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History of the Library


1887-1911: A Library on the Move


The history of libraries in Moose Jaw started in 1887, when CPR employees formed a Library Association in a corner of the CPR station. Use of the library was free to railway employees, and available to everyone for an annual fee of $1.50. Fundraising efforts soon allowed the library to move out of the corner and into a new reading room in a freight shed, which at its height housed a very substantial collection of about 800 volumes. In 1894, a fire in the freight shed spread to a nearby boxcar loaded with ammunition, and the library was destroyed. Moose Jaw was only without a library for a few short months until the Library Association opened a reading room in the Aberdeen House, a hotel at the corner of River and Main, in 1895.


In 1900, the library moved again when William Grayson gave the use of the front room of the Liberal Committee headquartes to the Library Association for a new reading room. With the new location came another change – the CPR Library Association handed over the management of the library to a board of representatives from local churches. Library use was free to all and funded by offering memberships to all who contributed $1 or more per annum. In 1904, the reading room moved to City Hall. At City Hall it was administered by The Ladies of the Reading Room, and was open Tuesday and Saturday afternoons and evenings. A subscription cost $2 a year or 50 cents for 3 months.


By 1907, Moose Jaw’s growth meant that City Hall needed the space the library was using for city staff. Steel millionaire Andrew Carnegie was funding the building of libraries across Canada and the US, and the local Board of Trade made inquiries about a library in Moose Jaw. Carnegie had a funding formula for the libraries he built - approximately $2 per inhabitant. Carnegie also required that cities demonstrate the need for a public library; provide the building site; provide ten percent of the cost of the library's construction to support its annual operation; and provide free service to all.


Initial plans for the library structure


In 1910, the Moose Jaw City Council asked Carnegie to fund a $50,000 library in Moose Jaw – Carnegie replied that under the guidelines, with a population under 14,000, the city would be eligible for a library costing about $25,000. Moose Jaw City Council believed Moose Jaw would grow substantially and decided to build a grand library for a much bigger city, rather than carry through with the Carnegie library.


In 1911 a by-law to permit construction of the library was passed and a competition was held to design a $50,000 library – thirty plans were submitted from across Canada and the US. The winning design was by Moose Jaw architects George Reid and Charles McAlpine,who also designed the 1913 YWCA building (later Masonic Lodge) and were associate architects for St. Andrews Church. After the winning design was selected, it was decided that the project budget would be doubled to accommodate a marble interior and other alterations. The construction contract was awarded to P. Lyall and Sons of Montreal.


1913: The Original Building


The style of the building is Italianate, which was popular at the time for public buildings and particularly for Carnegie libraries, which is why the building is often misidentified as a Carnegie Library. Hallmarks of Italianate style included in the building are triangular pediments over the windows, dental cornice moulding, corbels and statue niches (which never held statues). The exterior is cream coloured Dickinson pressed brick from North Dakota, with Bedford Indiana limestone trim on windows, doorways and steps. The original windows were removed at one point and stored away – they were reinstalled as part of the 1992 renovation. The date over the door is 1912 in roman numerals – the year construction began.


While the original plan for the building featured a Children’s Reading Room on the main floor, it had been relocated to the basement by the time the building opened. The Children’s Department stayed in the basement until 1992, when the expansion allowed the Children’s Department to move to the main floor.


The two story rotunda features eight Doric marble columns supporting the balcony, with eight Ionic columns supporting the roof. Doric, Ionic and Corinthian are the three major orders of classical architecture – Doric columns have simple convex capitals, while Ionic columns have ram horn capitals.


The Doric columns are marble over concrete columns. The Ionic columns are not marble, they are probably painted and glazed. The ram horn capitals are limestone. Even though the columns are not solid marble, the balustrades, railings and paneling all are – the building has more interior marble than any building in Saskatchewan except the Legislature in Regina. The marble came from the Philipsburg Quarries in Quebec and cost $18,000. The marble was not in the original design of the building, which called for wood paneling in the rotunda. The walls were originally painted olive green and crimson, with pearl grey ceilings.


Ida Cooke at the Circulation Desk, 1964

Second Floor North Room, circa. 1960


The original design called for living quarters for the librarian on the second floor, which were never constructed. The floors were of red birch in the two main rooms and of quartered oak in the service and work areas. The doors to what is now the Herb Taylor Room were glazed and covered in leather. The stained glass dome was designed by Reid and McAlpine and is made of lead and iron with leaded glass.


The Reading Room has its original terrazzo floor, fireplace and wood paneling. The furniture in the Reading Room is also original – the dark stained oak furniture was throughout the library.


Main Floor North Room, circa. 1913

"Glass Floor", Second Floor Stack Room, 1991


The stack room was demolished to make way for the expansion in 1992 – it was located on the eastern side of the foyer, and was two storys high with an iron staircase. It held 14,000 volumes on each floor. The second floor of the stack room had a glass brick floor to let light in. Part of this glass floor was saved and relocated during the expansion.


The Moose Jaw Public Library was officially opened on August 15th, 1913. The final cost of the library was $100,000 – $85,000 for the building, $6,000 for the furniture and $8,000-$9,000 for the books (1,300 children’s books, 200 reference books, and over 4,000 adult books) to add to the 2,000 or so books that came over from the City Hall subscription library. The building was officially designated a municipal heritage property in 1982.


1992: The Expansion


Within a few decades, it was obvious the library wasn’t big enough for the city and discussions about a new facility were held in the 1950s. However, it wasn’t until the 1980s that things came to a head and the city began in earnest to look at building a new library. Originally, the plan had been to move the library to a new building on Fairford and leave the old building, but eventually it was decided that the old library would be restored and an a large addition built on to it.


The 44,000 square foot expansion added to the Library and Art Museum was designed by Delint + Taylor and cost $6.7 million. Construction began in 1991 and the Grand Reopening was on March 27th, 1993. The original 1913 building was fully restored as part of the renovation.


Work on the new expansion begins, 1991.

Aerial view of the expansion construction, 1991.


Interior of the new Children's Department during construction, 1992.


Other than the two week closure of the library in 1992 during the expansion, there are only two other times the library has been closed for any significant amount of time. The first was in October of 1918, during the influenza pandemic when city health officials thought the circulation of books was spreading the disease – Moose Javians were asked to return all books to the library immediately, so they could be fumigated. The second time was in 2020 during the Covid-19 pandemic. The library was closed for five months when the government mandated closures. The library continued to offer curbside service and virtual programs during the closure.


At various times, there have been other branch libraries in Moose Jaw. A South Hill Branch in Empire School was open Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 1928-1932. Jubilee Branch was located at 1307 Caribou St. W. from 1963-1967. Moose Jaw had bookmobile service (on loan from the Provincial Library) from 1967-1971, making stops at five locations in the city.


View of the Reference Desk in the new Adult Department, 1992.

Adult Department, 1993.