People and places

Our First Building Birthday

Berlin Public Library Building

P000288 WHS Berlin Public Library building

On this evening, 112 years ago, the new Berlin Public Library building at Queen  and Weber had its opening reception . It was a grand and dignified evening affair, by invitation only. Professor McGregor Young of the University of Toronto gave a talk on the “Monroe Doctrine”,  the foreign policy of the US regarding domination of the American continent.  His academic and rational examination of the subject won admiration from the Berlin News Record in their 9 February 1904 edition. Following the evening’s program, a Waterloo orchestra played while guests explored the Library’s rooms. The News Record reported that the reading room would be open to the public  on the following Monday, but that  the books would not be ready for circulation for a few weeks.

The Library was founded on 4 February 1884 under  By-law 310 passed by the Berlin Town Council. Mabel Dunham, in her 1934 history of the Kitchener Public Library, noted that the books of the Mechanics Institute, housed  under the stairway of the first floor of the old Town Hall, became the nucleus of the Berlin Public Library. The reading room opened to the public on 14 April 1884.  As the Library outgrew its space in the Town Hall, a lot at Queen and Weber was purchased for future development in 1897. It was not until 1902, when funding from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation was secured for the building of a new library building, was work commenced on a new facility. Although the building was ready for occupancy by the summer of 1903, the library did not open until 8 January 1904 – as books and collections were ordered and prepared according to modern library standards.

In 1908, Dunham noted that industrial managers and foremen of the town’s factories were invited to a special reception, as a means of advertising the Library to the city’s industrial workers. Library board members hosted the evening and cigars were provided in the smoking room.

Within five years of its opening, the building was to receive a glass floor, a second story added to the stack room, a fireplace was added to smoking room and the entrance was enhanced with a new flight of stone steps. Over the years, several additions and renovations took place in order to meet the growing demands for collections and services. The Waterloo Historical Society’s museum was also housed in the basement of the Library.

The Library “Now, like the ark of the covenant, it has found a permanent restingplace [sic]” proclaimed Rev. W.A. Bailey, the chair of the Berlin Free Library Board, in his remarks at the building’s opening on 8 January 1904.

And it did until 23 May 1962, when the new Kitchener Public Library opened at 85 Queen Street North.

Happy Birthday to Berlin’s dear old Carnegie Library! Gone, but not forgotten.

Be sure to visit our Berlin Public Library display in the GSR for a trip down memory lane.

Cheers, K.

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2 thoughts on “Our First Building Birthday

  1. Katherine Dedyna says:

    Hi. It’s so strange to be able to leave a comment all these decades after the demolition of such a wonderful historic building. If only citizens could have commented in a meaningful way then to such senseless destruction. I was a child at the time, but I do remember visiting the grand old library and have wondered ever since at the apparent urgency to demolish it? The site was empty, or a parking lot for so many years afterward, a stark and inadvertent ‘monument’ to the shortsightedness of decision makers. So sad, but thank you for these photographs.

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