WPL’s Early Years

February is Library Lover’s Month and as part of the celebration we thought we’d share a bit of WPL’s long history in our community.

In 1875, the Waterloo’s Mechanics’ Institute (WMI) was formed. The objective of The Mechanics’ Institute was “…the mental and moral improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood.” This group of interested citizens’ focus was to create a lending library in the town of Waterloo.

WatPL29737fOn February 18, 1876, the first budget for books ($38.55!!) was passed but the matter of buying shelving would have to wait until the town council election. Undeterred, the WMI moved ahead with purchasing books and setting up Waterloo’s first library on a single table on the main floor of the Town Hall (left) at Erb and Albert Streets, where the Marsland Centre office tower is currently located.

There was a subscription fee of $2.00 per year to “join” the library with these monies being used to purchase more books and, eventually, shelving. The library was open twice a week. While “… all well conducted persons shall be eligible for membership.” there were rules to be followed. Some of the more unique ones included:

  • English books were available on Fridays and German books on Tuesdays
  • No one under the age of fifteen was allowed to borrow books
  • No more than two persons from one family were allowed in the library at the same time
  • Borrowers were allowed 15 minutes maximum to select their books
  • Noise and loud conversation were strictly prohibited as was “…the use of tobacco and the filthy practice of spitting on the floor.”
  • Any member who “… bring(s) dishonour upon the institute…may be expelled by the Directors.”

By the turn of the century, there was a need to create more suitable and permanent “reading rooms” for the Waterloo Free Library, much loved by the town’s population of 3600 people. The Board of Trade, Waterloo Town Council, and the Library Board applied for a grant from Scottish-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. On July 18, 1902, the grant was approved.

WatPL29813fProperty was purchased at Albert and Water (now Dorset) Streets. Architect Andrew Moogk’s design was approved and construction began. The new library, which cost $9100 to build, opened November 1, 1905. Mayor Weidenhammer welcomed the guests. Reverend Mr. Lee, who had worked with the Board of Directors “…in the betterment of the community”, concluded his speech by “…hoping that the Waterloo Library shall be as a spring from which there shall ever gush forth a fountain of knowledge and truth that will be a blessing to the whole community.”

In 1920, a special section of the library was devoted to children and, two years later, the first Story Hour program was held. The children’s collection and activities proved to be very popular and by 1930 the meeting hall on the top level of the library was renovated to become the Children’s Department and the first Children’s Librarian was hired.

As members and collections grew, the Adult Department took over the top level and the basement was renovated to become the new Children’s Department. Even with all of these alteration, by 1964 WPL out outgrown the Carnegie Library. The site chosen to build a new library (our Main Library) was opposite the Carnegie on land which originally housed Market House/Waterloo Market, where the first meetings for the Mechanics Institute took place back in 1875.

To learn more about WPL’s 146 year history, visit wpl.ca And if you have questions about the library’s history, local history in general or genealogy, contact our Local History staff at askus@wpl.ca or 519-886-1310 ext. 124.

— Sandi H.