High River
High River Centennial Library

- from Gladys and Dinton Through the Years
Dinton Women's Institute 1965

One of the hardships which confronted the early settlers in the community, especially for those who had come from the more populous centres, and especially in the winter when there was time and leisure for reading, was the lack of books and other reading material. Some newcomers had the foresight to bring their books with them, and these were read again and again, and were loaned to neighbors who read and re-read them.

When the country schools were built, each school, in time, acquired a small library. As a rule, the books were bought by the School Board, usually on the advice of the teacher, and shelves were built in the school room to accommodate them. New books were added from time to time, and nearly all school libraries eventually included such classic favorites as, "Little Women", "Good Wives", "Black Beauty", "The Dog of Flanders", and "The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come". The children were encouraged to read in their spare moments in school, and the teacher usually managed to find a few minutes in the late afternoon of a school day to read aloud from one of the books in the school library. Very often, library books were taken home by the children and enjoyed by the parents as well as themselves.

In the Ridgeview School district, the books for the original library were purchased from the proceeds of a concert which included a play "Cinderella" and was put on in the school house in 1906. It was directed by Mrs. Tom Nash. The books were worn out by the children and adults in the district.

There was at one time, a library for adults in the Gladys School, with Mrs. Billy Rowles as librarian, but it did not continue for any great length of time.

Later, the Alberta Women's Institute acquired quite a large number of books which had been donated by its members. These were stored in standard sized boxes and were sent around as a travelling library to the different branches on request. After Dinton W.I. was organized and became interested, boxes of these books arrived quite regularly at the home of Mrs. Henry Litchfield, with Miss Idea Litchfield acting as librarian. Mrs. R.G. McKeage accepted the responsibility of shipping the books.

Towards the end of World War II years, some of the district people began to take advantage of the High River Town Library which was housed in the old Town Hall. Later on, after the war, when the new Memorial Centre was built, and fine library facilities included in the plans, the books were moved from the Town Hall and together with many new books, were placed on the new shelves.

Today, the High River Library has over 5000 books on its shelves. These include fiction, non fiction, children's books, "mysteries", and "scout books". Despite television and the paper-backed editions of the best sellers, these books enjoy a wide circulation among town and country people alike. In addition, there are two sets of encyclopedia for reference use in the library. Those wishing further reference, use the facilities of the Calgary Public Library. Other facilities available are, by mail, the Department of Extension Library, Edmonton, and for special reference work, through correspondence, the Provincial Library also in Edmonton.

- from This is High River, Alberta: the cowtown capital of the foothills
Drop in to visit, from High River Times 1950

The local Rotary Club decided in the Fall of 1938 that High River needed a Library, and asked for volunteers among interested women to undertake the operation of the project.

Nineteen ladies agreed to see what they could do for the reading public of High River, and twelve years later, six of the original group of women are still active on a Board of ten members.

The Library opened in the Council Chambers of the old Town Hall on January 14th, 1939, with less than 1,000 used books on the shelves obtained by a canvass made by the Rotary Club. The assets included two ten dollar credits, a cash gift of five dollars, a room in which to operate one day each week, provided through the courtesy of the Town Council and outstanding accounts for shelving and supplies.

Fines, membership cards, and special rentals have totalled the only source of income, and as an indication of growth, these receipts have increased from less than eight dollars in 1939 to more than four hundred dollars in 1949. The popularity of the Library is evident in the circulation, which has progressed from 2,500 books borrowed during the first year of operation to more than 9,000 in 1949, and the Library Board is proud of the fact that children borrow one-third of the 4,000 books now on the shelves.

With a few exceptions, the original collection of donated books has been replaced with new volumes, and the Library keeps pace with all the latest publications. Its purchases are aided by a Provincial Government grant not exceeding $300.00, which in effect means that $600 can be spent annually on new reading material. In addition, the Town provides a small grant for Librarian service each Saturday.

Until 1950 the Library operated solely with the support of its members, without ever appealing to the public for financial aid. With the transfer to the new quarters in the Memorial Centre and the subsequent need for furnishings, many individuals and a few organizations gave generous assistance.

- from Life and Legends: a history of the town of High River
By Lillian Short Knupp 1982

High River's first recorded library was organized by the local Farm Women of Alberta, that enterprising group whose membership consisted of both rural and town residents. Started in the early 1930s, the dauntless women had little or no funds. Each member donated one book, and together with other donations in kind, the library opened in the small area underneath the Lane block. This location, opening off the street corner by an outside stairway, had been better known as a haven for rural cowboys over the years, the barbershop which provided both haircuts and hot baths on their periodic trips to town. Apparently the itinerant barbers had found the depression years too much for their spasmodic trade, and the Farm Women made the tiny quarters their library, which was open one day a week.

The venture soon "folded" and for a short time the literary needs of the community were met by a commercial lending library operated by Mrs. Derick, at a site near the present Berke's Jewellers. Once again a depression economy could not support the cultural endeavor.

In 1938 the Foothills Health Unit medical officer, Dr. A. Somerville, persuaded High River Rotary Club to endorse a library project. On January 14th, 1939 the library was officially opened. Located in what has been described as "a small room behind the stairway in the old Town Hall" (actually the Council Chambers), the library boasted 1000 volumes and an operating capital of $62.50, all from donations, and was open to the public one day a week.

