The Assiginack Public Library marks 75 years of dedicated service

MANITOWANING—On July 22, the Assiginack Public Library celebrated its 75th birthday (the actual date was some time in April) with lemonade, cake and a walk down memory lane at its current municipal office site—the last official event to be held in the old building as the library moves this fall to its new Arthur Street location.

Librarian Debbie Robinson gave a history of the library, from an unofficial capacity in the home of Vivian Tilston, who loaned books over tea (but you were expected to bring them back the next time you came), to a shared space with the pharmacy of the day, then the present-day museum building and, most recently, into dedicated space in the municipal office.

In 1939, Rev. Dr. Marshall Laverty was a new minister leading his Manitowaning congregation at the Knox United Church. He realized the need Manitowaning had for a real library, not one run by volunteers from storefronts, and so with the help of Kathleen Mastin, penned a letter to the federal government, noting the benefit that community would receive from having a library and requesting funding to start one. The government agreed and, after a blessing from council, in April of 1939 Manitowaning’s first official library began.

“I had a great time going through this stuff,” Ms. Robinson said, pointing to the massive binders out for display that outlined the library’s history, complete with letters to the librarians, library board minutes and newspaper articles.

It wasn’t until 1959 that the library had its first paid librarian, as until that time they were all volunteers.

Ms. Robinson spoke of Lina Size to an “ohhhh” from the audience, an obviously well-known character in Manitowaning. “She ran the library in Richardson’s Drugstore on a kind of an honour system,” the librarian explained. “If it was haying season, you weren’t expected to bring the books back right away.”

Effie Montour was the first paid librarian, making $150 per year, working out of today’s museum (and former jail) and in 1965 Clara Young became the next librarian and remained so for the next 19 years. Ms. Young was the librarian during the next move to its current location until February of 1985, when Ms. Robinson took the title.

“It’s been an amazing adventure for me to go through these 75 years,” she said. “I really enjoyed the minutes.” She shared that while reading one set of minutes, she chuckled to see that stalwart volunteer Dave Smith wheelbarrowed books from the museum to the municipal office during the last move. Someone made a motion that Mr. Smith should receive a gift of appreciation.

“We’ve always had a home with municipal staff,” she continued. “This year, maybe by fall, the library will be on its own for the first time in 75 years. I’d like to thank council here and now for the prime real estate with the best view in town,” she added. The new library will be moving into the former Wally Harasym Insurance Office at the corner of Arthur and Queen Streets, overlooking Manitowaning Bay and Burns Wharf Theatre.

Deputy Reeve Paul Moffat, on behalf of reeve and council, thanked Ms. Robinson and the board on its 75 years, noting that it has the full support of council.

In March, Ms. Robinson will have served as librarian for 30 years.

“This community is amazing, any time you need something done ‘boom,’ there’s cookies baked,” she laughed.

She thanked the late Vivian Tilston, volunteer and volunteer librarian for 58 years for all her wisdom and hard work, saying she knew she was looking down on the birthday party.

“The reason I’m here is because of Vivian,” Ms. Robinson added, explaining that it was Ms. Tilston that encouraged her to apply for the job. “Every day I get up in the morning and say ‘yes!’ before I go to work.”

And on the topic of hardworking volunteers, Ms. Robinson and the board bid farewell and thank you to Richard Connoy, who over the past few years helped Ms. Robinson with getting all of the library’s titles into a database. The young man is moving to southern Ontario and will be missed, but they made sure he was sent off with the directions to all the neighbouring libraries.

Ms. Robinson said that the Assiginack Public Library is one where communication is encouraged in all forms and never once has a ‘shhhh’ been uttered in its walls.

“In the past 30 years we have seen so many changes, but I think it’s safe to say that books will be here for awhile,” she added.

The party officially got underway with the official cutting of the cake by Rev. Dr. Laverty’s daughters, and long-time Bidwell summer cottagers Lee Rutherford and Mary Ann de Chastelain.