John F. Boyce – instrumental in library formation

This year marks an important milestone in one of the key public institutions in our community. One hundred years ago, in April 1914, the Red Deer Public Library was formally established.

The man most responsible for the library’s creation was John Franklin Boyce. He was born near Cobourg, Ontario in 1867, a few months after the official creation of the Dominion of Canada.

After his completion of high school, Boyce enrolled in the University of Toronto.

His initial studies were in the natural sciences and he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, with honours. For two years, he studied medicine, but decided to switch careers and become a teacher instead of a doctor.

He also decided to explore the opportunities in western Canada. He secured a job as the assistant principal at the Calgary High School in 1897. He was soon promoted to the position of senior principal for the entire Calgary Public School District.

In 1903, he was appointed by the Department of Education to be the school inspector for Central Alberta.

The following year, he made Red Deer his headquarters, since the town was mid-point between the other two school inspectors’ offices in Calgary and Edmonton.

Boyce quickly became very active in the community. He joined the local Masonic Lodge and was active with the local Independent Order of Oddfellows (I.O.O.F.).

He was active in sports, particularly with curling and golf. He loved to camp in the mountains, and later became a life member of the Alpine Club of Canada.

In keeping with his early interest in the natural sciences, he joined the Red Deer Branch of the Alberta Natural History Society. He helped to found the Red Deer Horticultural Society in 1911, and served as the first president.

One of Boyce’s strongest interests was in establishing a public library in Red Deer. He was part of the effort in 1907, by the I.O.O.F. and others, to start a public library in the community. Unfortunately, that initiative faltered.

Between 1911 and 1913, the Red Deer Horticultural Society promoted the implementation of formal town planning. In 1913, when Red Deer’s civic centre plan was finalized, a proposal was included to construct a public library on either what is now City Hall Park, or on the block to the west, now occupied by the Federal Building (the old Post Office).

Meanwhile, in November 1913, the provincial public librarian wrote to Red Deer’s City council asking if the community “Possessed a library of any description.”

That helped bolster the idea of establishing a public library in Red Deer.

In early January 1914, the executive of the Red Deer Horticultural Society appointed Boyce and A.W.G. Allen to be a special committee to investigate what would be involved in creating a library under the provincial Libraries Act, and to move forward with the proposal.

Because the economy was mired is a sharp recession, a decision was made not to proceed with the idea of construction of a library building. Instead, the local board of trade was asked if they would be willing to provide space in their offices on the east end of City Hall. The board reacted positively to the suggestion.

On Feb. 26, 1914, Boyce and Allen appeared before City council to solicit their support.

Their submission was very well received by the councillors. In particular, council liked the fact that Boyce and Allen indicated that they initially would only be asking for a small grant towards operating expenses, with a matching grant from the provincial government and donations from the public then becoming possible.

With the encouraging reception from City council, Boyce then spearheaded the drive to secure the signatures of at least 10% of the local ratepayers on a petition to council, as required under the Libraries Act.

The necessary number of signatures was quickly secured, and the formal request was then made to City council to pass a library bylaw.

To be continued.

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