Monday, November 30, 2015

The History of Rosemount Library: Endless Growth

The Rosemount branch of the Ottawa Public Library is a fixture in Kitchissippi. It has been a popular spot for area residents to visit for five generations. This popularity is only ever increasing. And while technology has led to dramatic changes in the types of services the library provides, what hasn't changed is the undeniable benefit it provides to many in the community.

There is no question that expansion, or at least updating, is required for this historic branch library. A group of local residents have formed a group called READ (Rosemount Expansion and Development Group) to advocate for these required changes, and to lobby for funds from the city budget. The prospect of the library obtaining these funds is getting closer, as it is at the top the Library Board's priority list. Let's keep our fingers crossed that more than just a cursory amount of funding will be invested into Rosemount.

So for this blog, I of course like to tackle topics of a local interest, but I always try to present more than just the well-known history that anyone can google. The deeper one digs, the more interesting details which can emerge (see my recent writing on Laroche Park for a prime example). So when I launched in to Rosemount Library, initially I did not expect to find too much; perhaps a few dates, stories about its original location in a store, when the addition was put on. Even my initial research was going nowhere, there was just so little out there, and typical methods were yielding minimal results. So I tried harder, and lo and behold, there was a quite an interesting history tied to the early days of the library! Quite a few interesting surprises. So I'm happy to share the story of the early development and establishment of the Rosemount Library here in this article. 

The history of the Rosemount Library is perhaps somewhat surprisingly not much shorter than the history of the public library in Ottawa in general. The first Ottawa public library opened on April 30th, 1906, thanks to a $100,000 donation from Andrew Carnegie. It was a beautiful old building, located in the same spot the current one is, fronting onto Metcalfe. It was sadly demolished in 1974 to make way for the ugly new library building, which is currently on life support. I could write paragraphs about the history of the OPL itself, but will focus this article mostly on the Rosemount branch.

Original downtown public library

The first meeting of the Carnegie Library Board (as the OPL's board was known) in 1910 saw re-elected Chairman Dr. Otto Julius Klotz, respected Director of the Dominion Observatory, and key figure behind the establishment of the Ottawa public library suggest the need for the creation of "branch libraries". With the success of the new library on Metcalfe, he envisioned the Board doing more to serve citizens who lived outside of the downtown Ottawa area. Dr. Klotz noted that he hoped "the time would soon come when rooms could be secured in distant portions of the city and branch libraries opened to meet the wants of the people in those places. The expense entailed would be slight".

It did not take long for his idea to come to fruition. By June of 1910, arrangements were made with the public school board of Ottawa to create small branch libraries inside of public schools in the more distant areas of the city. The school board voted at their meeting on June 2nd, 1910 that "it is recommended that the Carnegie Library be granted permission to place branch libraries for the use of the public in the following schools: Bronson Avenue, Crichton Street, Evelyn Avenue and Rosemount Avenue schools."

An important speech made by Miss Miriam Solomon, the Children's Librarian of the Ottawa Public Library, in August of 1910 at a meeting of the Eastern Library Institute was an additional key step in highlighting the need for the establishment of these branch libraries. Though the library and school boards had made general agreements regarding the creation of these branches, nothing was set in stone. Miss Solomon's presented comments, titled "The Child and the Book" was reprinted in full in the Ottawa Journal, and certainly appeared to further motivate the Ottawa public towards increasing the accessibility of the local library for the benefit of children.

On September 24th, 1910, the first branch library opened up at Crichton Street Public School in New Edinburgh. The library featured a total of 64 books ("among the number being several German ones, as there are many German residents in New Edinburgh" so said the newspaper), and was located in a dedicated room in the school which was opened to the public for one hour each Wednesday and Saturday night. 

Funding would always be a big issue for the library. Then as it is now. A Journal editorial in 1910 noted "Ottawa's public library is doing much for Ottawa; Ottawa, with little effort could do considerable more than it is doing for its public library."

Following the opening of the Crichton School branch, Hintonburg residents began to pressure for a branch. A petition was circulated around the village, and submitted to the Library Board at their meeting on October 26th. Chairman Dr. Klotz noted that it was "a question of getting the necessary books, the Board being unanimous in its desire to meet the request of the people of Hintonburg." A library in the west end seemed close.

And indeed it was. Two weeks later, a notice appeared in the newspaper announcing that a library would be opening at Rosemount avenue Public School on November 10th, 1910, featuring 350 books.

