richmond Hill Public Library
The Library shall be the exclusive property of the shareholders; the payment of one pound currency shall constitute a shareholder; each shareholder shall on drawing the first book, pay the sum of 1s,3d toward defraying the incidental expenses of the Association; any shareholder keeping a book longer than the specified therein shall be fined two pence for every week it is retained…
-Rules & Regulations,
Richmond Hill Library Association,
formed December 23, 1852
Richmond Hill Library Association,
formed December 23, 1852
THE FIRST MEETING of the Richmond Hill Library Association, December 23, 1852, was a productive one. In addition to developing an extensive list of rules and regulations, the Association chose Reverend James Dick, of the Richmond Hill Presbyterian Church as its president. Robert McLellan, the Common School headmaster, served as librarian, receiving £3.00 annually for his efforts. The library, with a collection of 357 books, was open to its 54 shareholders one evening a week from 6:30 to 9:00.
A letter dated July 6, 1853, to a shareholder of the Richmond Hill Library Association requesting the return of a volume from the collection and the payment of fines owing.
In 1865, a branch of the Mechanics Institute was formed. This was a cultural organization that had its origins in Great Britain in the 19th century. The objective of the Canadian Branch was self-improvement by means of books, discussions, and lectures. The Institute functioned in conjunction with the Library Association, with members of each organization allowed to borrow from the other's collection for an annual fee of 25¢.
Towards the end of the 19th century there was a growing demand for Public Libraries without the membership fee that had always been charged by the Mechanics Institute. In 1870, a decision was made to incorporate a Richmond Hill Public Library in accordance with the Statutes of the Province.
THE NEW RICHMOND HILL DISTRICT PUBLIC LIBRARY had a book count of about 5,000 volumes and Robert Law, a druggist in the village, was appointed librarian. The library was established in the new Masonic Hall on Yonge Street.
Housed at the rear of the building, the room was approached through a grey wooden plank porch that was lighted at night by a well-protected lantern. During the winter, the library was redolent with the pungent odour of pine and hardwood burning in the black box stove. A couple of well-trimmed coal lamps lit the librarian's cage and the newspaper desk.
The library continued to flourish in the small village under the direction of several dedicated librarians, including T.H. Mahon, publisher of The Liberal, A.J. Hume, village clerk, George Cowie, the village blacksmith, Ambrose Phipps, commercial traveller, and his son Rand, whose major task was to organize the big move of the library in 1932.
The Richmond Hill District Public Library formed in 1870 was housed in the Masonic Hall on Yonge Street. Shown in this photo from the 1950s, the Hall was located north of the Richmond Hill United Church.
IN 1926, the members of the Richmond Hill Women's Institute, realizing the need for improved library service, started a Special Library Fund that by April 1927 had risen to $170. For the next twenty-two years, the proceeds from plays, bridge parties, suppers, and teas were added to the fund.
A committee was formed to investigate the building of a new library and on September 7, 1932 Council granted the use of a front upper room of the municipal chambers for library purposes. The Women's Institute provided new tables and chairs.
LIBRARY SERVICE to the community continued to expand and in 1949, bonds held by the Women's Institute were cashed and $1,752.54 was presented to Miss Katherine Ball, Chairman of the Library Board.
This handsome gift was complemented with a generous grant from the Council and enabled the library to move into larger and redecorated quarters on the lower level of the municipal chambers. Under the chairmanship of Mrs. R.D. Little, additional staff were hired and many new books were added.
MR. ANGUS MOWAT, then a resident of Richmond Hill and Director of Public Library Service for the Province of Ontario, conducted a comprehensive survey of the library in February, 1958. Mr. Mowat, father of author Farley Mowat, reported: "formerly being wretchedly supported and located in hopelessly bad quarters, this was listed as one of the practically moribund village libraries in the province. Since 1949, however, it has made excellent progress. " He continued, "the fiction is a particularly good collection and I am please to note that, while pornography finds no place on the shelves, prudishness doesn't either! "
In his final recommendation, the Director noted "the library should have a telephone - library service is a business. The library room is most attractive and is set forth as an example to other libraries to get ideas for colour and arrangement and although it is clean I doubt if its cleanliness can be maintained unless more is spent on a janitor service!" Finally, Mr. Mowat stated: "this is one of the best village libraries but it emerged from darkness only a short while ago and there is still much to be accomplished."
DURING THE NEXT TEN YEARS Richmond Hill experienced a population explosion as surrounding farmland was rapidly developed. With its population approaching 7,000 residents and the accompanying expansion of services it became apparent by 1957 that a new building was needed. During that year the library was deeded land on Wright Street and a building program began.
In June 1959, the local scout troop assisted with the transfer of the collection to the new Wright Street Library.
In September 1957, the first full-time Librarian, Irma Kadela was appointed and 33,000 books were circulated. A year later, when the library increased hours of operation from 10 to 31 hours per week, annual circulation increased to 61,375 items.
In June 1959, the new building at 24 Wright Street was completed. Designed by architect Philip Brook, it won the Massey Award for Architecture. Chief Librarian Fred Israel called upon the local scouting contingent for help in moving the library from the room at the town hall next door to the new library. The boys literally passed the books hand-over-hand until all the materials were transferred. Only a year later, circulation jumped to 183,371 annually. Residents were clearly attracted to the new building.
IN 1971, THE WRIGHT STREET library became the Central Library of the Richmond Hill Public Library system when the Centennial Library in Richvale was transferred from the Township of Vaughan as part of the realignment of municipal boundaries and the formation of Regional Municipality of York.
