In the spring of 1832, the Reverend William Bell and 40 “responsible citizens of Perth” met to establish the rules, regulations and book choices for the very first library in the area. This early effort faltered but was revived in 1844 with the establishment of the Perth Mechanic’s Institute, the goal of which was to be “the pursuit of useful knowledge”. The old stone schoolhouse on D’Arcy Street was the scene of the election of officers and the creation of bylaws.
Over the next few decades, there was a reading room established on Gore Street which provided readers with current newspapers and periodicals. In 1852, the library consisted of 800 volumes, some of these having been sent out to Perth by the Earl of Dalhousie. During the winter of 1854-55, a lecture committee was appointed to provide a program for the season. The subjects of these lectures – astronomy, English poetry, the importance of intellectual cultivation and many others – show the intellectual curiosity of the community at that time.
In 1833, the library had a catalogue of 2,200 books and, for a subscription fee of five shillings, the public was welcome to peruse the titles. Until 1903 the Perth Mechanics Institute and Reading Room were housed on the second floor at the corner of Gore and Herriott Streets. From 1863 to 1881 the book collection was kept in the council chamber and later at the high school. It was the town clerk’s responsibility to oversee the signing out of books.
Moving Into The Twentieth Century
The beginning of the 20th century brought new life to the Perth library. Through public subscriptions, private donations, municipal contributions and a $10,000 grant from the Andrew Carnegie Foundation, a new three storey library was built on the corner of Basin and Gore Streets. This grand building opened its doors in 1907 and served Perth residents for a number of years. On a cold day in January, 1980, flames tore through the building. Water soaked books smoldered in the gutted building and nothing could be saved. Temporary quarters with donated books were set up in the basement of McMartin House and energies were gathered to plan for the rebirth of the library. The present library, on the corner of Herriott and Drummond Streets, was opened in late 1981.
This article was written and originally published by Lianne Lahaie (EMC). Illustration by Elaine Blier.