Ottawa Journal - November 9th, 1910

As mentioned in the article above, the hours of operation for the library in the beginning were Monday and Wednesday evenings, from 7 to 8 o'clock, and like for Crichton School, teachers at the school gave their time to run the branch without pay. The agreement was that the library board would keep the books coming, to benefit the students (and the local adults), while the school on their end would provide the free accommodation and staff. The school board also supplied the shelving for the books, and was responsible for the delivery of books to and from the schools, noting that the books were "changed at the end of each school term".

At this point, it is important to detail what exactly Rosemount Public School was. In 1889, Hintonburg Public School opened in what is now the school yard for Connaught Public School, and faced onto Rosemount Avenue.  It was renamed to Rosemount Avenue Public School in 1908 when Hintonburg was annexed to the City of Ottawa. Construction began in 1913 on the new Connaught School in what was the school yard of the old school. The new school opened in 1915, at which time the old schoolhouse was demolished (a lot like what is happening at Broadview School now, where the new school is being built while the old one continues to operate).

A rare photo of Rosemount Public School (aka Hintonburg P.S.), from 1899,
the location of the original Rosemount Library branch beginning in 1910.

The new Hintonburg branch library was a success in its early going. An update in the Journal on December 9th noted that there were over 160 individuals who had borrowed books. An additional update in January of 1911 noted that during the first two months of the branch being opened, there was a total of 952 volumes of books borrowed.

Ottawa Journal - December 9th, 1910

In November of 1912, librarian W.J. Sykes of the main library told the Ottawa Citizen that along with increased funding to acquire important new reading material, there was an urgent need to enlarge the Hintonburg branch. 

The use of the library had grown exceptionally high. During May of 1913, it was reported that 1,098 fiction and non-fiction books were circulated, plus 444 reference books, compared to 156 during May of 1912.

Sometime in early 1913, the branch was moved out of the Rosemount School, and relocated in a storefront on the main floor of the brand new Iona Mansions apartments, which were finished in late 1912 or early 1913. The main floor of the apartment building had four separate storefronts (as it does now), and the library was located in #1125 Wellington Street, the third from the west. (1123 on the east end first opened as Victor P. Aubin's printer shop; 1129 was at first the caretaker's apartment; and 1131 on the west corner was John Clademenos' confectionery shop).

Present-day photo of the Iona Mansions. The library was located
at #1125 Wellington - now 'Collection Y.B.'
The change in location allowed the library to increase their hours of opening. They would now be open afternoons and evenings all six days of the week (Sundays excluded). In the summertime, they would adjust their hours to be closed on Saturday evenings.

1915 was an interesting year for Rosemount Avenue. In August, representatives from the Rosemount Methodist Church (which still exists today as the Rosemount Branch of the Somerset West Community Health Centre next to the library) petitioned the Ottawa Board of Control to widen Rosemount. Rev. C.S. Deeprose argued that "the Anglicans have their church on Fairmont avenue, and it is a wide street; the Presbyterians have theirs on Parkdale avenue and it is a wide street. Our Methodist church is on Rosemount which is only 30 feet wide. We should have some consideration, particularly as a very large public school is on the same street." In fact Rosemount was as narrow as 24 feet at the intersection of Wellington Street. The Church was requesting a widening to 40 feet, but the Board suggested even 50 feet would be fine, to make it uniform with other modern streets. Controller Champagne even joked "The road to go to church cannot be made too wide.".

The photo below is from the 1912 fire insurance plan, and shows the west side of Rosemount, from Wellington going south. In the plan, from top to bottom, can be seen:
  • 1124 Wellington Street: 2 1/2 storey wood-framed building that was a long-time grocery store, but in 1915 was the shop and home of Michael Sibroski, shoe-maker.
  • 2 Rosemount (still shows old pre-1908 civic numbers on plan, so it shows as #75): a rustic 1 1/2 storey wood house occupied by carpenter William Anderson
  • 30 Rosemount (#85) - Hintonburg Methodist Church
  • 36 Rosemount - 2 1/2 storey wood-frame house occupied by Thomas Gillespie, a long-time boom master with the Upper Ottawa Improvement Company
  • 100 Rosemount - the public school
Goad's Fire Insurance Plan of Ottawa - 1912

What you may also notice about the fire plan is that it shows the buildings towards the top all situated at an angle to the street. When Rosemount Avenue was widened, these buildings were forced to be modified, or moved. You'll see therefore on the 1922 fire plan shown a few photos below, that the house at the corner of Wellington and the large church were actually moved back, and slightly clockwise, to align with the direction of the street. By turning the church (think of it as turning it from a diamond to a square), it opened up a parcel of land to its north that was could suddenly be used for another purpose. But more on that a little later.

