A page in Canada’s history: Carnegie libraries

By Sara Chatfield

A black-and-white photograph of a two-storey stone building with a columned portico and ivy growing up its sides.

The Ottawa Public Library opened in 1905, funded by a Carnegie grant. (a044774-v8)

Libraries have always been special places for me. When I was young, my grandmother worked as a reference librarian at my local library, making my visits to the library extra memorable. I have always appreciated the scope of what you could find within the walls of a library: I loved the books, the magazines and chatting with the librarians about new arrivals. But the thing I loved most (and still love most today) about libraries are the buildings that house library collections, especially historic Carnegie library buildings. Carnegie libraries are distinctive buildings built in the late 1800s and early 1900s by Andrew Carnegie to promote free library access in North America and the world.

A colour photo of a one-storey building with brown-brick exterior walls and a green roof. A small set of stairs and a railing lead up to the entrance.

The Renfrew Public library, built in 1919/1920 and funded by a Carnegie grant. Photo credit: Sara Chatfield

To me, Carnegie library buildings have a majestic yet welcoming appearance. The early buildings (1901–1905) were not designed according to standardized plans. The architects, who hailed from Canada and the United States, were free to use their imaginations. Later buildings have similar design elements, such as arched windows, cupolas, porticos and symmetrical columns.

A black-and-white photo of a two-storey building with a columned portico. A man is walking in front of the building. Power lines can be seen to the right and behind the building.

The Galt Public Library, built in 1903, through a Carnegie grant given in 1902 (a031832)

I am not alone in my love of Carnegie library buildings. A former Ontario Minister of Citizenship and Culture once wrote that “Carnegie libraries represent a significant part of the cultural history and architectural heritage of Ontario.”

Carnegie libraries would not have existed without Andrew Carnegie and his lifelong love of libraries and learning. Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919) was born in Scotland and immigrated to the United States with his family in 1848. He amassed a fortune with his Carnegie Steel Company, which he sold in 1901. He placed the money from the sale in trust for philanthropy, which became his main occupation. In total, the philanthropist gave grants to build 2,509 free public libraries to English-speaking communities worldwide. Andrew Carnegie believed the best way to provide free education and foster growing communities was to establish public libraries.

A black-and-white photograph of two ornate buildings, one with a columned portico and a cupola. People walking, a street car, and power lines are in the foreground.

The Vancouver Public Library (right) opened in 1903 with funding from a Carnegie grant. Since 1980, this building has served as the Carnegie Community Centre, which houses a library branch on the main floor. (a009531)

Carnegie provided the grant for each library building, but did not contribute funds towards the purchase of books or staff salaries. To secure a Carnegie grant for a library, cities and towns had to fulfill the “Carnegie Formula.” Among other criteria, this formula stipulated that cities provide the site, guarantee an annual budget and ensure free public access. Many applications for grants were refused because a town or city already had adequate library services or would not be able to guarantee the yearly funds needed for the upkeep of the facility. Some communities did not apply for or accept money from the Carnegie foundation, as they viewed Andrew Carnegie as a robber baron and disapproved of his business methods.

Of the 2,509 Carnegie libraries built in the early 1900s, 125 were constructed in Canada. Of those 125 libraries, 111 were built in Ontario. The majority of the libraries were built in the United States and Great Britain/Ireland. Carnegie libraries were also built in South Africa, Australia, Serbia, New Zealand, Fiji, Mauritius, Barbados and Guyana, among other places.

A colour photo of a brown-brick building with several beige accent columns as well as pediments and curved windows. There are red flowers to the left in the foreground.

The former Perth Carnegie Library, now known as the Macmillan Building. The two-storey library was designed in the Beaux-Arts style by renowned architect Frank Darling. The building was severely damaged by fire in 1980 and restored in 1982. Photo credit: Emily Tregunno

I have always found it interesting that the Carnegie Foundation gave grants to build libraries in both small towns and large cities. For example, in 1901, a grant was given to Ayr, Ontario, whose population was 807. At the time of construction of its Carnegie library, Perth, Ontario, had a population of slightly more than 3,500 residents.

A brown brick 2 storey building with curved windows on the top floor. The entrance is glass and there is a yellow fire hydrant in the foreground.

