WPL Bricks & Mortar
"… a new main branch that was in all respects the antithesis of the old: spacious, architecturally modernesque, up-to-date." (Windsor Star, August 4, 1990)
Lambie’s Hall (1894 – 1903)
The first library in Windsor opened in December 1894. A City of Windsor bylaw introduced permitting the development of a public library in Windsor had been submitted, and carried by a majority earlier in the year. City council and the Board of Education appointed representatives for the new library board, who, in turn, appointed a librarian and an assistant librarian. The motto of the new library board was, “Aude sapere” meaning “dare to be wise.” The public library and reading room were located in Lambie’s Hall. Built it 1855, Lambie’s Hall was located at the corner of Pitt and Ferry Streets and was previously the first Protestant church in Windsor. Read more…
Carnegie Library (1903 – 1973)
The new Carnegie Library opened in 1903. The two-story brick building’s entrance faced Victoria Avenue and included a main reading room, a stack room where the books were shelved, and an auditorium. The library had a capacity for about 60,000 volumes. At the opening of the library, Mayor Drake had the honour of being the first customer and borrowed the first book, fittingly, “The Empire of Business” by Andrew Carnegie. Read more…
Bartlet House, Annex and Victoria House (1957 – 1973)
Community leader Miss Bartlet owned the large house next door to the Carnegie Library on Park Street. The WPL Board purchased her house in 1955 and renovated it, eventually adding an Annex building to connect the former residence to the library. The Bartlet House allowed the administration offices to return to the downtown site from Willistead, and the catalogue department moved to the lower floor of the house. The back of the house acted as a receiving room for the 12,000 books delivered every year, and became a central clearing area for all the books in the Windsor library system.
The lower floor of the Annex facilitated a children’s library to be available downtown again, and the Parent-Teacher library from Willistead was also moved downtown. The Annex housed more administrative areas and a book processing area. There was even room in the Bartlet House for a small conference room to be made available rent free to community groups “which qualify as ‘educational, cultural, non-profit, non-political organizations working for the good of the community’” and for lectures and film presentations by the library (Hume, 1955). On his retirement in 1992, Anne Hume’s eventual successor Fred Israel commented on the location of the Chief Librarian’s office in the former front bedroom of the Bartlet House was stifling in the summer, as the building had no air conditioning.
In 1969, the WPL acquired another home in the corner of Park and Victoria near the Carnegie, 450 Victoria Avenue, known as the Victoria House. The catalogue, order office and book processing moved there to ease still growing pressure on the venerable Carnegie building. The Carnegie with the Bartlet House and the Annex closed in November, 1973, when the new Main Library was built. It was demolished in April, 1974, and an eight-story apartment building stands on the site at Victoria and Park.
East Branch (1914 – 1933)
Branch library service began in 1914 with the opening of an east-end location at Lanspeary’s Drug Store. The rented store was furnished with library shelving and furniture, and a significant quantity of books placed there.
Branch service consisted of biweekly deliveries of books previously selected by customers. Slips were provided on which customers indicated the titles of requested books. The branch was moved twice in 1920 before moving to a store property on Langlois Avenue in 1925. The branch was situated in a densely populated area and since it was in close distance to seven schools over 70% of the circulation of books in the first year consisted of children’s books.
Originally, it was thought that the children’s department at Carnegie Library would have a loss in circulation because of the branch service but children’s registration rose. In 1926, the branch was expanded, taking up two stores. The branch was closed in 1933 as a result of a decrease in the Library Board’s municipal funding during the Depression.
Sandwich Library (1923 – )
There were two Sandwich Branches in the Windsor’s history. The first was established in 1923 as an Association Library in the Town of Sandwich, and was located in the auditorium of the Town Hall, where the books were kept in sectional bookcases with locking glass doors. When the library was “closed,” the bookcase doors were locked. In 1936, the Sandwich Branch was moved to a former Teachers’ Training School building and closed in 1972.
In 1995, the WPL Board was still searching for a suitable location for this branch when the Principal of General Brock School approached the Board with the suggestion of sharing the location in the new school building planned. Friends of the Sandwich Library, headed by John Muir, presented the WPL Board with $150,000 by the 1999 opening. The funds were raised through charity bingos in order to purchase resources for the new branch. The Sandwich Library Branch is a unique, contemporary approach to building-sharing with the school and the local police station.
