Nostalgia Tripping: Central Reference Library
Like many other students at U of T, I often visit the Koffler Student Services Centre, located at 214 College Street. And, like others, I tend to associate the building with the experience of dropping money on overpriced textbooks at the sizable bookstore, which inhabits the entire two floors of the former Central Reference Library.
As a focal point for the numerous services available to students (from electronic gadgets to psychiatric counseling, all under one roof) and with many people constantly entering and leaving the building, it tends to be quite lively, and not as tranquil as this former library was most likely intended to be when it first opened on September 8, 1909.
According to the Toronto Public Library web site, the funding for the erection of the building was provided by Andrew Carnegie, who donated $350,000 towards the construction project that would see the existing central library at Church and Adelaide Streets replaced. Carnegie was a retired American industrialist and entrepreneur, who derived most of his money from the steel industry and who spent his remaining years as a philanthropist.
Based on an archival photograph from TPL, the cornerstone was laid on November 27, 1906 by the Chief Justice and Chairman the Toronto Public Library Board, William G. Falconbridge, and a small group of Toronto elite were in the attendance for the ceremony. There must have been an atmosphere of enthusiasm and renewal among the audience, many of whom witnessed the Great Fire of 1904, such that the addition of a prestigious public building in the city must have been exciting.
The new library, designed in Beaux-Arts style, was envisioned by the architectural firm of Wickson and Gregg, who collaborated with Alfred H. Chapman of the Chapman and Oxley partnership. Examples of works of both groups of the architects can be seen throughout the former city of Toronto: in 1914, W & G were hired to provide plans for the Timothy Eaton Memorial Church on St. Clair Avenue East, while C & O designed several historical landmarks, including the Sunnyside Beach Pavilion and the Princes' Gates at the Canadian National Exhibition.
In the late 1920s, the firms worked together in order to devise a plan for an addition to the library, and a new Circulating Library was opened April 21, 1930. The new collection meant that the patrons were allowed borrowing privileges of the materials, whereas before they were only able to consult them in the Reference Reading Room on the second floor.
In 1977, the building was acquired by the nearby university and adopted as a student centre, named after Murray Koffler, the founder of Shoppers Drug Mart and a university benefactor. The library closed down on July 23 of the same year and later opened a new location on September 15 on Yonge Street, just north of Bloor.
In 1985, Chapman's son, Howard, along with another architect, Howard V. Walker, developed a plan for the complete restoration of the building, which Patricia McHugh, an architectural historian, praises as a "sympathetic update," that kept in tune with the original style of the building. On June 20, 1973, the municipal government recognized the structure as a heritage property, and it secured protection under the Ontario Heritage Act two years later on November 26.
The former main reading room continues to be full of books that cannot be taken out (unless they are paid for), as the space is occupied by the bookstore. However, traces of tranquility can still be found in the beautiful room.
Image credits: First and last photographs from the Toronto Archives (series and fond information located at the bottom), postcard from the collection of the author, photo of groundbreaking ceremony from the Archives of Ontario (S-1252), contemporary photograph from the Wikimedia Commons.
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