Ottawa’s Rosemount Branch of the Ottawa Public Library, built in 1918. A major renovation to upgrade the branch took place recently. Photo credit: Sara Chatfield

Many library collections outgrew their original Carnegie library buildings. Some of the buildings have been torn down, some have been damaged by fire, some of the buildings have been repurposed, and some municipalities have chosen to expand and renovate. Ottawa’s Rosemount Branch, originally known as the Ottawa West Branch, is an example of a Carnegie building that has undergone substantial renovations. Interestingly, the 1917 grant to build the Ottawa West/Rosemount Branch was the last of its type given in Canada.

A black-and-white photo of a two-storey square building with a large number of pedimented windows, a columned portico and a small balcony. There is text written across the bottom, which reads “HJW, 1788, Dawson Yukon, Carnegie Library July 1907.”

The Dawson City, Yukon, Carnegie Library. The grant for this library was given in 1903. The building was designed by Robert Montcrieff. Construction was completed in 1904. (a016721-v8)

Unfortunately, some communities could not sustain the financial strain of maintaining a library. The Dawson City library, built in 1903/1904 was popular and well attended. However, by 1920, the city’s population had shrunk to fewer than one thousand people, and the city could not continue to fund the institution. In 1920, the building was sold to the Masonic Lodge.

A black-and-white photo of a two-storey square building with several windows, some of them arched, an arched entrance, and columns. The building is surrounded by a decorative metal gate. There is text written across the bottom, which reads “Carnegie Library.”

The Winnipeg Carnegie Library, built in 1904/1905. This was the city’s first public library. It served as the city’s main branch until 1977. (a031593)

From 1995 to 2013, the Winnipeg Carnegie Library building was home to the City of Winnipeg Archives. According to a 2019 report by the Association of Manitoba Archives, construction was under way in 2013 to transform the former Carnegie Library into state-of-the-art facilities for the municipal archives, when an intense rainstorm damaged the roof and sent staff and the archive holdings to a temporary warehouse location.

Of the 125 library buildings built in Canada from 1904 to 1922, approximately 20 have been demolished. Several of the buildings are still being used as libraries as originally intended.

  • A colour photograph of a brown-brick building with a curved entrance. Two short flights of stairs lead to the building entrance.
  • A colour photograph of the inside of a library. A large skylight, book shelving and computer terminals can be seen in the room. There are four windows at back.
  • A colour photograph of a beige building with a columned entrance and a pediment above the front door. There is single set of stairs leading to the building. The words “Public Library” are etched above the entrance.
  • A colour photograph of a large room with three windows, two hanging lights, a black mat and book shelves.
 

Keep an eye out for these historic buildings. You might come across one in a small town near you!

Additional resources:

  • Local Library, Global Passport: The Evolution of a Carnegie Library, by J. Patrick Boyer (OCLC 191759655)
  • The Man Who Loved Libraries: The Story of Andrew Carnegie, by Andrew Larsen and Katty Maurey (OCLC 970404908)
  • The Best Gift: A Record of the Carnegie Libraries in Ontario, by Margaret Beckman, Stephen Langmead and John Black (OCLC 11546081)
  • Ottawa Carnegie Library – Application for State papers (RG2, Privy Council Office, Series A-1-a, vol 964)

Sara Chatfield is a project manager in the Exhibitions and Online Content Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Women in the war: a Co-Lab challenge

By Rebecca Murray

Canadian women are part of the photographic record of the Second World War. The Department of National Defence fonds (RG24/R112) includes over two million photographs, from Comox in British Columbia to Naples in Italy. These women are our great-grandmothers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, cousins and friends.

This Co-Lab challenge invites you to identify servicewomen and nursing sisters who served in Canada and abroad between 1942 and 1945. The photographs range from images of a single person to large groups. The selected photographs depict them at work and play, on ships, in kitchens and libraries, playing sports and dancing. In most cases, none of the women have been identified; in fact, the word “unidentified” is often part of the title of the image.

Identifying these individuals is key to having a better understanding and knowledge of the roles they played during the Second World War. In tandem with other efforts to identify images of servicewomen and nursing sisters within the archival record, this Co-Lab challenge will help to expand the narrative.

Can you help us to identify these women who served? Here are some examples of the photographs you will find in the challenge.

A black-and-white photograph of a woman in a military uniform looking at the camera. She has a pen in her right hand, papers on her desk and a black candlestick-style telephone to her left.

