Print Friendly, PDF & Email

February 3, 2021

Community Stories at the Fort Garry Library

Public libraries provide much more than just books. Today, in the digital era, they allow access to online resources and digital media but even in the years before the internet, libraries played many important roles within their communities. Multi-purpose rooms provide space for group meetings, community workshops, and educational lectures. And, of course, libraries provide knowledge – both through trained librarians and shelves upon shelves of books. Because of this, is it any wonder that Winnipeggers welcomed a library with open arms?

Winnipeg’s first public library was the Carnegie Library (380 William Avenue), built in 1905 with funds provided by America’s Carnegie Foundation. As Winnipeg grew, smaller lending stations were set up across the city in schools and drug stores and wherever else they could go. By 1913 there were 35 stations and roughly 500 books circling through these locations every few weeks. Obviously, Winnipeg needed more libraries and by the end of the 1910s, Winnipeg readers had two new libraries to visit: The St. John’s Library (500 Salter Street), and the Cornish Library (20 West Gate). Over the years more libraries were be built and the city would introduce “bookmobiles” to visit neighbourhoods without their own library branch.

The Carnegie Library was Winnipeg’s first public library.
Source: CTV News

Similar needs were being felt in Winnipeg’s surrounding municipalities. Prior to the 1972 Unicity Agreement, Winnipeg’s surrounding neighbourhoods existed as separate municipalities and towns. Charleswood, Fort Garry, North Kildonan, and Old Kildonan, the Town of Tuxedo, the cities of East Kildonan, West Kildonan, St. Vital, Transcona, St. Boniface, and St. James-Assiniboia all had their own municipal structures and community needs, and this included the need for a public library.

In Fort Garry this need came a bit later. Located in southern Winnipeg near the University of Manitoba, the community only began to clamour for a library in the 1950s. In June of 1955, a Fort Garry Library Development Committee was formed and began collecting signatures of support. By October, the Committee had amassed 2,000 signatures and members of neighbouring library associations began voicing their support (including prominent librarian John Russel). This effort paid off, and the Fort Garry Library officially opened on September 23rd, 1956. Education Minister Wallace Conrad Miller led the opening ceremonies, which was then followed by a tea luncheon. This was all before the library even had a building of its own; from 1956-1960, the Fort Garry Library was housed in a 12′ by 24′ room in the Fort Garry Municipal Hall at 1350 Pembina Highway. Unsurprisingly, within a few years it had outgrown the space and construction began on a new home for the library at 1360 Pembina Highway.

The former Fort Garry Municipal Hall (now a fire hall) once housed the Fort Garry library.
Source: Nathan Kramer, Manitoba Historical Society

The Fort Garry Library, built in 1960 and designed by George Stewart.
Source: Winnipeg Public Libraries

Local architect George Stewart was responsible for the new building’s modernist design, with its flat roofline and buffed brick exterior. The interior is well-lit by skylights, which illuminate both the main floor and the mezzanine. It also came with a multipurpose room.

Stewart, born and raised in Boissevain, Manitoba, received his degree in architecture from the University of Manitoba in 1949 and established his own practice shortly after. Somewhere in his career, Stewart developed an interest in community libraries and designed both the Fort Garry Library and the St. Vital Library. Speaking at the Fort Garry Library about his design and his ideas for libraries, Stewart said: ”The role of the library in the modern community is to be a cultural and educational centre which helps people of all ages reach maturity rather than mere adulthood.” Further, he proposed that public libraries be renamed community libraries, to make their purpose more explicit.

George Stewart
Source: Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

Scrolling through the Winnipeg Free Press Archives, it is clear that the Fort Garry Library quickly established itself as a community hub. Across the past sixty years, the Fort Garry Library has played host to a myriad of community events and workshops. Children have attended packed workshops on Ukrainian Egg Painting, the Winnipeg Contemporary Dancers have given lectures and demonstrations, and scores of artists have hung their art on the library walls.

Easter Egg Painting at the Fort Garry Library.
Source: Winnipeg Free Press April 9 1966

The Fort Garry Library underwent $900,000 in renovations in 2014, which added accessible entrances and washrooms, an upgraded multipurpose room and a new play area for children. Unfortunately, part of the renovations involved removing the brise soleil that was located in front of the large windows on the front facade. A brise soleil is a feature of many modernist designs which blocks heat from the sun by deflecting its rays.

The brise soleil was still visible on the left side of the facade of the Fort Garry Library in April 2012.
Source: Google Maps

A new exterior feature was added during the 2014 renovations: a shard garden.

The Shard Garden outside of the Fort Garry Library

Shard gardens, or architecture gardens, are a unique landscaping feature made up of fragments of demolished buildings. While it is certainly not the ideal form of preservation, when a building cannot be rehabilitated a shard garden is a creative way to save architectural elements. There are a few gardens like this throughout Winnipeg; including the English Garden in Assiniboine Park which has architectural fragments tucked away along the curving paths, and the Variety Heritage Adventure Park at the Forks which has limestone building shards for children to explore and enjoy. Other pieces were saved by the City of Winnipeg, The Winnipeg Foundation, and Heritage Winnipeg that are awaiting or found new homes.

The Fort Garry Library’s Garden consists of fragments from four demolished Winnipeg buildings: The Crown Trust Building (362 Main Street), Winnipeg Post Office (236 Portage Avenue), Great Western Building (356 Main Street), and the Thompson and Pope Building (379-381 Portage Avenue).