After a lengthy debate as to how wide the residents wanted Rosemount to become, it was settled in mid-October that Rosemount would be 50 feet wide. 10 feet were taken from both sides of the street. The cost of the widening was $18,111. The City paid 20% of the cost of the work, while the owners of the properties on Rosemount paid the other 80%. The 10-feet of property was expropriated by the City, with a rate paid to the lot-owners for the piece of their land that was taken. Later in the process, the school board stepped in to fight against the taking of some of their property for the widening, but ultimately their property was expropriated also (the new Connaught Public School had opened on February 9th, 1915). The work began in December of 1915, with the buildings moved by August of 1916, when the roadway was prepared for the final steps of widening and paving.

Ottawa Journal - October 20, 1915

At the meting of the Library Board in April of 1916, it was shown that the library was now lending out 1,882 volumes per month (the stats from March), up from 1,028 from March of 1915. The marked increase in monthly usage at the west end branch was a regular theme of the library board updates each month.

Ottawa Citizen - June 16th, 1916
A report from the librarian of the Hintonburg branch included some great details about the branches usage while still located in the Iona Mansions storefront location: "On December 29, 1916, the afternoon attendance at the West End branch was 101, and on January 6, 1917, 122 used the room. In this room we have three tables, at which can be seated 18 persons; we have 21 chairs, counting the assistants. With any more than 22 people in the room at one time, it is impossible to reach the book shelves. People have to stand and wait, many going out to return later, but in many cases they do not come back that day. Remarks such as the following are heard repeatedly: 'There is no use going in, the place is crowded', 'No use trying to read in that crowd', and 'Present quarters are much too small for the needs, and the branch is steadily growing'."

Circulation of books at the West End Branch in 1916 was up to 15,647, up from 12,826 in 1915.

In January of 1917, the Carnegie Library Board in their Annual Report stated: "The West End branch was found very popular and much used. It has decidedly grown beyond the narrow limits of the quarters that are in use there. The contemplation of the construction of an adequate building for library purposes is being put forward by the directors in this section."

In the new year of 1917, research was conducted by the Library Board into options on how to erect a full-sized branch library in Hintonburg. The Board sent out a request to the thirty millionaires of Ottawa to donate the required funds. The request was roundly ignored.

At the meeting of the Carnegie Library Board on March 13th, 1917, the board decided that it would formally request Mayor Harold Fisher to write to the trustees of the Andrew Carnegie library fund, and ask for a bequest of $15,000 towards the construction of a library. Part of the agreement of the acquisition of these funds was that the city would be required to provide the land, and agree to spend one-tenth of the grant ($1,500) per year on maintenance (in 1916, $1,300 had been expended on the Hintonburg branch, thus the difference was negligible).

However, Mayor Fisher was reluctant to apply for these funds, and said that Ottawa would be lowering it's dignity to ask for the library funds.

Ottawa Journal - March 15, 1917
Mayor Fisher filed a memorandum with City Clerk Lett asking for the opinion of council on requesting the funds from the Carnegie Foundation, but re-iterated that he was opposed to carrying out the request "believing that the city would place itself in a humiliating position by seeking such a small grant from Mr. Carnegie". He stuck to his belief that the wealthy citizens of Ottawa could be persuaded to donate the funds.

Thankfully, city council voted unanimously on April 16th to make the application to the Carnegie Library Fund in New York for $15,000.

By early July, the response was received; the Carnegie Foundation agreed to provide the full $15,000. So on Thursday July 5th, Stewart McClenaghan (chairman of the library board), W.J. Sykes (Librarian), Mayor Fisher and the Controllers of Ottawa toured Hintonburg, and decided upon the old Town Hall site as the location for the new library. Though the city had the power to acquire new land, it was deemed unnecessary, since it was agreed that the Town Hall was an ideal spot.

The Town Hall site was located where 430 Parkdale Avenue stands today, immediately to the south of the old fire hall. (It was the original Nepean Township Town Hall, but when Hintonburg gained independence from Nepean in December of 1893, a new Nepean Town Hall had to be built - which it was, in Westboro, on Richmond just west of Churchill - the great old stone building still standing today)

430 Parkdale Avenue today, the chosen site for the West End Branch
of the public library in July of 1917.

Plans changed later in the summer, and an article in the August 8th, 1917 Journal noted that the branch's construction was about to go ahead with, and that Ottawa City Council had decided to grant the site of the old Hintonburg Pumphouse for the library!