An unidentified member of the Canadian Women’s Army Corps (CWAC), England, July 19, 1944. Credit: Capt. Jack H. Smith (a162428-v6)

A black-and-white photo of a group of women in military uniforms smiling at the camera. There are two women in dark suits. The women in the first row are seated and holding hands. Some of the women standing in the back row have their arms linked.

Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service members (“Wrens”), August 1943 (e011180809)

A black-and-white photo of four women and a man in a shop with tools and tables. There are three windows and a sign that reads YMCA.

Royal Canadian Air Force Women’s Division craft shop, Rockcliffe, Ontario, April 11, 1944 (a064867-v8)

To search the holdings at Library and Archives Canada for other photographs of servicewomen and nursing sisters, use Collection Search to explore accession 1967-052, where photographs are organized by branches of the armed forces, or try a keyword search (e.g. 1967-052 Halifax Wren).

For more information on the women’s divisions in the three branches of the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War, please refer to these blog posts:

Canadian women served in numerous capacities throughout the Second World War—well beyond what is represented in these photographs. Naming these women and identifying them within the archival record will build a more inclusive narrative and allow generations of servicewomen, their families and Canadians to recognize and highlight the extraordinary roles that they played during the Second World War.

We invite you to use our Co-Lab tool to transcribe, tag, translate and describe digitized records in this challenge. You can also make contributions to any image through our Collection Search tool.


Rebecca Murray is a Senior Reference Archivist in the Reference Services Division at Library and Archives Canada.

Summiting Mount Logan in 1925: Fred Lambart’s personal account of the treacherous climb and descent of the highest peak in Canada – A Co-Lab Challenge

By Jill Delaney

When Howard “Fred” Lambart’s (1880–1946) painful, frozen feet finally touched solid ground again on July 4, 1925, he thought he would feel elated. After all, it had been 44 days since he and his fellow mountaineers had made contact with anything other than snow and ice on their ascent of Mount Logan, Canada’s highest peak (5,959 m). The expedition had exhausted them all, and Lambart could only manage a sense of relief at having made it this far. There were still 140 kilometres of hard travel to go before they reached the town of McCarthy, Alaska.

A sepia coloured photograph of a group of men with Mount Logan in the background.

Photograph of the party taken by Captain Hubrick at McCarthy, Alaska. From left to right: N.H. Read, Alan Carpe, W.W. Foster, A.H. MacCarthy, H.S. Hall, Andy Taylor, R.M. Morgan, Howard “Fred” Lambart (e011313489_s1).

Lambart was part of a team of eight climbers assembled by the Alpine Club of Canada and the American Alpine Club in 1925 to tackle Mount Logan, located in the remote southwestern corner of Yukon Territory, in what is now Kluane National Park and Reserve. The mountain is in the Tachal Region of the Kluane First Nation’s traditional territory, “A Si Keyi.” The Lu’an Mun Ku Dan (Kluane Lake People) and the Champagne and Aishihik peoples have lived there for generations.

Most Lu’an Mun Ku Dan, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations people identify themselves as descendants of the Southern Tutchone. Others came from nations such as the Tlingit, the Upper Tanana and the Northern Tutchone. In the Southern Tutchone language, the indigenous peoples of this region are known as “the people who live beside the tallest mountains.”

Lambart had climbed many of the peaks surrounding Mount Logan as a surveyor for the Geodetic Survey of Canada. As part of this work, he had conducted photo-topographic work on the Yukon–Alaska border in 1912–1913.

No European settler had yet attempted to conquer the behemoth that is Mount Logan, the most massive mountain in the world. It was and still is a remote sub-arctic mountain, with notoriously terrible weather due to its proximity to the west coast. The 1925 climbing team, made up of Lead Captain A.H. MacCarthy, Assistant Lead Fred Lambart, Alan Carpe, H.S. Hall, N.H. Read, R.M. Morgan, Andy Taylor and W.W. Foster, hiked 1,025 km in 63 days. They carried packs of up to 38 kilograms for most of this time, and climbed a total of 24,292 metres, or more than four times the elevation of the mountain, in order to transport their supplies up the mountain themselves. Thanks to the Lambart Family Fonds at Library and Archives Canada (LAC), containing both Lambart’s personal diary and over 200 photographs taken during the expedition, we have a detailed and intimate account of the thrills and extreme hardships of this remarkable climb. Alan Carpe also created a documentary film, The Conquest of Mount Logan. It is a fitting time to revisit the event, with the recent completion of the first of two ascents in 2021–2022 by Dr. Zac Robinson, Dr. Alison Criscitiello, Toby Harper-Merrett and Rebecca Haspel, from the Alpine Club of Canada and the University of Alberta. Using photographs from the 1925 expedition, they are conducting a repeat photography project, as well as an ice-coring project, to better understand climate and change.

