From the Carleton Place Canadian, 01 September, 1955
Howard M. Brown
One of the earlier public libraries established in eastern Ontario inland from the St. Lawrence River, the Carleton Place Public Library, will reach its 110th birthday in March, 1956.
When organized settlement of the area between the Rideau and Ottawa rivers was begun in 1816, the first townships occupied by the emigrants were in what is now Lanark County north to the townships of Drummond and Beckwith. The settlers knew the value of books and education and sought both. The best known pioneer public library in the county probably is the Dalhousie Township library, founded near Watson’s Corners in 1828. The Governor General of the Canada’s, the Earl of Dalhousie, then assisted this early library of the Scottish settlement by becoming its patron and the donor of over a hundred substantial volumes.
The Carleton Place Library was established in 1846, a year before the Bytown Mechanics Institute was founded as the first library of the present city of Ottawa. A report of the beginnings of the Carleton Place library has been found in the Canadian Public Archives in Ottawa, published in volume 1, number 10, of the Carleton Place Herald of November 30, 1850, then called the Lanark Herald. It follows in part:
“I would lay before the public a statement of the affairs and general rules of the Circulating Library of this place. The Library was established on the 14th March, 1846, under the name of The Carleton Place Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute, professedly to provide a cheap and well assorted class of books, accessible to all classes of the community. The terms were 2 s. 6 d. entrance money and 5 s. annual subscription, the payment of 25 years subscription constituting a person a free member. The library was first opened with 16 volumes and as many members, the books increasing in the first year to 144 and does now consist of 363 volumes; 38 of them have been purchased in the last week. They may be classed as follows: Religion 89, Historical 67, General Information 49, Scientific 18, Agricultural 4, Voyages and Travel 19, Biographical 29, Narrative 11, Fictitious 41, and Miscellaneous 36.”
“The affairs of the Institution are conducted by a body of directors chosen annually by the members from among themselves. As none of the officers receive any pecuniary compensation, the whole of the receipts go for the purchase and repair of books.”
“There is also provision for young persons who may wish to improve their minds by reading upon payment in advance of 5 d. per month, having use of the Library as long as they continue to pay that sum; but they are not considered members, consequently they have no right to vote at any of the meetings.”
“A few of the young men about the neighbourhood who are not of the orchard-robbing, bar-room-loafing hang-about-the corner class, have availed themselves of the opportunity of storing their minds with useful information, instead of their pockets with pilfered fruit, and are habituating themselves to habits of study that will materially forward their interests in the future.”
This libelous concluding blast accompanied the accession to the post of librarian by Johnston Neilson, stern village schoolmaster. David Lawson, local pioneer librarian, had resigned his library duties in 1851 because of increased demands on his time in operating the community’s post office.
Officers of the local Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute for 1851 were James Duncan (blacksmith) president, William Peden (storekeeper) vice-president, David Lawson, secretary and Robert Bell, M.P.P., treasurer. The additional 1851 directors were James C. Poole (newspaper editor), George Dunnett (store-keeper), and Duncan McGregor (blacksmith), all of Carleton Place, and Thomas Patterson and John McCarton (farmers), both of Ramsay township.
Public schools and school libraries also began to improve in the 1850’s with the introduction of municipal institutions with locally elected officers. A local newspaper editorial in 1851 titled “The Fool’s Penny” reported the purchase of “178 neatly bound octavo volumes, containing from 300 to 400 pages each, for school libraries of the Township of Beckwith out of the Tavern Licence money of last year, which was set aside for that purpose by the Township Council.”
These books were allotted among the 11 school sections of the township according to their populations, which totaled 2,354 persons. The largest school section, No. 11, with 525 inhabitants, included the village of Carleton Place, where its school was located.
A contemporary of the Dalhousie library of Watson’s Corners was the Ramsay and Lanark Circulating Library, also apparently founded about 1828. It served the area immediately north and north-west of Carleton Place.
Minutes of its 1847 annual meeting, held at the residence of Edward Leary (Lot 19, Con. 1 Ramsay) with Alex Stevenson as chairman, included a motion by John Robertson Jr. and J. Rath “that the library be removed from the house of Mr. Edward Leary and taken to the Episcopalian Church situated on Lot 16, 1st concession of Ramsay.”
A January 1847 letter to the Bathurst Courier, Perth, reporting this meeting, stated in part : “Monday the 25th instant being the natal day of Scotia’s bard, the annual general meeting of the Ramsay library was held. Another has been instituted in the township with success, yet the numbers of this have increased in the last year and it is at present in a thriving condition, numbering upwards of 600 volumes.”