The Pumphouse was located off River Street, just north of where the Parkway runs today, by the entry to the bridge to Lemieux Island. It's ruins are still there (unfortunately a fire there in the mid-80s destroyed the old house which had remained from the late 1800s). Can you imagine if the Library had actually been built here?? Really out of the way spot, but it would potentially have been quite a scenic spot.

Ottawa Journal - August 17, 1917

By October, however, the Pumphouse location was no longer being considered, and the City and Library Board were back to using the old Hintonburg Town Hall site. Architectural plans were drawn up by architect J.P. MacLaren, and a call for tenders was put out in October (the advertisement appears below).

Ottawa Journal, October 22, 1917

Another twist came about a week later, when the West End Glee Club (an organization that was formed in 1915 for local social purposes) offered to exchange to the City of Ottawa a piece of property they owned at the corner of Tyndall and Parkdale, which they argued was better suited for the construction of the library. The deal would allow for them to take over ownership of the old Town Hall building (which they had been using over the past two years for their events and functions). The local newspapers did not think there was a chance the Library Board would go along with this trade, however on November 5th, the Library Board stunned local residents, and the city Librarian who had issued a report opposing the change, by voting to approve the exchange of lands, which would also see the Glee Club pay the City of Ottawa $450 (and the Glee Club was also required to grade the piece of land at Parkdale and Tyndall being transferred to the City). The board voted 4-1 in favour of the Parkdale and Tyndall location.

The Rosemount Avenue Methodist Church had also made a presentation at the meeting, suggesting the city acquire part of their site on Rosemount. Librarian W.J. Sykes believed this site was actually the most ideal. As reported in the newspaper: "The opinion of W.J. Sykes...was that the property offered the board by the church people was the best, as it was advantageously located. The old town hall site, he thought, was not so suitable, being too far out, while that owned by the Glee Club, he said, was still more unsuitable, being out of the region of shops, churches, schools, and being on the south-west corner of the built-up part of the suburb. Concerning the latter, he said: 'It is a debatable question whether the Public Library had better not stay where it is, in a small, crowded, rented store, rather than use Carnegie's money to build a large, well-fitted branch so far out of the way that people will not come to it in large numbers."

Despite Sykes' report, the board still voted in favour of the Glee Club site, after a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of each.

At the same meeting, the Library Board also awarded tenders for the construction of the library. For the building itself, the tender was awarded to R.J. Mackey, who bid $9,347.50; and for the installation of a hot water heating plant and plumbing, the contract was awarded to J.T. Blythe, who bid $2,088.

The Board of Control then approved the property exchange, followed by City Council, and it was a done deal. The library would be built at the north-west corner of Parkdale and Tyndall.

But wait! In March of 1918, the Library Board changed their minds again! Despite the real estate transaction going through the previous fall, the board now voted to acquire part of the Rosemount Methodist Church property on Rosemount. Believe it or not, to do this, the City agreed to trade to the Church, the property at Parkdale and Tyndall plus $450, for the lot on Rosemount Avenue! All parties agreed, City Council agreed, and thus the exchange was made, and construction could finally begin.

Ottawa Journal - March 30, 1918
The builder of the library, Robert John Mackey, operated a relatively small contracting business. He was born in Twin Elm, Ontario in 1855, and came to Ottawa in 1885 to build houses. He resided at 19 Arlington Avenue, and as far as my research can tell, he operated his business from his home. I could find little other information on Mackey, nor details of other buildings he built. It sounded as if the library was one of his final projects.

Meanwhile, the contract for construction of the shelving in the new Rosemount library was awarded in April to George M. Mason & Co. (whose large planing mill operation was located close-by at Wellington and Bayswater).

But 1918 was a difficult year. World War One was underway, and in addition, due to the flu epidemic, most public gathering spaces were being shut down. This included the city's libraries, which were closed often during the year. Residents with books checked out were worried about overdue fees, but more so there was great concern regarding books potentially contaminated by influenza germs. The Board of Health had a standard rule whereby the Public Disinfector R.J. Smith destroyed all library books which had been handled by smallpox, scarlet fever or diphtheria patients. However, Librarian Sykes re-stated that "influenza germs would not thrive on the printed page and that there was no danger from books in this way."

The completion of the Library went ahead, and was formally opened on Friday night, November 29th, 1918. The article detailing the big event is shown below:

Ottawa Journal, November 30, 1918
The Rosemount Library had its main floor devoted to the library itself, while in the basement was constructed a small public lecture hall for meetings, that would hold 150 people. Chairman McClenaghan of the Library Board at the opening night suggested that the hall be named 'Victory Hall'. He suggested "that the names of all from that district who enlisted in the war be secured...and placed on the walls to commemorate all those from the West End who took part in the war."