Fred Lambart came from an upper-middle-class British-Canadian family, and graduated from McGill University with a bachelor’s degree in science. He initially worked on surveys for the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway, before becoming a Dominion Land Surveyor in 1905. His daughter Evelyn would go on to an illustrious career as a filmmaker at the NFB. His daughter Hyacinthe was an early female Canadian pilot. Tragically, his two sons, Edward and Arthur, were killed during the Second World War.

The 1925 Mount Logan expedition came during a period of very active mountaineering, when Europeans saw “conquering” summits as moments of national, colonial and imperial prestige. Several attempts to summit Mount Everest were made during this time. In 1897, the Italian alpinist the Duke of Abruzzi (reportedly having his packers carry his brass bed up the mountain for him) summited Mount St. Elias, the second-highest peak in the Canadian northwest. Lambart himself was recorded as the first European to summit Mount Natazhat (4,095 m), in 1913.

Preparations for the 1925 Mount Logan expedition began in 1922. They included fundraising and the selection of the team. All agreed that A.H. MacCarthy should lead, with Lambart named as assistant. MacCarthy scouted three different routes in the years leading up to the official expedition, returning to the mountain again in February 1925 to cache 8,600 kilograms of supplies in advance, at various points along the route.

Photograph of Mount Logan with the names of the peaks and routes annotated.

Annotated photograph showing the route of the 1925 expedition (e011313492).

The team leaves McCarthy, Alaska, on May 12 and begins its climb on May 18. Much of the ascent is taken up with grinding slogs by the team members (they have no packers once they step foot onto the mountain) relaying their supplies up and down the glaciers to their various camps. Nevertheless, the alpinists do find moments to note the incredible beauty of their surroundings. On June 6, Lambart writes, “the early morning lighting on the mountains and lakes on the day developing into one of perfect clearness was a vision not to be forgotten.”

By June 11, while camping at King Col (5,090 m), the climbers’ exertion is beginning to show, along with signs of elevation sickness amongst a few of the members. Lambart reports shortness of breath, and Morgan and Carpe both vomit during the night, while MacCarthy’s eyes begin to suffer. “If Mac doesn’t let up there are a few that will not get through who otherwise could have done so,” writes Lambart. Discussions are held to try to convince MacCarthy to slow the pace.

The food supply begins to be something of an obsession, with Lambart’s calculations taking up more and more space on the pages of his diary. Lambart also notes that they plan to leave King Col the next day to try to make it to the summit and back in four days.

A photograph of Mount Logan with four climbers in the foreground.

Team members working a way up through the ice wall above King Col, King Peak towering above (e011313500_s1).

In reality, it takes another 10 days of exhausting climbing with snowshoes and crampons before they finally summit on June 23. The team begins to use ropes to keep team members safe as they tackle bad weather, steep climbs across icefalls, extreme cold and constant fatigue. Morgan, accompanied by Hall, turns back due to poor health. The remaining six continue to push upward, not knowing what lies ahead. While ascending what they think is the summit, Logan wrote the following:

[…] we saw straight off east about 3 miles the real summit of Logan which up to this time, I don’t think any of us had seen before. This was our goal, it was now 4:30 and the weather was holding.