The Rotarians soon found the administrative details too time-consuming and the management was turned over to 20 women. Mrs. W.A. Lind was the first president, Mrs. A. Somerville vice president, Mrs. Bill Willmore secretary-treasurer, and Mrs. Nora McNichol and Mrs. Wm. Hackett directors.

Mrs. Lind, who was active also in the original Farm Women's library group, told of going door to door in the rural areas soliciting donations. At the residence of one bachelor known to be in receipt of substantial annual oil royalty cheques, a donation was reluctantly promised, after much persuasive talk. Following a lengthy wait on the doorstep by the visiting committee, and optimistic speculation as to the size of the cheque supposedly being written, the gentleman appeared with a battered, much-read volume of little significance. The chagrined ladies would have wished they had been more persuasive had they known the eccentric gentleman's residence was filled with books, magazines and newspapers, the latter dating back for decades, and that on his death instructions were left, and followed, for the destruction of the entire collection.

In any event the new Library flourished, and four years later received a small grant from Town of High River which enabled engaging a librarian, Mrs. Claude Mills. During the short remainder of her stay in High River she applied successfully for an Alberta government grant. For every dollar spent on books the Provincial Government paid an equal amount, up to $300.00. This bonanza also necessitated naming the library, which then became known as "The Association Library". The grant, plus fees, fines and dues, and a staff of volunteer workers, made it possible to open the library on Saturday afternoons from 3 to 5 and from 7 to 9 in the evenings.

Mrs. Mills was followed by Miss Martha Kelly as librarian, and she in turn by Mrs. Ernie Briggs who served in that capacity from 1943 to 1963 as a dedicated and faithful worker. Her contribution and helpfulness is well remembered by many residents, who first were encouraged as youngsters to make use of the library facilities. Winnie Briggs kept a careful eye on the type of literature which the young readers were requesting, and usually was well aware which books were or were not suitable for youthful minds. Her one notable exception was the occasion when a ten-year-old persisted in demanding, "I Want A Night to Remember". Mrs. Briggs' suggested substitute reading met with firm refusal. Eventually she realized the reference required was an account of the sinking of the Titanic.

Duty in the library was seldom dull.

In 1947 decision was made to occupy new quarters in Highwood Memorial Centre and the move was completed in 1948. Mrs. Charles Clark was president of the Board, Mrs. Bill Willmore secretary-treasurer (an office she was to hold for many years) and Board members were Mrs. Arthur Bowman, Mrs. Wm. Holmes, Mrs. Nora McNichol and Mrs. Clayton Young. The library became "The Municipal Library" and operated with the customary fees plus an annual grant of 35c per capita from the Town and 50c per capita from the provincial government.

By 1950 donations in kind of pictures, shelves, memorial purchases of books were contributing also to the library. The oak filing cabinets donated by the Independent Order of the Daughters of the Empire are still in use in today's streamlined quarters. A visit from the Duke and Duchess of Windsor to the Memorial Centre location was a highlight and pictures of that event graced the walls for many years.

Centennial year, 1967, once again saw the need for expansion. The Royal Canadian Legion whose quarters adjoined the library, agreed to move to another area of the Centre and this enabled doubling the library floor space. Per capita grants were received from Town, provincial and federal governments, and Municipal District of Foothills - after all, their tax-payers were reading library books, too - also assisted financially. In acknowledgement of Centennial year funding, the library name was changed once again, and now is known as High River Centennial Library.

In 1979 Sybil Young retired as chief librarian, being replaced in that office by Mayor Lucille Dougherty. At the retirement ceremonies it was noted that Sybil Young had worked with and for the library for 40 years. She still works there, almost daily. Her beneficial contribution to the people of the community, through her long-time work, cannot be estimated or expressed adequately.

The library is now part of Marigold Library System, a regional library innovation recently organized in Alberta. Library fees continue at a modest rate to residents whose municipal governing bodies participate in the scheme.

Late in 1981 the library moved to its new quarters on 1st Street S.W., a $700,000.00, 11,000 square foot, spacious building startlingly modern in concept. Surrounded by windows on two fronts, its three towering sky-lights are part of the low-energy heating system.

In addition to well-spaced shelving space and filing cabinets, library users find work tables, lounge chairs, and areas suitable for use by students or children. For the latter there are such novelties as puppet shows and story hours, in addition to the books and games displayed. More work space is available to the librarians.

There is a study room where films and tapes, teleconference courses, computer-managed-learning, teledon all are available. Microfiche, a music section, talking and large-print books, a picture gallery, display cases, a small auditorium for lectures and recitals, two crafts centres are part of the new complex.

The library has 1506 members, had an inventory of 25,000 books at the end of 1981 with 700 more on early order, has an increasing stock of current publications and continues to grow, both in contents and daily use. Interestingly, one-third of the library's circulation is in non-fiction reference material.

That small group of persistent women of the Hungry Thirties and their successors certainly knew what the community wanted.

Contact information: See Directory of Public Libraries