It was noted at the Public Library Board in December that grant money had also been obtained from the Ontario Government for the new branches in Ottawa South and Hintonburg, totaling $240 each.

The library as it looked not long after construction
(source: reprinted in the Ottawa Citizen in 2006)

Thus by the end of 1918, Rosemount Avenue had gone through substantial changes in the past three years. The Fire Insurance Plan of 1922 (pictured below), shows the structures on Rosemount as they appeared in 1922 (no different from 1918): the old shop at the corner of Wellington (moved in 1915), the rustic small house, the new library, the Methodist Church (also moved in 1915), and the brick house at 36 Rosemount (later torn down mid-century). Not shown of course was the new school completed in 1915 which now faced on to Gladstone.

Fire Insurance Plan - 1922

Below is an aerial photograph from 1920 (from the earliest set of aerial photos I've ever seen for Ottawa), which captures Rosemount Avenue (along the right side), Wellington on the top and Gladstone at the bottom. That's the new Connaught School at bottom right, and the Grace Hospital at left, on the south side of Wellington (still under construction at this time).

Aerial Photograph - 1920
Similar shot from an aerial photo - May 1928
In 1931 and 1932, discussions began regarding an addition for the West End branch. However, with the depression in full swing, it was decided in February of 1932, that construction would be postponed until "more favorable times". However, things ended up moving quickly, as it was announced in May that plans were being prepared by architect J.P. MacLaren once again, for the addition, "to be used as a stack room" and to "relieve congestion in other parts of the current building." A building permit was taken out in June in the amount of $4,000. Work began in November, and was still going into the very early part of 1933.

In early 1935, the firm or T.B. Barnard was paid $365.20 to supply and lay new linoleum floors in the library, "which was said to be badly needed".

Ottawa Archives CA-32274 - A photo of Rosemount Avenue
on April 25, 1955 (there was a gas leak being repaired).
The library is visible along the right edge.

April 1966 oblique view of Rosemount Avenue, looking west.

Rosemount remained the only west Ottawa branch until 1957, when the Carlingwood branch opened.

Finally, in 1982, the Rosemount Library underwent a $330,000 "facelift", which included a new elevator and washroom facilities for the disabled, a new front entranceway, new insulation for the walls, and new lighting, heating and air conditioning installed. The library was closed from April until November during the renovations, and local residents used a bookmobile that set up in the old lot north of the building on Wednesday and Thursday evenings.

Other than general maintenance, no work has been performed on the branch since, and thus it is plainly evident that some renovations/expansion would be greatly appreciated by this little branch, Ottawa's only remaining Carnegie library. The running theme throughout the history of the library has been its endless growth, and that has never been more apparent now. As Hintonburg continues to grow, and as the Rosemount Library usage continues to increase, the library building needs to grow with it.

And so there you have it, the detailed history of the Rosemount Library. Let's hope there is much more still to be written on the future renovations and modernizations of this important Hintonburg institution!


  1. "the Anglicans have their church on Fairmont avenue"...Did St Francis used to be Anglican? Or are they referring to another church?

  2. Orpheus now occupies the former St. Matthias Anglican Church building. The peak of the original roof is visible from the street, and the red brick south and east walls are still in use.

  3. Great article, interesting photo of the Grace hospital at the top right of the 1966 photo pre 1969 expansion showing the 1922 and 1954 wing.

  4. Excellent. I read hundreds of books from the Rosemount Library as a teenager between 1958 and 1965.

  5. I have very found memories of this library from the 70s. My father pointed out a few times it was funded by Carnegie. I learned about chemistry from a college-level book there in 1973 while in grade 8. It supported my interest in science. I remember earlier a Babar book for learning Italian in the basement. ;)

  6. This is very nice blog because information provided here through the article and the pictures are very effective. Because sometimes words cannot explain the things that pictures can and here the words and pictures both are expressing the things in balance.
    new driveway cost Wellington

  7. My grandmother Murphy owned the house directly across from the library. I remember playing at the entrance of the library 60 yrs ago

  8. I'm trying to find an image of the painting that hung at Rosemount in the 80s (maybe still now, I haven't been back). It was a young woman, red hair, black background, probably Victorian or Edwardian era, hung next to the elevator. If anyone remembers this painting and the name/artist, please let me know!