History of the Library

The following historical timeline of the Invermere Public Library was compiled for the 50th anniversary of the library’s incorporation in June 2013. 

The Invermere Public Library has come a long way in its 50 years of incorporation.  But there were actually other attempts at establishing library service for the valley for at least 40 years before this date.  I’d like to take you through a bit of a history of library service in the community over the last 90 years and tell you some of the stories that we like to share time and again.  The pictures in the slide show are a collection from our library archives and scrapbooks that will also provide you with a visual history of the library.

And so, the library timeline begins tonight in 1924 with this short article that appeared in the community newspaper:

1924:  Mrs. A. H. MacCarthy made a generous gift of many volumes.  A public meeting was held and a decision was made to form a library association for the Windermere Mining Division.  The membership fee was set at $1 per year.  (which would be about $15/year in 2013)

In 1925, another newspaper article reported that the Lake Windermere Public Library was open on Wednesdays and Saturdays and was described as being generously patronized.  There were some 1000 volumes on the shelves in all sections of the book room and further consignments of another 1000 volumes were on the way.  Contributors to date had included Mrs. A. H. MacCarthy, Rev. F.B. Atkinson, F.C. Stockdale, A.M. Chisholm, R. R. Bruce, Mrs. P.W. Turnor, Mrs. Basil G. Hamilton, Mr. Robinson of the Vancouver Public Library, and Dr. Calhoun of the Calgary Public Library.

A 1927 newspaper article described the Lake Windermere Public Library Association as a laudable institution of the area.  At this time, there was a collection 1400 odd books that had been further augmented by the presentation of 20 volumes of modern fiction from the shelves of Commander J.C.  Powles, RN.  Talks were under way at that time with representatives in Chicago to acquire some of that city’s pro-English literature including a copy of “Secret of England’s Greatness” which had been sent by Queen Victoria herself and was described as being “especially prized”.

In 1931, the Lake Windermere Public Library Association practically closed its doors as the undertaking was not the success that had been hoped for.  The books were handed over to a committee to arrange the sale of them at prices starting at $0.05 to $1.00.  Net proceeds were to be given to the Windermere District Hospital Association.

Early the next year, the paper reported that the occasional sale of volumes donated from the library continued and the Windermere District General Hospital Association reaped the benefits as saw their funding swell from the proceeds.

After the sell off of the books in 1932, there was no community library service until 1950.  The possibility of using the travelling library facilities provided by the Open Shelf Library at Victoria received “complete discussion” at a meeting of the Cultural Affairs committee which functioned under the Board of Management for the Lake Windermere Community Centre.  The library would be housed at the community centre and would be available to residents once or twice week “as the demand made advisable”.    The committee thought that success for the scheme would be less likely during the summer months so they made arrangements to have the scheme functioning at summer’s end.

Later that year, 150 books were borrowed from the BC Travelling Library and were to be exchanged every four months to bring in new reading material.  There was no charge to borrow the books but a deposit of $1 per book was required to assure the safe return of the books and a limit of 2 books per person was set.  Books were available on Friday evenings at the community centre from 7 to 8 PM, before the picture show.  There had been no public library service for some years and if this project met with popular appeal, the project would be extended to add a permanent library scheme.

Major Thomas Carmichael Bell can be credited with bringing the library back into existence for valley residents.  He was born in 1889 in England and moved to the Columbia Valley in the 1920’s with his wife Katherine.  They lived at the old Adami place which is now known as Timber Ridge, until moving into Invermere in the 1940s.  Long time Invermere resident Jenny Weir was tutored by Major Bell when she was a youngster and described him as being stern and without much of a sense of humour but a very elegant man.

As Major Bell and his wife became more involved in the community, his leadership began to show as he took on the task of mapping the area in order for it to be incorporated as the Village of Invermere.  He also served as the first village clerk.  Major Bell also designed the Invermere Community centre.  He was very community-minded and worked with many agencies including the Windermere District Social Services Society, the local Legion, the hospital board, and the Pynelogs Rest home.

One of Major Bell’s greatest legacies is the Invermere library to which he dedicated both time and money.  The Bell’s set aside a $25,000 fund for the Village of Invermere.  The interest from this money was to be used to establish and support a library.  To this day, funds are used annually from this original account to purchase new books for the library shelves.

In their later years, the Bells moved away from Invermere to Victoria.  Major Bell passed away on June 19th, 1981.

