Library Centennial in 2020

In 1920 historian and writer Pierre Berton was born, Agatha Christie published her first mystery, young readers couldn’t wait to get their hands on Glinda of Oz and Tarzan the Untamed—and Nelson celebrated its first official library.

Books and reading have been a part of Nelson’s history since newsagent Gilbert Stanley became custodian of Nelson’s first reading room in 1891. By 1899, a Nelson Miner reporter had trouble finding his way through the library — by then located at Baker and Ward streets — because of the crowds. Now, in the digital age, libraries have changed, but love of reading and learning and coming together is as fully embraced as it ever was.

What’s not to celebrate about the centenary of Nelson’s literary love affair and library-centred conviviality? And so, celebrate we are!

Our year began with two events to mark 100 years since our incorporation on January 20, 1920.

On Friday, January 17 a community showcase lit up the Capitol Theatre stage. The evening, which opened with our campy lip-synch video “Library Rock,” featured Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour award-winning authors Terry Fallis and Nelson’s own Jennifer Craig; Playmor Junction Big Band; Slava Doval’s DanceFusion youth companies; and Allison Girvan and the Lalin Choir, with the evening emceed by the multitalented Bessie Wapp. Indigenous elder Donna Wright welcomed us all and transported the audience with a story.

On Sunday, January 20 the Library welcomed the community with an open house. Actor Don Thompson appeared as 1920 Mayor “Long Jim” McDonald, offering a spirited re-enactment of that auspicious day and shaking hands with present Mayor John Dooley. Musicians Rose Nielsen and Dan Obradovich brought their guitars and voices, and photographer Thomas Nowaczynski, offered free photos — dress-up or otherwise — so folks could have a souvenir of the occasion. And there was cake, of course!

We commissioned a stunning poster and four timeline illustrations by Nelson artist Douglas Jones—available for purchase as frameable prints, books bags, cards and bookmarks—which will feature in our historical exhibition at Touchstones Nelson, Museum of Art and History from September 12 to November 22, with a public-health-compliant opening reception on Friday, September 11. (See event details here)

There’s nothing like a milestone birthday to inspire reflection on all of the steps that brought us this far. The exhibition will look at the City’s earliest reading rooms, its many locations, ongoing challenges with space and funding, and changes through its journey to now—along with a glimpse into the future! You told us how you feel about the Nelson Public Library today, and how it might look tomorrow through interviews, creative writing, drawings, and cartoons, and you’ll see many of these reflected in our exhibition.

The Nelson Public Library is your library; we’re so happy to have you along for the celebration.

Compiled of columns and press releases by Anne DeGrace, affectionately referred to as the author-in-residence of the Nelson Public Library for 32 years. She retired in 2020.

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