CITY LANDMARK - Red Deer’s new Centennial Library

How Red Deer marked Canada’s grand Centennial

The Downtown Library was the City's centennial project in 1967

The celebrations of the 150th anniversary of Canada’s formation as a nation are now underway. There are many events and activities planned to mark this important milestone our country’s history.

It is also now 50 years since Canada celebrated its centennial. The year 1967 was a glorious time as Canadians reflected with pride as to how far the country had come in just 100 years and express their confidence that the very best years were still to come.

Every province, every community, almost every organization and a great many individuals took on a centennial project. In 1964, as plans for the great national birthday party started to take shape, Red Deer decided to make a new public library the City’s official community centennial project.

That a new library was badly needed had been evident for many years.

For a long time, the library had shared a small old building on the north side of Ross Street, with the City detachment of the RCMP.

The space was cramped.

When the RCMP members took a long shower in the apartments upstairs, the librarians often had to keep the water from dripping onto the books below.

In 1964, the library was given what was considered to be temporary accommodations in the east end of the second floor of the new City Hall. However, even the new space was very limited. Moreover, the plans were that the space would soon be needed for additional civic administration offices.

While people agreed that a new permanent library building was needed, where it was to be built and how much it would cost became a matter of considerable public debate.

A huge setback came in the 1965 municipal elections. A plebiscite authorizing the borrowing of $192,000 to help fund the construction of a $400,000 library building was defeated by a vote of 1,178 to 2,277.

City council then went to work on a revised, and hopefully more acceptable, proposal. A new bylaw to borrow $100,000 for a Centennial Library was submitted to the voters on Dec. 8th, 1965. It passed by a narrow 95 vote margin.

A debate then began as to where the library would be located.

The Mayor stated that since a site in the Recreation Centre park had been mentioned during the second plebiscite, the City was morally obligated to build there.

A number of the City’s centennial committee members took issue with the Mayor’s stance. They also considered some of City council’s actions and comments to be a lack of confidence in what the committee had been doing. Hence, several members of the committee resigned.

A new committee was appointed, but the debate over the site continued. Charlie and Mabel Snell then intervened. Charlie had been chair of the Library Board for many years and his wife had worked for a long time as the librarian.

The Snells offered a donation of $55,000 if the Library was built on the City staff parking lot next to City Hall and west of the Fire Hall.

Several senior City staff were not very happy as this would mean that they would lose their convenient parking stalls. However, the Snells’ very generous offer put an end to any public objections they may have had.

Construction of the new building soon commenced. On Nov. 3rd, 1967, the new Red Deer Centennial Library was officially opened by the Governor General of Canada, the Right Honourable Roland Michener.

Roland Michener had been raised in Red Deer.

His appointment as Canada’s 20th governor general in March 1967 had been considered a wonderful centennial boost to the community. Moreover, people were extremely pleased that during his first official visit to his old hometown, that he had opened Red Deer’s wonderful new library as well as the new Red Deer College complex in the southwest corner of the City.