A Passion for History: The Legacy of James Bain

Portrait of James Bain

Portrait of James Bain
Sir Edmund Wyly Grier, 1862-1957

Commissioned by the Board of the Toronto Public Library

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June 16 to September 1, 2012
TD Gallery
Toronto Reference Library

The newly renovated TD Gallery at the Toronto Reference Library celebrates the legacy of James Bain, Toronto's first Chief Librarian, with an exhibition of maps, prints, and books, many of them recently donated to the Library by the Bain family. For those unable to visit the new gallery, this online virtual exhibit will give you a taste of the show.

James Bain (1842-1908) dedicated his life to the book trade as a bookseller, publisher, collector and librarian. In 1902 he was recognized by Trinity University (Toronto) with the institution's highest honour, Doctor of Civil Law, for "distinguished service in the cause of education."

He was born in London, England in 1842, and moved with his family to Toronto in 1846. He worked in the book trade from the age of 14, first at his father's Toronto bookshop, and later in 1866 with Toronto publisher James Campbell and Sons.

He travelled to England and worked for various booksellers and publishers. During this time he and his brother Robert purchased significant historical materials. At this time he also entered into an agreement with another publishing firm, which then became J.C. Nimmo and Bain. Bain returned to Toronto in 1881 to manage Campbell's new publishing firm, the Canadian Publishing Company.

As the first Chief Librarian of the Toronto Public Library, Bain laid out the plan for the development of our rare Canadiana collection. He was charged with acquiring for the library "those rare and costly works which are generally out of reach of individual students and collectors, and which are not usually found in provincial or private libraries." Under Bain's watchful eye the collection grew to include rare and unique maps, art, books and personal accounts of events in Canadian history.

Bain Bookplate

Bain Bookplate
A. H. Howard, 1854-1916
c. 1900
Ink, watercolour and pencil

On loan from the Bain family

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Bain was an astute collector. In addition to the items purchased for the library, he amassed a significant personal collection between the 1870s when he began to be active in the book trade in London England, to his death in 1908.

Bain was a member of many organizations. He was the founder of the Champlain Society, the Canadian Society of Authors and the Ontario Library Association. He was president of the Canadian Institute and the St. Andrew's Society in Toronto. In the 1860s Bain was a member of the Muskoka Club.

Bain's application for the position of Chief Librarian was supported by peer testimonials which recognized his commitment to the preservation of Canada's heritage. As Chief Librarian, Bain led the library through times of difficult funding and was able to develop one of the best collections in Canada.

He obtained grants from Andrew Carnegie to build new library buildings in Yorkville in 1907, Queen & Lisgar in 1909, and Riverdale in 1910. The new Central library, located at College Street and St. George Avenue, opened in 1909, a year after his death. The Library Board acknowledged his service in commissioning two illuminated addresses, dedicated to the memory of his life and work.

In his own lifetime, he donated a significant portion of his personal collection to the Library. Since his death, the Bain Family has continued that legacy by a series of gifts on exhibit in A Passion for History.

Slideshow with Additional Images

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