Back to the library timeline and how we made it to where we are today.  We’ll jump back to 1951:  when Major Bell received word from the Public Library Commission at Victoria that the quota of books for his library was to be reduced.  Regret that the library had been used so little by district residents was expressed and the number of books being sent to Invermere was cut for that reason.  A quote from the letter that Major Bell received:

“We were certainly sorry to see how little the books have been read and because as yet you have so few readers, we have had to cut down your quota to 100 books.  Actually the 100 books sent is in excess of that allowed for less than twenty borrowers.  We have sent you this generous number in the hope that your readers will increase.”

In 1954:  The Community Library was moved into the Village Office where Major Bell continued as custodian which he had been doing since the inauguration of the community library in 1950.  It was housed in Invermere but was available to all Windermere District residents.  The article notes that there were many popular books for winter reading on the shelves including recent fiction, biography, and travel books.  The library was open on Tuesdays from 2-4 PM.

Then in 1957:  The Community Library began functioning under a new arrangement.  Books were being obtained through the Cranbrook Branch of the Public Library Commission and were changed every three months.  Each shipment contained a varied selection of fiction, non-fiction, and teenagers books with about 50% of them having been published within the last two years.  Major Bell continued his work as voluntary custodian of the community library, which he had been doing for the last eight years.  Books at this time were available at the Village Office on Tuesday and Friday afternoons from 2:00-3:30 PM.

A 1958 newspaper article announced that a children’s library was off to a flying start!  Youngsters lined up four deep to choose their first books from the selection provided by the Cranbrook Public Library Commission.  The children’s library was being sponsored by the Windermere District P.T.A. with a group of mothers acting as librarians.  This collection was also housed in the village office in Invermere and was open Tuesdays and Fridays from 3:00-4:30 PM.  The first shipment of books was comprised of 70 books for preschoolers and for ages 6-12.  The collection was to be added to until the children’s library had 100 books on the shelves.  The library was so popular on the first day that there were only 15 books left.

The children’s library closed for the summer but in the few months that it had been functioning, it was very successful.  The children enjoyed the books and had taken good care of them, the teachers were most co-operative in reminding the pupils to return the library books and the mothers who have given their time to serve as librarians were applauded for having done a fine job.  A new collection of books was to be made available when school re-opened in the fall.

Then in 1963:  A group of local residents residing in Invermere submitted the necessary documents to have the community library incorporated as a public library association.  On June 5th, 1963, the Invermere Public Library Association was officially incorporated by the province of British Columbia.  Names that we would recognize on the declaration of formation of the association included Mary Bowen who was also the librarian at the time, Barbara Duthie, Leslie Wynder, who soon took over the duties of head librarian, Winnifred Weir, and Ray Crook, our honorary library patron that is here with us this evening.   Ray remembers working with Major Bell when the books were located in the village office in glass cases.  Patrons required a key to open up the bookshelves and browse the collection.  It is such an honor to have Ray here today with us.  He visits the library several times a week and we enjoy his company.  Ray has recently taken up e-reading and has been using the e-book lending service that our library subscribes to.  Thank-you Ray for your many years of support and patronage of the Invermere Library.

After incorporation, Leslie Wynder was the Librarian for over 20 years.   In the last few weeks, there have been several patrons who have been into the library and talked about their memories of Mrs. Wynder and visiting the library upstairs in the community hall.  One of our patrons just told me on Tuesday how she used to admire Mrs. Wynder’s jar full of pennies and nickels that she had collected from library fines and how she wished that one day she would have as much money as Mrs. Wynder did.

In 1981, Liz Robinson became a library Board Trustee.   As well as being a trustee, Liz would also fill in when Mrs. Wynder was away on vacation.  In the fall of 1984, the public library association posted a job ad for the position of Librarian.  Four applicants applied and Liz was selected for the job and has now been an employee for over 32 years.

In the same newspaper article that announced Liz’s appointment as Librarian, the library was very excited about several new acquisitions to the collection including the additions that had been made to the “talking book” tape collection and the two Polaroid Cameras that were available for patrons to borrow.  The Invermere Library has always been on the cutting edge and has often been the first place for patrons to access new types of technology such as these.  In comparison today, the library has two Kobo e-readers that patrons can borrow and audio books can be downloaded from the BC Downloads website directly to a patron’s iPod or smart phone.

The Invermere Library has called more than eight locations home since its first inception including moving into (then out of) the community hall three different times.  As Librarian, Liz has moved the library four times.  When she first started working for the library, it was located upstairs in the community hall.  In 1986, the library moved to the basement of the building where ReMax is located today.  It was a big undertaking and many community volunteers came out to help.

