On April 23, an important historical milestone was marked in Red Deer. The Red Deer Public Library celebrated the 100th anniversary of its creation. Many people turned out to enjoy the events and show their appreciation for all the wonderful things that the public library does for the community.
While there have been a great many changes to the public library over the past 100 years and the current facilities are very different from the little room in which it was initially housed, there have been surprisingly few locations for the library over the years.
Initially, the public library 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 and furnishings were very modest.
However, the Board of Trade provided the space rent free. Furthermore, heat, light and janitorial services were also provided free of charge. 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, Ina Scanlan, of only $12 to $14 per month.
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 and the Board of Trade continued to provide the 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 the main floor and basement of the RCMP building, north of City Hall and east of the old AGT exchange. There was welcome new space. 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 new and more appropriate space was needed. In 1963-1964, when the new City Hall was built, the Library was given space on the second floor, overlooking City Hall Park. Shortly thereafter, a decision was made to construct a new Library building as the City’s official Canada centennial project.
There were challenges, 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 for the project in place without triggering a second plebiscite. Charlie and Mabel Snell helped with a large financial donation.
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. Hazel Flewwelling was the chair of the very impressive public fundraising drive. This expansion to the Library officially opened on Sept. 17, 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. The cost of the new complex was more than $10 million.
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 celebrates its centennial year, construction is underway for a third branch in the Timberlands subdivision. Thus, this wonderful community asset continues to grow and flourish.