“In a scrappy new town in the British Columbia Interior, there were stories in the making. The new stories were built upon long-time stories of the land, of the First Peoples, of mountain and lake, elk and osprey. These were stories about the growing of a community. Nelson’s story in the 1890s is one of a town with aspirations. And so it is no surprise that the pursuit of knowledge was a part of that early narrative.”
So begins the book Turning Pages: Celebrating 100 Years of the Nelson Public Library, written by Anne DeGrace to accompany the library’s Centennial Exhibition, which will take place at Touchstones Nelson Museum from Sept. 12 to Nov. 2.*
Through a combination of historic images, audiovisual components, illustrations, text, and timelines, the exhibit tells the story of the first 100 years of the Nelson Public Library.
That story begins in 1891, when the very first iteration of our library was a “reading room” in the back of tobacconist Gilbert Stanley’s shop. This was followed by a stint at the Victoria Hotel, under the wonderful name Nelson Public Reading and Amusement Rooms.
After that, in 1898, it grew to three rooms in the Broken Hill Block house. In 1899, the collection was vastly improved when a shipment of 400 books was purchased from a Toronto bookseller. The Nelson Library Association was founded later that year, and they held a fundraiser at the brand-new Nelson Opera House to be able to buy even more books.
But it would still be another two decades — and several more moves — before the library was formally incorporated. In those intervening years, Nelson went through a growth spurt (lumber, mining, fruit orchards, manufacturing). There was a world war at some point too, not to mention the 1918 flu pandemic.
Early Nelson is often depicted as a rough and tumble collection of miners and logger. This exhibit serves as a reminder that there were readers too, and lovers of books and libraries. There were those who worked hard to lay the foundation for a library in Nelson, and those who continued their work and built it from the ground up.
They did all this with minimum funds and a without a permanent building. They did it with the odds stacked against them. They fought for the right to have a library — a right which we enjoy today.
*There will be an opening reception on Friday, Sept. 11 from 6 to 9 p.m. In order to follow COVID-19 safety guidelines, pre-registered participants will have 30 minutes to peruse the gallery, talk with guest curator Anne DeGrace and Librarian Tracey Therrien, and collect a copy of the companion book. There will be a maximum of 10 people in Gallery A, five people in Gallery B and 10 people in the lobby area. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 250-352-9813 to register.
Avi Silberstein is the Children’s Librarian at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. For more information on all things Nelson Library go to https://nelson.bc.libraries.coop/.