Celebrating the Red Deer Public Library’s centennial

This year marks an important milestone in our community’s history. It was one 100 years ago, on April 23, 1914, that the Red Deer Public Library was formally established.

Central Alberta already had a long history of libraries, going back to the early 1890s when the Tindastoll Icelandic debating society (Lestrarfelgith Ithun) started a small library near the hamlet of Markerville. Red Deer opened a public reading room in the Michener Block in 1902, but the building was destroyed by fire in September 1904.

In the spring of 1909, Dr. Henry George established a library in conjunction with his museum on the northwest corner of Ross St. and Nanton (48) Ave. However, a $1 per year membership fee was required to use the library. There was also a charge of five cents per book borrowed.

Meanwhile, in March 1907, the provincial government passed the Public Libraries Act. It set the rules for the creation of municipal tax-supported public libraries. A petition containing the signatures at least 10% of the ratepayers had to be submitted to the local municipal council. The council could then draw up an authorizing bylaw. Once these requirements were met, the new library was eligible for a matching grant from the provincial government, up to a maximum of $300 per year.

In early January, 1914, the executive of the Red Deer Horticultural Society appointed J.F. Boyce and A.W.G. Allen to be a special committee to initiate the creation of a tax-supported public library in Red Deer. On Feb. 26, 1914, Mr. Boyce and Mr. Allen appeared before City council to solicit their support. The councillors were very receptive to the idea. Mr. Boyce then spearheaded the drive to secure the necessary number of signatures on the required petition.

The response from the community was very strong. By early March, Mr. Boyce had more than enough signatures. On March 12, City council officially accepted the petition and directed that a bylaw be drafted. The ratepayers expressed their overwhelming approval in a special vote held on April 14 by a margin of 62 to 10.

On Thursday, April 23, 1914, Red Deer City council gave third and final reading to the library by-law. The Red Deer Public Library was now officially established. J.F. Boyce was appointed to be the first chair, with H.H. Gaetz appointed as the first secretary-treasurer. Mayor Stan Carscallen and Councillor J. T. Watson were selected as the City council representatives. Francis Whitehouse, a local banker and prominent member of the local Alberta Natural History Society, was the appointed as the fifth member of the library board.

One of the first issues to be tackled was a location for the library. Given that Red Deer was mired in a recession, no plans were made to construct a library building in the foreseeable future. Instead, an agreement was struck with the Red Deer Board of Trade (Chamber of Commerce) to use, rent free, a portion of the Board’s offices on the west end of City Hall.

There was also the issue of finances. The City agreed to provide an annual grant of $350, to be matched by the provincial libraries grant of $300. The Village of North Red Deer also made a grant of $50. The Alberta Natural History Society donated $40, the Horticultural Society gave $15 and the Red Deer Women’s Institute contributed $10.25. The Red Deer Local of the Socialist Party gave $25, while the general public donated another $300.

Ina Greene was hired to be the first librarian. On Friday, Nov. 6, 1914, the Public Library opened for the registration of members and issuance of library cards. The Library began the loaning of books on the afternoon and evening of Saturday, Nov. 7. Alberta’s third public library was now in full operation.

On April 23, the Red Deer Public Library will be holding a centennial birthday party. Details on the event are available by contacting the Library or by viewing the web site at www.rdpl.org/link.

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