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Carnegie Library – 1903 – 1973

Architect’s sketch of the proposed library, 1902

At the turn of the 21st century, the original Windsor Library at Ferry and Chatham street, had become far too inadequate for the needs of a growing city, and the library board, immediately set out to build a suitable replacement befitting of our city. The architect’s proposal for a new library was finally approved by the board in 1902, and the plans were drawn up for the structure by John Scott & Co. of Detroit. A request to American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was made and a grant of $20,000 was awarded to Windsor, which was increased to $27,000 during construction, as the budget was exceeded. The Windsor library was the first one in Canada to receive the grant from Carnegie in February, 1901, although delays in construction prevented it from being the first one in Canada to open, with the building finally opening to the public in October, 1903.

The library was an immediate success, with complaints popping up within a few short years, that the building was too small for the needs of the public. When it was built, John Scott’s design placed the entrance at the north end of the building near Park Street. However different proposals popped up regarding remodeling and even expansion.

Albert Lothian’s proposal for expansion, 1924

Architect Albert Lothian, a member of the Library board at the time, submitted the above proposal in November, 1924. Lothian’s proposal was to add new wings at both the north and south end, along with a redesigned central entrance. Lothian’s plan was never realized, although work did occur in 1925 to move the entrance to the centre of the building.

After the 1925 renovation the new centre entrance (left) featured an elaborate awning over the front door. By the time the library closed in 1973 (centre), the awning was long gone. On the right is a photo of the interior of the Carnegie library from 1935. An annex was built, adding to the size of the Carnegie on the south end in 1957. The addition can been seen below, to the right.

Today the Carnegie library is just a distant memory, with a large apartment building called The Carnegie on its site. However pieces of it live on. For one, the curb cut that led from Victoria Avenue, up to the front door remains. It remains as a strange, out of place step up from a parking spot, right up to the sidewalk, and into a tree. Much of the wooden interior elements were salvaged, along with the front doors, and incorporated into the then new, Parks and Recreation Department building on McDougall.

Despite years of talking about expanding the library, it was announced in the early 1970’s that the city had acquired the Ursuline School of Music property on Ouellette Avenue for $3,000,000. Stating it was cheaper to move to the site on Ouellette, than to expropriate the required properties on Victoria, adjacent to the Carnegie site.

On Wednesday, November 14, 1973 the lights went off one last time, and the Carnegie Library at Park & Victoria closed for good after 70 years of serving the public. After a 10 day closure to move and get set up, the new Central Library branch at 850 Ouellette Avenue opened to the public on November 24, 1973. Designed by the firm of Johnson – McWhinne, who were most well known for the Cleary Auditorium design. Now after 46 years, the modern building, designed to replace the outdated Carnegie Library has been sold, for a fraction of what it cost to build, and the future of the Central Branch once again hangs in the air. While the move from the Carnegie Site to the 850 Ouellette, was delayed for about 5 years while a suitable site was found to meet the needs of the community, this time it was sold off without a plan to replace it. So for now it will move to the Paul Martin Building annex (ironically also designed by Johnson-McWhinne) while a future location is attempted to be found.

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