On January 23, 1903, Andrew Carnegie pledged to give $350,000 to the Toronto Public Library to construct four new library buildings. The Scottish-born, American industrialist began giving away the bulk of his fortune in 1901, after he sold his steel company to J. P. Morgan for $500 million and retired as the "richest man in the world."
Andrew Carnegie's best known philanthropy was building public libraries. The conditions for receiving a Carnegie library grant were straightforward, and civic officials had to state their compliance in a formal letter.
First, the municipality would provide a suitable building site. Second, the municipal council would appropriate by taxation no less than 10 percent of the grant amount to annually support library operations. In addition, Carnegie grants were given only to public libraries that were open to citizens free of charge without membership fees. The standard award was calculated at approximately $2 per capita.
Carnegie's first grant to Toronto was the largest amount given anywhere in Canada, and, at the time, only New York, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh had received more funds.
With the 1903 grant, the Toronto Public Library opened a new central library in 1909 and three branches: Yorkville (1907), Queen and Lisgar (1909) and Riverdale (1910).
A second Carnegie grant of $50,000 to build two more branches was promised to the Toronto Public Library Board on May 8, 1908. However, the death of Chief Librarian James Bain two weeks later, and the subsequent departure of other upper management, caused the grant to be "overlooked" for several years. The Library had to reapply to the Carnegie Corporation of New York (the foundation that succeeded that Carnegie's personal giving in 1911), and it did not receive the second grant until February 6, 1915. With it, three almost identical branches were opened, Beaches, High Park and Wychwood, all in 1916.
Three outlying municipalities, now part of Toronto, also were given Carnegie funds to build libraries. West Toronto was given $20,000 in 1908, but, due to municipal amalgamation, the library on Annette Street opened in 1909 as the Western Branch of the Toronto Public Library. Weston received $10,000 in 1913, and its library was completed in 1914, and Mimico was granted $7,500 in 1914 and its new building opened in 1915.
Altogether, ten public libraries were opened in Toronto between 1907 and 1916 using Carnegie grants totalling $487,500. There also was one university library, the Birge Carnegie Library at Victoria College, completed in 1910 with partial funding of $50,000 from Carnegie.
Toronto Public Library continues to use seven of the ten Carnegie libraries: Yorkville, Annette Street (formerly Western), Riverdale, Weston, Wychwood, High Park and Beaches. All of these buildings have been renovated over the years, with an effort to retain the Beaux Arts style of the earlier three and the Arts and Crafts flavour of the latter four.
With the opening of replacement buildings in the 1960s and 70s, the Queen & Lisgar Branch and the old Central Library were sold and converted to other uses. Mimico Library was demolished in 1966, and a new library was constructed in its place in honour of Canada's centennial.