It was at this location in 1989 when Virginia Walker joined the staff of the library.  Similar to Liz, Ginny had been volunteering at the library and was asked to fill in while Liz was away on holidays.  Ginny has been at the library now for 24 years and helped Liz move the library twice.  Together, Liz and Ginny also took the library through the process of full automation that our library patrons enjoy today.

For many years, Liz and Ginny were the only two permanent library employees but in more recent years, there have been additions to the staff.  After several months of experience, these new faces (including my own) were scheduled to work at the library one weekend with neither Liz nor Ginny in the building.  (insert dramatic music!)

Patrons would walk through the door one after another and do a double-take as though they were seeing things or I guess NOT seeing things, namely Liz or Ginny, behind the circulation desk.  Many couldn’t help themselves and just had to confirm that the new staff… had been left alone…. to run the library….. ALL BY THEMSELVES.   It brought on the same shocked response with each person that came through the door.  How could the library possibly be open without Liz or Ginny in the building?

This is the perfect illustration of how much of the Invermere Public Library operation has been about these two dedicated, long-time staff members.  It is very clear that patrons have equally come in for books as well as to see them.

In 1997, the next major milestone for the library took place when the library association voted to dissolve and a bylaw was passed by the District of Invermere designating it as a municipal library.  This change shifted the responsibility for the provision of public library service to the municipality.  Service agreements were also established with the Regional District of East Kootenay to provide library services to residents of Areas F and G.

The library next moved from the basement location at the Remax building to another basement location, the one where the thrift shop is now housed.  After a couple of years at this location, the latest move took place in 2001 when the library relocated to its present location in the former RCMP building.  The choice to keep one of the jail cells in tact during the renovations of this building was a good decision.  Twelve years later, it is still a focal point of the library and a true conversation piece.  It has often been a point-of-interest stop for people new to the area.  Their tour guides will tell us that they just HAD to show them the jail cell in the library.

The room inside the cell has been known as the Lion’s Den in honour of the donations made by the Invermere Lion’s Club for children’s books.  Just this spring, the Lion’s donated funds to purchase a new, bright orange couch for the jail cell space.  It has been a real hit with our younger patrons who cannot wait to grab a book and curl up on the couch to read.

There have been many celebrities that have come through the doors over the years.  Notable names include Ethan Hawke who was in town filming “Alive” and came in to register for a library membership, authors William Deverell, Bunny Wright, Steve Smith otherwise known as Red Green, Arthur Black, Susan Musgrave, Derek Lundy, and Grant Lawrence, just to name a few.

The library staff has the honour of helping people through many of life’s journeys.  There are the exciting times such as the birth of a child, the adoption of a new puppy, or an upcoming wedding.  One patron borrowed a how-to book on wedding cake decorating and sent us a picture of her creation—it was bakery display perfect.  We also see patrons through some of their more difficult times.  The death of a family member, a family break-up or divorce, or health issues that they may be facing.  We consider it truly a privilege to be there for people and help them find the resources that they need.

As you have heard, the history of the Invermere Public Library is a full one.  The one common thread that has woven all the years of public library service together are the people who have been involved in it.  From the staff to the board of trustees, from the volunteers to the patrons, this is truly a community library.

The list of names of the trustees that have volunteered to be members of the board over the last 50 years is a long one and we extend a thank-you to all of these people who have shaped public library service in our valley.

There is an equally long list of names of library volunteers who have helped out in the library over the years.  They have given their time to come into the library and help with the tasks that we sometimes just don’t have enough time to do or need a little more help with.  From shelving books to helping with the delivery of special programs and everything in between, we have wonderful volunteers and we thank you.

The Friends of the Library group is another group of volunteers that puts in countless hours to raise funds for our library.  From the Big Book Sale to the annual Silent Auction, from hot dog sales to bake sales, this is a very dedicated group whose financial contribution makes a big difference in the level of programming and services that we are able to provide.  A thank-you is extended to all of you as well.

Thank-you as well to the District of Invermere and to the Regional District of East Kootenay for the financial support that you provide.

And one last thank-you to our patrons and to everyone who is here tonight to celebrate with us.  We hear time and again that our library is like no other.  We see our library as the community’s living room and consider our patrons to be family.  It is such a pleasure to celebrate with you tonight on the occasion of our 50th anniversary.