On Nov. 3rd, 1967, 50 years ago this month, Governor General Roland Michener officially opened the new Red Deer Public Library. The new Centennial Library building marked the first time that the local Public Library occupied a facility that had been purpose-built for it.
When the Public Library was first established in 1914, it was located in a portion of the Board of Trade offices on the second floor on the west end of the City Hall. The space was small. The collection of books was very modest.
However, the Board of Trade provided the space rent free. This was an important consideration to the Library Board which had a total budget of less than $1,000, including the salary paid to the first librarian.
While the Library was being established, the First World War broke out. Resources for the Library became even more limited. After the war, a harsh economic depression set in. Nevertheless, the City’s grant to the Library was maintained. The Board of Trade continued to provide the Library space without charge.
Consequently, despite any shortcomings to the facilities, the Library stayed in the same spot for more than 35 years. Finally, in 1951, the Library moved to main floor of the RCMP building, north of City Hall.
The new space was welcome. However, one of the problems was that the single RCMP constables still lived on the second floor. If one of them had a lengthy shower, water would start dripping from the ceiling onto the books and desks in the Library.
By the 1960s, it was obvious that more appropriate space was needed. In 1963-1964, when the new City Hall was built, the Library was given space on the second floor. Shortly thereafter, a decision was made to construct a new Library building as the City’s official Canada centennial project.
There were many challenges to the project, including the defeat of the debenture (loan) authorization in a special plebiscite. However, City council and the Library Board did a lot of juggling to get the necessary funds in place without triggering a second plebiscite.
There was also a prolonged debate over where the new Library building should be located. Finally, Charlie and Mabel Snell intervened. 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 about losing their convenient parking stalls. However, the Snells’ offer put an end to any public objections.
Red Deer was justly very proud of the new Library building. However, with the community continuing to grow strongly, within a few years, it was obvious that more space would soon be needed.
In 1979, a second floor was constructed onto the Centennial Library. A big boost to covering the costs of the addition was a very large donation from Norman and Iva Bower. Shortly thereafter, a second branch of the Library was created as part of the G.H. Dawe Community Centre project in north Red Deer.
In the early 1990s, despite major spending cutbacks by all levels of government, the Library was able to acquire the adjacent Red Deer Fire Hall and convert it into a Children’s Library. This expansion to the Library officially opened in September 1995.
In 2002, the Public Library, together with the Parkland Regional Library, entered into a unique partnership agreement with Red Deer College to construct the new Library and Information Common on the College campus.
Between 2008 and 2010, the Dawe Library was included in a major reconstruction and renovation of the G.H. Dawe Community Centre. A wonderful new facility and expanded service was created.
As the Public Library celebrated its centennial year in 2014, a third branch was built as part of the new Ecole Barrie Wilson School in the Timberlands subdivision.