Barrie Public Library - Enriching our Community

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PLEASE NOTE: Public Internet Computers and Wireless Access will be unavailable on Sunday, September 24th at the Downtown Branch, while we upgrade our network. The Painswick branch will have all services available.



Citizen Support Plays Key Part

Citizen support has always been the basis of the Barrie Public Library. In the past it was a citizen group that started the library. Citizens used the facility and voted the money to build a better building to house it. Citizens over the years have supported its growth and expansion. Even today, it is a volunteer citizen group, the Barrie Public Library Board, which directs its progress.

Mechanic's Institute

In 1854, Barrie boasted a population of about 500 and stood on the edge of the western frontier of settlement. In November of that year, some of the town's leading townsmen met to discuss the founding of a Mechanics' Institute - the forerunner of the present-day library. The group's purpose was "intellectual and scientific improvement, by means of a library, reading room, museum, lectures and classes". Eventually, a small library was established. Music lessons as well as classes in business and art were given in a room in the town's Market Building.

Constantly changing

In 1862 the now well-established Mechanics' Institute was incorporated. By 1871 a public reading room was set up.

Until 1891 the library had no permanent location. Meetings had first been held in the Town Market Building and then moved from one rented location to another. Eventually, the library was located in rooms in the Brown Block at 100 Dunlop East. Here there was a room for the collection of nearly 3,000 volumes, as well as a second room with a moveable partition to make a reading room and a place to play chess and checkers.

Citizens, recognizing the need for a permanent library building, made donations and organized bazaars, concerts and fairs in order to raise the necessary funds. With this money a new building was erected on Owen Street to house the circulation department and a reading room on the ground floor with a hall used by debating societies and other organizations on the second floor.

More space is needed

As the circulation and activity continued to grow the library found itself again strapped for space. Plans were made to expand. The library became a free library, entirely supported by municipal and provincial grants. Thus it was eligible to apply to the Carnegie Foundation in New York for money to erect a new larger building. By September 1914, plans of the firm of Chapman and McGiffen, who would later build the Toronto St. George Street Reference Library, were chosen.

With careful amendments these plans were tendered by Ball Planing Mill Company at $10,550. When the accounts of the new building and equipment were rendered they came to a total of $15,276, only a little over the $15,000 grant of the Carnegie Foundation.

Before the building could be completed, the local high school was destroyed by fire. The library on Owen Street was turned over to the Board of Education for the use of the collegiate classes. The library moved into its new building during construction. Accordingly, the official opening in June 1917 took place after the library had actually been in use for several months.

Variety of uses

Citizens used and enjoyed the new building. The collection and membership grew. The library served as a community centre and meeting place for urban and rural citizens. The Community Life Training Institute held crafts, drama and adult education classes. In addition the Simcoe County Museum saw its first years of existence in the library hall. The children's department was established as a separate service in 1957 and a special children's librarian was hired. As the population of the city doubled, a film service was added as well.

Still growing

With all of this growth there was new pressure for space. In 1964 a three-storey wing was added to the south of the old building. The architects - Pentland & Baker of Toronto and Salter & Allison of Barrie - unified the design of the two halves and very sympathetically fused the old and the new while more than doubling the floor space. In 1975 a former garage was remodeled to provide more space temporarily. The Annex became the home of the children's department until the opening of the new library building in 1996.

Our current location

Designed by the Toronto firm of Shore Tilbe Irwin & Partners in association with Ted Handy and Associates, the new $7.5 million Barrie Public Library was built with funds made available by the Canada Infrastructure Programme. Federal, provincial, and municipal governments made matching grants. As well, the Library Board was required to raise $1 million from the community. Thanks to tremendous community support, the fundraising target was met within one year.

Opened in December 1996, the new Barrie Public Library features a two storey building housing both adult and children's services with the capacity for increased use of technology including free wi-fi. The new library provides additional study space for groups and individuals, as well as great spaces to meet and collaborate. A favourite feature of the new library is its accessible outdoor reading garden. We are currently working on developing a unique space on the main floor of the library to host a variety of different programs and events. From Lego Robotics to Adult Colouring drop-ins, and from Puppet Shows to Teen Coffee House Nights, this space will be versatile, fun and exciting! 

Enriching our community

Within its first full year of operation, the library circulation topped one million items. Currently, there are over 32,000 active library cardholders. Indeed, citizen support has always been the basis of the Barrie Public Library.

New Painswick Branch

In March 2012, during our 150th Anniversary year, we opened our first branch library, the new Painswick Branch of the Barrie Public Library. It was designed by the Toronto firm ZAS Architects, and features eye-catching book spines on the exterior of the building and large beautiful windows across the street side of the building. The branch has been embraced by the community, and continues to be one of the busiest spots in the city.