The Richvale Centennial Library, renamed the Richvale Branch Library, was a converted school portable. The adult department was on one side of the entrance and the children's section on the other. The only washroom was behind the circulation desk and was shared by staff, patrons, and the children playing in the school yard next door. Despite the small facilities, this library was well used and much appreciated by the Richvale residents.
RECOGNIZING THAT OAK RIDGES residents needed access to books, Patricia Hart, the Chief Librarian, initiated an outreach service. Library staff member Josie Fleming put boxes of books in the trunk of her car, drove them to Oak Ridges, and manually checked them out to residents.
Library service to Oak Ridges began with staff members delivering books by car.
On December 1, 1971, in partnership with the York County Board of Education, a school portable on the grounds of Lake Wilcox School became the Wildwood Branch. A paperback library, this facility was even more rustic than Richvale Library as it lacked both a washroom and air conditioning. Eventually, a more permanent home was built in 1975. The 3,950 square foot Charles Connor Library shared a building with a firehall, which made for interesting sound effects in the quiet library.
THAT SAME YEAR, given the steady increase in population to 32,384 and the growing demand for services, it became obvious that more space would be required in the Central Library, which now housed a new local history-genealogy collection.
Architect Philip Brook was again commissioned, this time to design an addition that would complement the existing building and include a separate children's room and space for an expansion of the adult services department. This new west wing with its soaring skylight was officially opened in 1975. In 1976, Patricia Hart's last year as Chief Librarian saw circulation exceed 300,000 items per year. Betty Rowland became Chief Librarian in 1977.
A major renovation to the Central Library was undertaken in 1979 when a Wintario Grant of $73,000 was awarded to the Library Board for modifications to the building for easier access for handicapped patrons. The official opening of the new facilities was held October 19, 1979.
THE CURRENT RICHVALE LIBRARY opened in 1983. The new 8,000 square foot branch library was designed by architect Phillip Carter to blend into the community. That year, circulation of all library materials totaled almost 350,000 and 21 full-time and 20 part-time staff members worked in the three libraries in the system.
Betty Rowland retired in 1987 and Jane Horrocks became the Chief Librarian. The system continued to expand when the Charles Connor branch relocated in 1990 to a 6,000 square foot site in a storefront location on Yonge Street. Its new name, the Oak Ridges Moraine Library, was the result of a community contest.
CONSTRUCTION BEGAN in 1992 on a new four-story, 60,000 square foot Central Library on the corner of Yonge Street and Major MacKenzie Drive. It opened in August 1993, with 170,000 volumes on the shelves.
Richmond Hill residents show their support at the official opening of the Central Library in October 1993.
Designed by A.J. Diamond, Donald Schmitt and Company, the Central Library won the Governor General's Award for Architecture (1994), the Portland Cement Association Concrete Building Award (1994), and the Financial Post Design Effectiveness Award for Architectural Design (1995).
Following the opening of the new Central Library building, circulation for the system exceeding 1,000,000 items for the first time in 1994.
COMPUTERIZATION OF LIBRARY PROCESSES that had begun in 1985 with the library's automated circulation system, continued with the launch of the its first online public catalogue in 1991. The old card catalogues from all three branches were removed.
The Library continued its active role in the community. In 1991 the Library Board published the Town's first comprehensive history book. Early Days in Richmond Hill: A History of the Community to 1930 by Robert M. Stamp sold 1,000 copies in the first few months.
Genealogy research was facilitated by the introduction of the FamilySearch database in 1994, a collection of CD-ROMs published by the Mormon Church containing vital statistics from all around the world. Additional electronic resources were added with full-text articles from magazines and newspapers, first on CD-ROM, then online in 1998.
The library connected to the Internet in 1997 and provided access to its catalogue through the World Wide Web. The next year it launched its Web site and introduced public access to the Internet at the Central Library. New services and collections were introduced: electronic books, both handheld and via the Internet, were able to be borrowed.
Author Margaret Atwood signs copies of her book Alias Grace after a reading at the Central Library.
Also that year, best-selling Canadian writer Margaret Atwood read from her acclaimed Alias Grace at the Central Library. The novel, based on a local murder that occurred in 1843, had been researched using resources from the library's local history collection.
A second local history volume, Later Days in Richmond Hill: A History of the Community from 1930 to 1999 written by Marney Beck Robinson and Joan M. Clark, was published in November 1999 by the Town of Richmond Hill and the Library Board. The following year the library developed an electronic version of Early Days in Richmond Hill to deliver content to students, genealogists, and local history enthusiasts through the Web site.
Award winning author Robert J. Sawyer was the library's Writer in Residence for the spring and summer of 2000. Mr Sawyer offered writer's workshops and appraised manuscripts from local authors.
THE POPULATION OF RICHMOND HILL grew to be 145,000 by 2001. Residents continued to support and use their libraries, with an average 16,600 visits per week and 94,300 actively used membership cards. More than 15,500 information resources were used within the libraries weekly. By the end of the year, 1,394,500 books, magazines, videos, and other materials had been borrowed. The collection numbered 346,700 items.
With the library's 150th year in 2002, it is again breaking new ground with a partnership with the York Region District School Board for the delivery of library services to a high school through a new public library branch. The Library continues to digitize local history materials to preserve them and provide better access for residents and looks forward to meeting the challenges of providing library service to a population that is projected to be over 200,000 by 2021.