In 1920, D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love was published to a storm of controversy; Agatha Christie wrote her first mystery, introducing the world to Hercule Poirot; young readers couldn’t wait to get their hands on Glinda of Oz and Tarzan the Untamed; future authors Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, and Pierre Berton were born; and Nelson celebrated its first official library.
Yes, the earth undoubtedly shook. And why wouldn’t it? It was an excellent year for readers, with the stage set beautifully for future generations. The Nelson Public Library’s 95th birthday party is all about celebrating Nelson’s long-time literary love affair that began in 1891 with newsagent Gilbert Stanley’s first reading room and library, set amid a collection of rough wooden buildings and muddy streets.
According to Frances Welwood’s publication Nelson’s Library, 1895 – 1985, other reading-centred establishments popped up around the same time, including the Nelson Public Reading and Amusement Rooms, prior to the incorporation of the Nelson Library Association in 1899.
That year, the Daily Miner reported: “Yesterday a Miner reporter had considerable difficulty in making his way through the crowd of people gathered in the reading room to the librarian’s office. The library has become very popular and that Nelson needs such an institution has been amply demonstrated.”
It was not until 1920 that the City of Nelson embraced the library as a municipal institution, located in the Annable Block (now Ward Street Place). There have been plenty of twists and turns in the library’s evolution, most recently described in Eileen Holland’s history The Story of the Nelson Public Library, 1986 – 2013; copies will be available at the birthday party by donation, so you can get the full story.
Ninety-five years is no small milestone, and so we’ll be celebrating in style with a nod to our past: look for the dulcet tones of the Heritage Harmony Barbershop Chorus, a 1920s Victrola spinning wax records, vintage décor, period costumes, and a special appearance by Gretchen Hatt Gibson, who will address the 1928 meeting of the Ladies Literary Society (but you can be a stand-in).
Look also for our 2015 creations: Nelson’s Chocofellar chocolate bars with ‘20s titles such as The Sun Also Rises and A Bar of One’s Own, and (drumroll) the launch of our gorgeous new full-colour cookbook Pairings: a Compendium of Beloved Recipes and Books from the Chefs of Nelson.
Gotta say, these chefs are awesome. The contributed their favourite recipes along with the titles of their all-time favourite books, so a copy of Pairings is your doorway to great food and great reading. Many have pledged plates of appetizers and desserts for our party, and I hope that more than a few will be able to leave the kitchen long enough to join us in fêting the book they were instrumental in creating. We’ll also raise a glass to designer Steven Cretney and photographer David Gluns (whose photographs will grace our wall).
There will be a silent auction of “altered books,” a giant birthday card to sign, draws for prizes and much merriment.
In 2015 Harper Lee published Go Set a Watchman, her first book since To Kill a Mockingbird took the world by storm in 1960 (when the library was a mere 40-year-old youngster), CanLit icon Margaret Atwood published her 16th novel, Happy birthday to us!, and noted E.L Doctorow died (Doctorow’s novel Ragtime is set just when the Nelson Library Association was busy fundraising for a permanent site).
Who knows what babies born this year will be the notable authors we celebrate in the future? It’s a beautiful continuum of books and reading, libraries and literacy, and a fine reason for a party. Hope to see you there.
Anne DeGrace is the adult services coordinator at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information go to nelsonlibrary.ca.