From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
Remember This . . . Sault Ste. Marie’s Centennial Project
As we participate in the many celebrations being planned to celebrate Canada 150, it is worthwhile taking a look back at our Centennial year. In the years leading up to 1967, Canada began making preparations for a year-long Centennial celebration. Communities across the country were encouraged to select local projects which would commemorate the country’s centennial.
During the 1960s, the city’s public library was located on Queen Street and was known as the Carnegie Library. It had been rebuilt in 1909, following a fire which destroyed the first Carnegie Library in 1907. However by this point, the city had grown in population significantly since the early 1900s and the old library was overcrowded and in need of many repairs. In a report to council, the chief librarian, Miss Kay Climie, related that the original library had been built to house 2,000 books but by the 1960s it had 40,000 volumes on its’ shelves. The librarian’s office was used for storage of the Local History collection, a shipping and sorting room in addition to being a cloak room for the staff!
Recognizing that the city needed to give some attention to this issue, city council agreed to construct a new library to replace the Carnegie Library on Queen Street. Given the timing of this construction project, it was decided to designate the new library as the city’s Centennial Project and it eventually became known as the Centennial Library. This project was a cooperative effort of the federal, provincial and municipal governments.
Mr. C.F.T. Rounthwaite of the architectural firm of Marani, Rounthwaite and Dick (from Toronto) was hired to come up with a design for the new library. In order to showcase the community’s industrial heritage, the fascia and exposed exterior beams were built out of Algoma Cor-Ten steel which is an alloy designed to rust until it reaches a chocolate brown patina.This application of Cor-Ten steel was one of the first times that it had been used in the country. The building was designed to have a cantilever design and used repetitive brick bays that were separated by windows extending from the floor to the roof line. These features ensured that the new library would have a lot of natural light coming in to the building. The main entrances featured a canopied patio leading into a split level approach allowing people to either go up a level or down a level via a short staircase. Locating the library adjacent to Clergue Park on the St. Marys River was a prime location with a rich historical heritage.
The construction of the library was to cost $800,000 and was built by Newman Brothers Construction. The library was completed and the official opening ceremony was held on July 27, 1966. Following the ceremony, which was broadcast live on CKCY radio, the public was invited to tour the new facility before it actually opened for business on the following day. According to the audio recording of the opening ceremony, politicians, media, members of the public and staff members eagerly attended this momentous occasion and watched the laying of the cornerstone and many were awestruck as they toured the new building, many declaring it to be the nicest building in the city!
The new Centennial Library had a book capacity of 125,000 and a seating capacity in the Reading and Study areas for 126 people. When the library opened, it featured a ‘Children’s Room’ which was separated from the rest of the library by a brick wall. The lower level had 2 meeting/program rooms. The larger Centennial Room had a seating capacity of 175 people. It included an attached kitchen as well as a projection room so that films could be shown, and it could be used to host art shows and large meetings. The other meeting room was the Story Room that was primarily used for children’s programming and had a seating capacity of 75 people.
At the time of its construction the Centennial Library was referred to as the “jewel of the waterfront.” The Centennial Library was an award-winning design and was the recipient of an Award of Merit from the OMRC (Ontario Masons Relations Council) and was a finalist of the Structural Steel, Canadian Design of Merit Citation.
A dedication ceremony was held on June 25, 1967 to acknowledge the Centennial Library as the city’s official centennial project. The multi-coloured centennial maple leaf symbol located on the library’s lawn, adjacent to the Hub Trail is an ongoing reminder for the residents of the city of this very special centennial project.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.