John Richardson Branch (1928 – 1972)
In 1927 a site in Wilson Park in the vicinity of Adie Knox Herman Recreational complex was donated for a west-end library branch. Named after the first Ontario novelist, city council issued $30,000 to construct the library. A drop in funding during the depression in 1932 forced the closure of the adult department. This changed to a children’s library, supplemented by the books for the children’s library at the main library which had been closed in order to provide needed space for adult books.
The juvenile library was very popular, hosting classes from nearby schools where children would learn how to find books, reference materials and use the card catalogue. Story hour was held every Saturday and brought large groups of children to hear the librarian read. The librarians found it a challenge to deal with an exclusive clientele of children as some of the younger customers would have trouble remembering when events took place. The library also responded to the development of schools requiring factual materials for school projects.
In 1969, the Richardson Branch absorbed the collections of the Prince Edward and Victoria Branches. Local historian George F. Macdonald donated all the novels of John Richardson to the library.
Hugh Beaton School Branch (1929 – )
The South Branch Library, Walkerville opened in 1929 with Annabelle McKillop as librarian. When the Border Cities amalgamated, the South Branch name changed to Hugh Beaton, the name of the school where the library was located. In 1950, the branch was moved to John Campbell School and in 1959, having outgrown this location, moved to its current site on Tecumseh Road East.
Prince Edward School Branch (1933 – 1968)
A small children’s branch library opened in the basement of Prince Edward School in 1933 to bring services to children in the east end. The library welcomed school children who would visit the library with their teachers to learn how to use the library. The partnership with the school board boosted library membership and the circulation of books. In 1957, it was noted that this branch had a “new, contemporary look with fluorescent lighting, turquoise walls, and deeper turquoise shelves” (WPL Annual Report, 1957). When the school expanded to the library area, the collection was moved to another location and this branch was closed.
Victoria School Branch (1934 – 1968)
In 1934 a library branch opened at Victoria School with a small collection of books. It was only open to children for three afternoons a week. An amendment to the city of Windsor Amalgamation Act in 1936 brought the libraries under the Public Libraries’ Act of the province. A library board was appointed to take over management of the libraries and merged them into one library system. This branch was closed when demand for the location was reduced and the library was merging its assets for greater efficiency.
J.E. Benson Memorial Library (1936 – 1951)
The J.E. Benson Memorial Library was opened in the Ontario Street School under the joint management of Windsor and Walkerville. The library board received a grant from the city to purchase books and children’s furniture. The library was named in memory of J.E. Benson, Inspector of Public Schools, who established the branches in Prince Edward and Victoria schools. In 1951, the J.E. Benson Memorial Library moved from Ada C. Richards School to storage.
Winston Churchill Library (1941 – 1952)
In 1941, a children’s library was opened in St. Alphonsus School in downtown Windsor. It was named in honour of the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, who was “leading the world’s fight to preserve democracy” during World War II. (Annual Report, 1941) This, and other smaller locations were inefficient to run in the long term, and this branch closed in 1952 as demands for books changed after the War.
Willistead Art Gallery of Windsor (1943 – 1959)
The WPL continued with its plans to develop Willistead as a community arts centre by dedicating space for an art gallery in 1943. Anne Hume who was a librarian at Walkerville Library and appointed Chief Librarian upon amalgamation is largely credited for encouraging the library board in this new venture. New exhibitions were provided on a monthly basis by loan from the National Gallery of Canada or sponsored by the Windsor Art Association. The Art Association also provided lectures and discussion groups. According to librarian Anne Hume, “All of these services are part of the new techniques used to interest citizens in books and other cultural arts to the enrichment of individual and community life.” (Summary of Library Service in the Border Area, 1894 – 1945, Hume, 1945)
The Art Gallery remained under management of the Library Board until 1959 when it became an autonomous, independent institution.
Wartime Housing Deposit Library (1943 – 1953)
Wartime homes were initially built in Windsor to provide housing for the influx of wartime factory workers during World War II. To provide library services in the area, a children’s deposit library was opened in 1943 at the Wartime Housing Clubhouse on Westcott Road. The next year library services were made available for adult readers and 250 adult books were added to the Wartime Housing Clubhouse after the WPL board realized the success of the children’s library. Adult services ceased in 1948 and the name of the branch library was changed to Westcott Road Children’s Library in 1949.
