Sunday, January 16, 2011

380 William Avenue - Former Carnegie Library

Place: Carnegie Library (now City of Winnipeg Archives Building)
380 William Avenue
Status: Renovations in Progress
Former Carnegie LibraryFormer Carnegie LibraryFormer Carnegie Library

While the city was busy keeping up with basic
infrastructure and grand homes, churches and theatres were springing up around the city. It took grant from American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie to get a central library up and running.

Prior to 1905 there were private reading rooms in places like the Manitoba Club. The Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, (forerunner to the Manitoba Historical Society), amassed a collection of thousands of volumes. Their 'popular reading' collection ended up at a cramped room at city hall and could be browsed or borrowed.

Carnegie Portrait

City librarian J.P. Robertson, who was stuck working in the City Hall space, wrote to the Carnegie Foundation of New York in 1901 requesting a grant for a proper facility. Andrew Carnegie, industrialist-turned-philanthropist, had funded the construction of hundreds of libraries across North America through his foundation.

Robertson's work paid off. The city was allowed $75,000 on the conditions that the city provided the land and agreed to cover the operating costs. In 1902 $25,000 was set aside to assemble the land on William Avenue and for landscaping.

After a drawn-out design competition, the bid was finally awarded to Hooper and Walker (this was before Samuel Hooper became the provincial architect) and construction began in late 1903.

On October 11, 1905 Governor General Earl Grey and his nineteen year-old daughter Lady Evelyn opened the library in a 'pleasant little spectacle'. Among the attendees were prominent citizens but the honour guard that lined the path was made up of school children from Norquay, Alexandra and Machray schools.

Lady Evelyn,
(who would become the Canadian pairs figure skating champion in 1911 and 1912), turned the key to open the new building. Once inside there was a tour, music and short programme.
Alderman Sanderson said "I sincerely trust that the institution, which is being opened under such auspicious circumstances, may realize the fullest expectations of Mr. Carnegie, and at the same time prove a boon to the citizens of Winnipeg."(Winnipeg Free Press, Oct 11, 1905).

Grey was issued the very first library card and a souvenir book, (which did not have to be returned !)

Former Carnegie Library

The basement held a newspaper reading room, book repair facilities and storage.
The top floor contained the stacks, a children's area and a lecture hall.

The main floor had separate men's and women's reading rooms and a new book area. It also contained the librarian's office and a boardroom. The check-out counter down the centre so you could "
...enter, set your book and leave the building without disturbing or passing through any room where people are in the act of reading, referring or studying." (Winnipeg Free Press, Oct 11, 1905).

The Carnegie Foundation's participation in Winnipeg's libraries did not end there. In 1908, a further grant was received to add a two storey addition to the rear of this building. In 1918 another $7,000 was received for maintenance and further renovations. (Carnegie would also assist in the building of the St. John's and Cornish branch libraries in 1915).

The William Avenue building served as Winnipeg's main library until the opening of the Centennial library in 1977. The fate of the building was uncertain but the following year, after community protest, a small branch library was opened on a portion of the the main floor. The remainder of the building became the city archives.

Winnipeg Archives

The library branch closed in 1994 and the city archives department took over the whole building. The facility was
in poor condition, though. Water leaks, cracked plaster and sagging floors meant that city treasures were covered in tarps and exposed to moisture and the changing temperatures.

Winnipeg Archives

In 2009 a number of facility upgrades began, including waterproofing the foundation and masonry repair. In 2010 exterior work included the addition of an access ramp and replacement of the wrought iron fence on the grounds. The city is currently working on a Facility Renewal and Redevelopment Strategy for the building to ensure it's survival and that of the materials stored there.

Winnipeg Archives

The archives now has a reading room open to the public.


Carnegie Library pamphlet City of Winnipeg
380 William Avenue Winnipeg Building Index
380 William Avenue Historic Buildings Committee Report
Archives and Records Control Homepage City of Winnipeg
Winnipeg's Carnegie Library celebrates 100 years MHS
Andrew Carnegie Portrait Winnipeg Downtown Places


  1. You've been a true advocate for this building, something which has been all too rare over the years. I'm glad to see that the Carnegie Library is getting a badly needed overhaul - I just hope that it goes beyond the bare minimum to keep the walls from collapsing.

  2. Just a small correction -- J.P. Robertson was the provincial librarian, not the city librarian. The public library in the city hall was run by Henrietta Jackson with an assistant. The Carnegie grant was a form of blackmail to induce cities and towns to establish and run good public libraries. The grant covered only the building -- cities getting grants had to guarantee that they would provide up-to-date collections, an ongoing budget, and adequate paid staff.

    When I was a kid circa 1955-1960 my father was the janitor on the 4pm to midnight shift. On Fridays, when the library closed early my mother and I would walk to the library from our home about ten minutes away and bring him his supper. My mother would help mop floors so he could come home an hour or so early.

    After dark, being children of the Depression, my parents would turn off the lights in any room they had finished cleaning. They considerately left me a pool of light nearby where I could play with toys or read picture books. On the second floor I came under the watchful eye of the Andrew Carnegie portrait that now hangs in the Mellennium Library. The eyes followed me whereever I moved and between Carnegie and the darkness I had an effective chaperone.

    Later, in 1968-9 I worked as a Library Assistant on the reference desks before going to library school in Edmonton. After it was taken over by the City of Winnipeg Archives I spent some time there doing research. Lots of memories of this building.

  3. It's great to find this information. I worked as a Library Assistant in the building for one year 1970 to 1971, but I lived there for many years before as a very bookish child. I remember the coke machines on the mezzanine floor - a nice touch. Harry Easton was the Librarian at the time.