Carnegie Library - Central

Address: 214 College Street
Architect: Wickson & Gregg and A.H. Chapman, associated architects
Opened: 1909, September 8
Closed: 1977
Current use: Koffler Student Centre, University of Toronto

The new Toronto Reference Library opened at the northwest corner of College and St. George streets on September 8, 1909, and was the largest of Ontario's Carnegie libraries. The "enlightened Beaux-Arts composition" was designed by Wickson & Gregg and A. H. Chapman, and reflects Chapman's Paris training and New York experience. The Best Gift provides this detailed description of the architecture: "The College Street (front) façade, with paired ground floor windows set in a smooth grey stone wall, contrasts with the six bays above, defined by brick pilasters and modified Corinthian capitals. The bracketed cornice and rounded pediments facing College Street give way to a plainer façade on St. George Street, with the subtle change in window proportions reflecting changed interior functions."

Major alterations

1930 Addition for a new Circulating Library officially opened, 21 April. Architects: Chapman & Oxley, in association with Wickson & Gregg.

Heritage status

1973 Listed on Inventory of Heritage Properties, adopted by Toronto City Council, June 20.
1975 Designation by-law passed by Toronto City Council, under the Ontario Heritage Act, November 26

Carnegie Library - Central, 1906

Toronto's elite, headed by Ontario's Lieutenant Governor the Honourable Sir William Mortimer Clark, gathered on November 27, 1906 for the official cornerstone laying of the Toronto Public Library's new central library. Honourable Sir William Glenholme Falconbridge, chief justice of Ontario and chairman of the Toronto Public Library Board, presided at the ceremonies. Falconbridge laid the cornerstone, declaring: "May the structure which will be erected on the stone which I have today declared to be well and truly laid be a source of material improvement, of innocent pleasure and of inspiration to unnumbered generations of our fellow citizens."1

1Toronto Public Library, Annual Report, 1906, 18.

Carnegie Library - Central, 1910

The architects of the Toronto Reference Library – Alfred H. Gregg, A. Frank Wickson and Alfred Chapman - were well acquainted with designing Carnegie library buildings in Ontario. Wickson & Gregg designed the Brampton Carnegie Library in 1906. Alfred Chapman had apprenticed with Beaumont Jarvis of Toronto, architect of the Carnegie libraries in Orangeville and Lucknow, prior to attending the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris and working in New York City. Chapman later designed the Carnegie libraries in Dundas and Barrie. He also planned Toronto Public Library's Dovercourt Branch, opened in 1913 at Bloor Street and Gladstone Avenue and the first library in the city to be wholly financed by the municipality.

Architectural historian Patricia McHugh described the Toronto Reference Library as "one of the best Second Classical Revival buildings in Toronto, rich in sculptural stone ornament but poised and firm with graceful large windows set deep into smooth yellow-brick walls and a gradually stepped approach to dignify the entrance."1

1Patricia, Patricia McHugh, Toronto Architecture; A City Guide, 2nd ed. (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1989), 118.

Carnegie Library - Central, 1920

Despite doubts about "whether the location on College Street would be suitable and accessible,"1 Toronto Public Library's new Reference Library was well used from the time it opened in September 1909. Chief librarian George Locke commented about the suitability of the site and the popularity of the Reading Room in the library's 1909 annual report:

I understand that there were some persons who doubted whether the location on College Street would be suitable and accessible. There can be no doubt now, if one may judge from the ever increasing number of persons who use the privileges of the Reading Room. The room itself is perhaps the most handsome large room in the city, dignified in its architecture and eminently adapted to its purpose. It will accommodate two hundred and fifty readers without crowding, and it will not be many years until the demands on it will be almost to its capacity. Already with only four months occupancy there have been times when as many as one hundred and six people were studying in this room at the one time. There are some four thousand selected books on the open shelves of this room, an innovation which is appreciated by the people.2

1Toronto Public Library, Annual Report, 1909, 11.
2Toronto Public Library, Annual Report, 1909, 11.