Seminole Library (1953 – )
When Seminole opened in October, 1953, it was billed as a “Family reading centre” and featured a “Teen Corner” and an “experiment in book arrangement for adults …worked out especially for [that] community” with a “You and Your Family” selection of books on parent-child relationships, and information about the home (Invitation to Opening, 1953). There was also a Club Room for Story Hours and Reading Clubs for teens. The Windsor Star donated funds for a record collection of classical and semi-classical music. After the opening, one customer noted, “Why, it doesn’t look at all like a library!” which the librarian decided to accept as a compliment to the new space (Windsor Star, March 16, 1954).
This branch replaced the J.E. Benson and the Ada C. Richards School branches and incorporated the collection of the Westcott Road Children’s Deposit Station.
Seminole was popular with local schools and local young people, often overcrowding the new branch. Holy Names School staged a play at this branch in 1968. By 1994, an annual flower garden planting by children was held, and “silly days” through the summer – although Blodwen Reitz, the librarian at the time admitted that “Spaghetti Fight Day” should not be repeated (Windsor Star, July 14, 1994).
The Friends of Seminole was formed in 1994, and its mandate was to fundraise for computer equipment, advise the librarians on programme development, assist with community outreach and help with literacy initiatives. Seminole was renovated in 2000 and continues as the oldest branch in the WPL system.
Hiram Walker Museum – 254 Pitt Street West.
Tourists from the far corners of the world also saw the Windsor story and took it home with them. Newspaper editors from 35 of the United States toured the Museum. Through an interpreter, a group from Yokohama was taken back through the thousands of years of Man’s occupancy on the Detroit [River]. (R. Alan Douglas, WPL Annual Report, 1958)
Windsor, Ontario is a key area for the study of the history of First Nations in Canada and America and the first Europeans began to settle in Windsor. While many museums in Canada have incorporated a library space into their museum site, few public libraries have included a full museum as a branch of its operation. The François Baby (usually pronounced in the French manner as “bahbee” or “bawbee”) residence is one of the few surviving buildings that has witnessed this rich history. More detailed histories of the museum exist elsewhere, but a short background is necessary to explain the significance of the property. Read more…
Nikola Budimir Memorial Library (1965 –)
Local business owner Nikola Budimir bequeathed the property for the library. The building was funded by the then municipality of the Township of Sandwich West and was opened in December, 1965. The architects, Johnson and McWhinnie donated artwork above the door. The enameled steel panels were cast in Italy. In 1973, the Budimir family donated the adjacent track of land so that the library could expand in 1975. In 1999, the Roseland Golden “K” Kiwanis Club of Windsor donated funds to enhance the Children’s Area. Budimir Branch suffered a flood in late, 2011, but remains a popular meeting point in South Windsor.
Riverside Library (1939 –)
The Riverside Branch opened as an Association Library funded by subscription fees in December, 1939. Similar to a Mechanics Institute, it was first located in the Hydro Building on Wyandotte St. East, with limited opening hours and a membership fee of $1 per year. It later became a tax-supported public library and a stand-alone branch was built in 1955. It became a branch of the Windsor Public Library in 1966.
“There is a definite community feeling in Riverside – our customers want small-town friendliness with large city resources,” said Callie Israel, librarian in 1969 (Annual Report, 75th Anniversary). The Riverside Branch grew to be one of the larger branches with a loyal group of customers. Most were professionals of British origin, and selective about their books, choosing books on music, gardening and the classics. Customers supported staff, often bringing in gifts to staff who had been ill and offering support, “much like a grandmother,” said retired branch staff Ronnie Filby who moved to the Riverside Branch from the Carnegie Library in 1975 (Filby, November 9, 2012).
The customers took their role as partners with the Riverside Library very seriously, and in 1993, the Friends of Riverside Library donated $100,000 to the WPL Board for the construction of a new building at the location. In 1995, the new building was built. By December, 1999, the Friends had donated $345,000 of the $551,000 that they had committed to the branch. Ronnie Filby recalls that the customers even helped to move the books into the new building on moving day, wheeling carts of boxes of books: “we were as a family moving across the street” (Filby, November 9, 2012).
Ambassador Branch (1972 – 2000)
The Ambassador Branch was opened in 1972 in leased space in the Ambassador Plaza in the west end of Windsor. It was opened after the old Sandwich Branch and John Richardson library were closed. When the Ambassador location on Huron Line was subject to increased traffic congestion, making the trek to the library dangerous for children. The collection was absorbed into the Bridgeview Library in 2002.