“The business of the day being over, a number of the members and admirers of Burns retired to Mr. Edward Houston’s Inn to celebrate the birthday of the poet and the 18th anniversary of the Society. Mr. James Bryson was called to the chair.”
Ramsay township, into which the borders of the village of Carleton Place expanded after its early years, had as its second library that of the Ramsay Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute at Almonte, corresponding to the similar organization in Carleton Place. An account of its 1857 annual meeting, held at the schoolhouse at Almonte, shows its library then contained 750 volumes. Its president, James Hart, and secretary, David Campbell, reported votes of thanks to James D. Gemmill of Almonte, then visiting in Europe, for a donation of forty volumes and to Robert Bell of Carleton Place, North Lanark M.P.P. , for “procuring to this institution the annual Government appropriation of Fifty Pounds.”
A decline in the Carleton Place library’s operations in the 1860’s is seen in the critical note of an 1864 local editorial calling “the attention of the inhabitants generally, but more particularly the young men, in this vicinity, to a notice in today’s Herald calling on them to reorganize the Library Association and Mechanics’ Institute. We understand there are six or eight hundred books in the Library which have been almost unlooked at for several years. Our young friends have abundance of time to read, and the knowledge so acquired will be far superior to that obtained at the corners of the streets.”
Public appreciation of the works of great authors was further encouraged by a long-lived series of open meetings during the winters, popularly known as Penny Readings. These were sponsored locally under the name of the Carleton Place Mutual Improvement Association, formed at a meeting at innkeeper Napoleon Lavallee’s Carleton House (later the Leland Hotel) in December 1868 to promote a weekly course of public readings, with the admission set at one penny. Among those attending the organization meeting were James Poole, Robert Bell, Robert Crampton, William Peden, James Gillies, and Rev. James Preston. A principal supporter of this latter enterprise was Robert Bell, whose own library in Carleton Place was described in the Toronto Mail in 1887 as “the largest and best chosen private library in the Ottawa Valley.
In 1887 the Carleton Place Public Library, still associated with the Mechanics’ Institute of the village (population 3,600) was again in a thriving state, following a reorganization five years earlier. Its position was described in a valuable and generally accurate history of Carleton Place in the Christmas number of the C.P. Herald, containing the following:
“For the Mechanics’ Institutes, as they exist throughout the Province, we are largely indebted to the Provincial Government, which makes grants of money for their maintenance. The subsidies are regulated by the amount of subscription raised from private or municipal sources, by the extent of the libraries and by the various facilities that are afforded. Provision is made for giving instruction in the mechanical sciences, such as draughting and mathematics, through practical teachers as well as through books of latest publication.”
“Our Institute has a membership of a little less than 200. Mr. Lacy R. Johnson, who at the time of its re-establishment in 1883 was mechanical superintendent with the C.P.R. here, Robert Bell Esq., W. H. Wylie Esq., Mr. A. C. McLean and other citizens were the leading spirits in its establishment. The library contains some 600 volumes. The reading room contains about thirty of the leading newspapers and popular magazines as well as current scientific periodicals. The Institute has given instruction to a large number of our mechanics and others, principally young men employed in the C.P.R. shops, in mechanical draughting, bookkeeping and general mathematics. Some of the drawings were sent to the great Indian and Colonial Exhibition held in England last year. The executive judges forwarded bronze medals to the draughtsmen, and to the Institute a diploma of merit and bronze medal. The officers at present are: President, Wm. Pattie; Vice-president, Rev. A. Jarvis, Secretary, A. C. McLean, Treasurer, J. A. Goth.”
Peter McRostie, librarian of the Carleton Place Library from April 1887 to December 1909, symbolizes the public library to the elder residents of this town. Born in Carleton Place in 1832 and raised in the old McRostie home on the riverside recently bought and renovated by Mr. and Mrs. Howard Dack, he became a farmer in Bruce County and later in Ramsay township, where he was assessor, school trustee and treasurer for some years. After his return to Carleton Place he became librarian of the town library. When the present Town Hall was opened in 1897, the library was changed to a municipal public library. Mr. McRostie continued as librarian until within a year of his death at the age of 78. He was succeeded in that office by his daughter, Miss Emma McRostie.
With the 110th anniversary of the founding of our library approaching, some fitting recognition of its origins and its principal representatives of the past, such as a display of historical pictures and other exhibits of the stirring days of early district history, might perhaps be considered by the citizens of this area and the Library Board of the town.