Group of children enjoying reading time in 1966.

The story of the Campbell River Library

A Look Back into the History of the Campbell River Area

Did you ever wonder how the library in Campbell River came to be?  A letter recently unearthed in the Museum Archives by volunteer Jessica Madsen looks like a reply to that question and clearly outlines the beginnings of book lending in Campbell River.  The letter was written in 1957 by William R. Taggart, the Regional Librarian, and addressed to Hazel Anderson, who was the Custodian of the library at that time.

Mr. Taggart wrote:

“Dear Mrs. Anderson,

The Vancouver Island Union library was founded in April, 1936.  Negotiations were made during the summer of 1936 for the old Campbell River School District (not the present boundaries) to join the Union Library, and on September 19th, of the year the first Campbell River branch was opened, in somebody’s house or store.

For almost fifteen years, the branch carried on in this way, going from pillar to post as it were, with a fair number of different custodians, some threats and rumours of threats that the library would fold up, but somehow at every crisis everyone pulled together and the Campbell River branch never once broke the connection which it had from the start with the Union Library.

When the population began to increase shortly after the war, it became apparent that a more formal agreement was necessary with Nanaimo Headquarters.  Also, the improvement in the roads and the Library’s vehicles made it possible to give better and more frequent service to Campbell River.  And with the incorporations for the Village, it was possible for the Library to negotiate directly with the local Commissioners.

There were the usual prolonged discussions and meetings, but finally in December, 1950, the citizens of Campbell River voted by plebiscite to join the now Vancouver Island Regional Library.   By this time the Regional Library was not serving the newly formed Campbell River School District, so the direct agreement with the municipality was absolutely necessary.

The effective date of the Village’s membership (as contracted with the old School District) was January 1, 1951.  Another historic date occurred in 1951; that was when you [Hazel] took over as Custodian on July 7th.  It was also around this time that the Library began to get separate quarters.  I am not sure of the dates in this regard, but you can probably fill this in to a certain extent.  It may not be safe to mention individuals when so many contributed to the growth of the Campbell River Library,  but if one person in the Village had to be singled out, I think it would be John Lambie, library trustee from 1950-1955.

I think that pretty well gets us up to date, except to say that with the present business your library is doing, we will need bigger quarters and more shelving very shortly.” – William R. Taggart

From its simple beginnings as a bookshelf housed in McCarthy’s Dress Store in 1936, the library eventually found a resting place for a few years in the old chapel for the Sisters of St. Ann in the Lourdes Hospital.  Once plans were approved for a 1967 Centennial project that would include a museum-library-tourist bureau in Tyee Plaza, there was finally a purpose built facility for the library’s collections.

The idea for the library that we visit today was conceived of by Alderman Hugh Campbell, who was appointed to the Vancouver Island Regional Library Board in 1977.  The library in the Centennial Building, as he said in an article in the Campbell River Courier-Islander dated November 1987, “was a big advantage over the previous building, but I felt it was too small from the beginning.”

When the municipality purchased the Van Isle Theatre property in 1985, Campbell proposed that they erect a new building for the library on the Van Isle parking lot.  The 10,000 square foot new library opened in September 1987.

Since that time the library has continued to grow to meet the demands of the public, including providing computers. Current Manager Thom Knutson says that “VIRL (Vancouver Island Regional Library) bought its first computer in 1977; however, the late 1990s really saw the introduction of computers for the public.”

Renovations underway today mean that “the Campbell River branch will be revitalized with internal branch improvements that include new paint and furniture.  This will allow us to expand study space and public computer capacity, while providing a brighter environment for all customers.”

Although one of the largest expansions has occurred in what the VIRL can offer online, Knutson explains that there is still a large demand for in-person programs, public computers, meeting space and physical collections.  He says that “In 2014 alone, over 82,000 people attended VIRL programs, while the system’s total circulation for physical items (books, DVDs, CD, magazines) reached 4.3 million.”

That Campbell River loves to read is evidenced by the growth of the Museum at Campbell River’s Book Sale and Fundraiser, now in its tenth year.  Its continued success is due to the terrific donations received by the Museum, the volunteers who help sort and sell, and the people who always need more books!