A bit of up and down and a few switchbacks up the final steep, icy slopes—and, finally…

[…] we are on the top of the highest point in the Dominion of Canada. […] We all congratulated Mac and shook hands. […] Carpe ran the Bell and Howell a few seconds, Read took some snaps, but we were reminded by Andy that there was a storm brewing […]

Just 25 minutes is spent savouring their achievement. Almost immediately, the weather begins to close in around them, and the temperature drops rapidly. The sunshine they had enjoyed at the peak disappears as a heavy fog moves in, completely hiding any signs of the trail leading back to their camp. “We are in real peril,” Lambart later notes in his diary. Conditions are deteriorating so rapidly they decide to bivouac on a patch of steep hard snow, where they “were all burrowing like a bunch of rabbits,” to create shelters for the night. Lambart shares a burrow with Read, and gives his heavy coat to Taylor, who is on his own in another burrow. Much to his later misfortune, Lambart overcompensates with four pairs of socks in his boots, restricting the circulation to his toes. He wakes in the middle of the night to try to stamp some feeling back into them, but he will suffer from this miscalculation for the remainder of the expedition and beyond. Several of his toes were amputated later in life.

Photograph of two people standing side by side looking away from the camera.

Two members of the expedition looking out from King Ridge (e011313497_s2).

Although the mountain top remains shrouded in fog the next morning, they have no real choice but to continue in order to locate the trail to find their way back. In the process, both Taylor and Mac walk off cliffs they cannot see, falling several metres each, but without serious injury. Eventually they locate one of the willow poles they had placed every 150 feet as markers on the way up. Nevertheless, the ordeal is not over. The first rope becomes confused and marches in the wrong direction at one point, leaving them several hours behind the others in returning to camp. Lambart begins to hallucinate:

My glasses were dark and the scene ahead was of two figures constantly silhouetted against a dead whiteness where ground and sky was one. A strange imagination possessed me all the while that I could not drive away, namely, the presence of fences and fields and farms with habitations to right and left of us.

A much deserved day of rest follows, but they are back on the trail the day after, which Lambart finds to be “one of the most [difficult] tests of endurance and suffering of the whole trip.” MacCarthy’s obituary for Lambart later revealed that, on what is likely this same day (June 26), Lambart became exhausted in another bout of severe weather, and collapsed face down on their descent to the high-level campsite (5,640 m). He begged MacCarthy to leave him in order to save the others, “a murderous proposal” in MacCarthy’s mind, and Taylor supported him until they stumbled back to camp. Lambart remembers nothing of this.

The remainder of the descent goes relatively smoothly, with the temperature and the weather improving most days, and with the climbers having less equipment and supplies to carry. Additional days of rest are taken from time to time. The team begins abandoning supplies along the route, including Read’s diary, which is never retrieved. On July 1, the first signs of life are joyfully spotted—a bird at Cascade camp and bumble bees and flies at the Advance Base Camp below.

On July 4, their feet finally touch land again. Their relief is quickly dampened by the realization that bears had destroyed not just one, but two, caches of food the team had stowed for their return. Luckily, the next day, they find food that had been left hanging in a tree for them by a colleague. They celebrate that evening, but the next day are back hard at work, constructing rafts to carry them down the Chitina River in order to shorten their trek into town. The raft in which Lambart, Taylor and Read are travelling quickly transports them 72 km downstream to a meadow, from which they begin the final long hike of their journey. The raft conveying MacCarthy, Carpe and Foster follows, but “shot by us in a wider and better channel to our left. Mac held up his hand triumphantly as they went by. This was the last we saw of them.” Lambart, Taylor and Read arrive back in town late at night on July 12, racing each other the last few kilometres in their haste to arrive (in spite of Lambart’s very painful feet). There is no sign of the MacCarthy raft for several worrying days. MacCarthy, Carpe and Foster are finally located on July 15, having overshot their mark, tipped their raft and walked back toward McCarthy until they happened upon a road crew.

Lambart called the expedition “one of the strangest ventures of my life.” The men returned to their homes to much acclaim and publicity, with The New York Times naming Lambart one of the world’s greatest climbers. They wrote their report and printed their photos. Carpe developed and edited his motion picture, to be shown to appreciative audiences in the comfort of heated movie theatres and plush seats.

It would be 25 years before another team would attempt to climb Mount Logan. Today, climbers can fly onto one of the glaciers to avoid the long trek to the base of the massif. It is nevertheless considered to be one of the most challenging climbs in the world.

Our latest Co-Lab challenge allows users to tag images and transcribe entries from Lambart’s diary!

Other LAC resources:


This blog was written by Jill Delaney, Lead Archivist, Photography, in the Specialized Media Section of the Private Archives Division at Library and Archives Canada. Assistance was provided by Angela Code of the Listen Hear our Voices initiative.