All four buildings were constructed between 1905-1915, during Winnipeg’s population boom, and featured distinctive terracotta facades. The Crown Trust Building, designed by John D. Atchison in 1911, was the Winnipeg headquarters of both the Allan Line Steamship Company and the Allan Killam and McKay Insurance and Realty Company.

The Crown Trust Building was demolished in 1973 to make way for the Trizec Building and Winnipeg Square.
Source: University of Manitoba Building Index

The Winnipeg Post Office, built in 1905, was designed by David Ewart and boasted a striking classical façade. This was Winnipeg’s sixth post office, and the building was also home to the federal Customs, Dominion Lands, and Public Works offices.

The Winnipeg Post Office was demolished in 1962.
Source: Robert McInnes Postcard Collection.

John H.G. Russell designed the Great Western Building in 1912. It was an ornate office tower, and one of many that Russell would design across his long career.

The Great Western Building was demolished to make way for the Trizec Building and Winnipeg Square.
Source: University of Manitoba Building Index.

Once at the corner of Portage and Edmonton, the Thompson and Pope Building was designed by William Fingland and featured large display windows and an ornamental upper storey with cream-coloured terracotta and coloured shields.

The Thompson and Pope Building was demolished to make way for Portage Place Mall.
Source: Heritage Winnipeg Files

By the 1960s, with Winnipeg’s downtown was in decline and all four were demolished to make way for new developments. Thankfully not all of the building was scrapped and lost forever, and some parts of our architectural history found a new home at the Fort Garry Library.

The Fort Garry Library today, is still a clear model of George Stewart’s community library. In February of 2020, looming budget cuts put the future of the Fort Garry Library at risk – something which the community staunchly opposed. A Free Press editorial spoke highly of the value of the Fort Garry Library. It is one of just two libraries in Winnipeg’s south end, and the only one near a major transit line making it accessible to those without vehicles. More than that, the library was a source of valuable social connections for local seniors, provides resources to Winnipeg newcomers, and hosts a popular summer reading program for children.

The Fort Garry Library in July 2017, after renovations.
Source: Google Maps

Perhaps the staunchest defenders of the Fort Garry Library came from Oakenwald School. Dean Humeny, a fourth grader at the school, wrote a letter to Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry Councilor Sherri Rollins and Mayor Brian Bowman to defend the library – and shortly after, many of his classmates followed suit. Nearly 190 students wrote letters to the City of Winnipeg, all asking to keep the library open, and other local schools started similar campaigns. The Fort Garry Library was, mercifully, spared the chopping block – though the recent COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the library’s temporary closure.

The Fort Garry Library is more than just the books that line the shelves. Hidden in the walls, tucked between the pages of books, is the story of a community that pushed for the creation of the library and then fought to save it!

THANK YOU TO THE SPONSOR OF THIS BLOG POST:

Sabrina Janke

SOURCES:

1350 Pembina Highway, Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

Shard Garden: An Architectural History, Winnipeg Public LIbraries

George A Stewart, Winnipeg Architecture Foundation

Fort Garry Library

Fort Garry Library Reopens After Nearly $1M Renovation, Chris D.

Fort Garry Library is At Risk, Winnipeg Free Press

More than just books: Young students write to Winnipeg city council pleading for local library to stay open, CBC News.

Winnipeg Free Press Files

Winnipeg Tribune Files

The New Edition of the St. John’s Library

Modernism for the Masses – The St. Vital Library

Carnegie Library: Heritage At Risk

Cornish Library

Carnegie Library

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

logo

 / Recent Blogs

April 14, 2021

A Very Merry Education: St Mary’s Academy

The official opening of St. Mary’s Academy in 1869 was a race to the finish. Near the end of April of that year, Archbishop Taché had caught wind of a rumor: the Anglican’s in the Red River settlement were planning on building a school. At the time, there was no religious school in the area…

April 8, 2021

All Aboard! Tourism on the Rivers

As the weather begins to warm, and the ice on the Red and Assiniboine rivers melt away, a familiar sight will grace our waterways once again. The water taxis will start running, boat tours will begin again, and pleasure crafts will take to the water. All of this excitement pales in comparison to the boats…

March 31, 2021

Can You Solve the Mystery? The Adventures of Shirley Holmes

The Adventures of Shirley Holmes was a Canadian mystery television series that ran for four seasons, from May 7, 1996 to May 7, 2001. It initially aired on YTV and now has been broadcast in over 80 additional countries. The show was filmed almost exclusively in Winnipeg, making use of our city’s diverse and rich…

March 25, 2021

Beliveau in Adaptive Reuse: 700 St. Jean Baptiste

For many years, St. Boniface existed as a city entirely separate from Winnipeg. European settlement in the area began in 1818, with the founding of a Roman Catholic mission named after the German missionary Saint Boniface. Not long after, Catholic colonists began to settle nearby and the community began to grow. Maison Béliveau enters the…

March 18, 2021

Bijou Theatre: Burning Down the House

Part of the beauty of the Exchange District and Downtown Winnipeg as a whole, is that everything tells a story – from the tallest buildings all the way down to the empty lots. Luckily, for those with an keen interest in the area, some of the points of interest are marked by plaques. Sandwiched between…

March 10, 2021

Built & Natural Heritage at Risk: Chapman School Property

Chapman School was originally built in 1913, one year after the Rural Municipality of Charleswood was organized.  The early Chapman School was destroyed by fire in 1916, and after being rebuilt, burned down a second time on April 23, 1943. The current Chapman School building was constructed in 1944, showing characteristics of wartime restraint. Designed…

Subscribe to Heritage Winnipeg Blog