History of the Library

Here is a brief history of the library, as written and presented by Betty Kohn at a reception recognizing the 50th anniversary of the library’s incorporation: May 11th, 1996.

“Honoured guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Celebrating 50 years of our library’s growth and service to the community is an exciting event.

Our library started as an idea in the mind of Ray Orser. Mr. Orser is here today and I want to take this opportunity to thank him for having the idea and then working with such dedication to turn the dream into reality.

In the fall of 1945, Mr. Orser arranged a meeting at which he outlined the necessary procedures to establish a library. He then organized a committee to canvas the entire district, both city and rural, to gather facts to present to the city council.

This canvas was the first indication of the extent of this community’s interest in having a public library.

Because of the tremendous interest shown by the community, a society was formed and a slate of officers was elected. Ray Orser was Chief Librarian but there were no books, no money with which to buy books and no place to put books if they had any.

They contacted the Public Library Commission and were assured that they would receive an annual grant, up to a limited ammount, which would match a sum designated by the city.

That spring 22 people gathered to sign the library incorporation papers. The certificate of incorporation of the Grand Forks Public Library Association was received from the Registrar of Companies on May 7, 1946.

The first supply of books was obtained by canvassing for new and used books. The first home was a small upstairs room in the post office, the building which is now City Hall.

This was known as the weights and measures room and was rented for $5 a year. Mr. Reynolds, the Postmaster, let the volunteers use the basement and boiler room as a workshop. There they hammered together their first bookshelves. A desk was bought from Eaton’s for $11.85.

Mr. Orser attended a six week course in library administration at the Victoria Summer School of Education. With money from grants, donations and sale of memberships (children’s membership free as required by the Public Library Commission) new books were ordered and the first shipment arrived in the fall of 1946.

The following year Majorie Reynolds accepted the position of Librarian. She continued in this volunteer position for 17 years of faithful service.

In 1951 a move was made to the main floor of the Post Office where a slightly larger room was available. There were about 2000 volumes, some bought, many donated. As I was thinking about the little room I recalled that my son, when he was about ten years old, came home one winter afternoon and said, “That library is the nicest place in the whole world. There’s a room filled with books and a beautiful white haired lady who talks to me about reading.”. The library had become an integral part of the community.

In January of 1963 the library board met with city council to suggest that, as a centennial project, a library be built as an addition to the museum. The project was approved and on November 4, 1964 a board meeting was held in the new building.

As we looked around it seemed that with so much space we would never be able to aquire enough books to fill the shelves. However, people of all ages began using the library on a regular basis and it was not long before library membership and book aquisition increased and outgrew these premises. The totally inadequate basement had to be used as the office and workshop. As library usage grew, books were being stored in boxes. It was time for larger quarters to serve the needs of the public.

The library board made a presentation to city council and outlined the need for a new library. There was overwhelming support from the citizens of Grand Forks and the surrounding district.

The city had purchased the Wilkinson property which was between the Post Office and the museum, thus assuring that the library would be in a desirable downtown location.

With a grant from the Recreational Facilities fund of the provincial government, money from the slag fund, and all the lumber donated by Pope and Talbot, the library building was completely paid for. No taxes would be assesed for this building. Construction started in September and continued throughout the winter. The library was officially opened on March 27, 1982.

The board thought it would take two or three days to move all the books from next door. They advertised for help in the paper and on the radio. The response was so overwhelming that all the books were moved by one o’clock. People were still coming to offer help all afternoon.

In 1983 the British Columbia Library Association announced that they would present, for the first time, a merit award. We just knew that it belonged to the Grand Forks Public Library so we assembled a report about our library’s special place in this community, its services, the valuable work the volunteers undertook and the overall community involvement. In Vancouver, at the provincial annual general meeting, the Grand Forks Public Library was presented with the first ever British Columbia Library Association Merit Award.

Mr. Orser’s dream had certainly been fulfilled.

When we moved into this library we moved not only all our books, but we also moved some very unique pieces of furniture. The antique bench, which is in the reading lounge, was discovered in the basement of the old Post Office. It was cleaned up and used in the first library room (well, not really in it—there was no room for it so it was in the hall just outside the door) and it did get a lot of use.

When the library moved downstairs there was room for it inside–but just. It was snugged up against the desk and about two feet were inaccessible. We didn’t waste any space–that’s where the magazines were “filed”.

At the first board meeting in the library next door, Alan Clapp said he knew about a picture in Victoria which we could have it we paid the shipping charges. That large painting of the young girl with her book is now hanging in our reading lounge.

At that same board meeting we realized we actually now had the space for a table. We advertised in the paper and within two days two lovely oak tables were donated. Hume Ritchie gave us the one in the reading lounge and Hugh Sutherland gave us the one near the back of the library.

At that meeting, Mr. Clapp also said he knew about a clock, unused and forgotten, in the basement of the Bank of Commerce. He had asked if we could have it for our library. They had to contact their head office and word came back that we could have it if we attached a suitable plaque. One board member said, jokingly, that we could probably buy a clock for less than the plaque would cost. Alan Clapp said, “Wait till you see the clock.” The clock had been in the Eastern Townships Bank in Phoenix and had been moved to Grand Forks so its connection to this area is well established. Is there anyone here who hasn’t seen and admired our clock?

This is a wonderful occasion. To celebrate the fifty years that the people of this community and this district have had a library to educate them, entertain them, and enlighten them, is a great accomplishment. Thank you for coming today to celebrate this achievement.”