Tecumseh Mall Branch (1973 – 1988)
The Tecumseh Branch leased mall space and by 1975, it was liaising with the new Main Branch’s language centre to provide French literature to the community and schools. This branch served two growing neighbourhoods at the time, Fontainebleau and the planned subdivision of Forest Glade. Customers enjoyed the convenience of a library in a main shopping area. The lease was could not be renewed in 1988, so plans were made for a library branch in Forest Glade.
Main Library/Central Branch (1973 – )
In her last Annual Report as Chief Librarian in 1956, Anne Hume reflected that the Bartlet House and Annex were only temporary measures to expand the area of the Carnegie Library. A new main library was needed. As the decade of the 1960s progressed, Windsor’s citizens began to deliberate on a fitting 1967 commemoration of the Centennial of Canada, and a strong group of citizens joined with the WPL Board to call for a new main library to be built by 1967.
It wasn’t until 1968, when Fred Israel took over as chief librarian that plans began to take place, after a 25-year campaign to find suitable funding and a location. In February 1970, the library erected a billboard at the Carnegie site letting everyone in Windsor know about the new location – at the site of the former Ursuline Music School on the east side of Ouellette Avenue at Elliott Street. Windsor architects Johnson – McWhinnie were contracted to design the modern building with 101,467 sq ft with three floors and open spaces.
The Souvenir Brochure Commemorating the Opening of Windsor’s New Public Library, November 24, 1973, describes the contemporary features unusual to Windsor’s library customers; vending machines (5% of sales were a fundraiser for the library), a drive-past book return chute, a sound system, air conditioning, and a mark of the decade of the 1970s, a smoking lounge. There was some public concern for the last feature, but the ethos of the day prevailed. There is no longer a smoking lounge at the Main Branch.
An Information Centre was located on the main floor to allow customers direct access to an automated catalogue which was linked to all seven branches at the time. There was a dedicated Local History Collection and the Municipal Archives was able to move to the new library.
In the 2000s, the “Main Library” became known as the Central Branch, reflecting the interconnected systems and cooperation throughout the WPL system.
Windsor Public Library Annual Reports account a special committee appointed with the responsibility of collection and preserving donations of old papers and documents as early as 1896, and of the importance of collecting and preserving the rare documents regarding early history (1897). Read more…
Local History and Genealogy
Separate from Windsor’s Municipal Archives is the Main Library’s Local History Collection located on the second floor of the Central Branch. By 2000, it housed the largest collection of materials pertaining to the city and county and its residents. It is comprised of historical scrapbooks, oral histories on tape, maps, atlases, archaeological material (primarily related to locating Native artifacts and burial grounds) and literary works by local authors. The Essex County Branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society also owns materials within the collection and members volunteer regularly for an “Ask the Genealogist” program. Windsor Public Library also has a librarian on staff who is a trained genealogist.
Remington Park Library (1983 – )
At Remington Park’s grand opening on January 11, 1983, Bob Girard, a volunteer with the Remington Park Neighbourhood Improvement Committee expressed appreciation to the Board for locating the library there, helping to improve the community’s amenities and the partnership with the community involvement in building the branch was unique to the WPL. This branch was distinctive to the WPL system as it was mainly stocked with paperback books, but customers have access to all of the WPL books by placing holds on books from other branches. In 2011, Remington Park Library was renovated to make it more appealing to young customers, and more computers were added.
Forest Glade – Optimist Library (1988 – )
In 1986, the local Optimist Club pledged a 3-year donation of $30,000 for a new branch in Forest Glade. The ground-breaking took place on January 9, 1988 and opened on May 7 of that year. Many French-speaking customers migrated to this branch after the Tecumseh Branch was closed. The Forest Glade Branch has a diverse multi-cultural customerage.
Bridgeview (2002 – )
The Bridgeview Library took the place of the Ambassador Library, which was leased. The stand-alone building is located in a safer area for children to access. The WPL staged a contest to name the new branch and Sharissa Morrison, who was nine years old at the time, won the contest with the Bridgeview name.
The Friends of Fontainebleau formed in the summer of 2000 to acquire a plot of land for a local library and the Windsor Public Library Foundation joined forces to assist with fundraising. With both the support of the Friends of Fontainebleau and the WPL, the branch was opened in 2005.