The Burns Lake Public Library from 1951. (Lakes District Museum photo/Lakes District News)

The Burns Lake Public Library from 1951. (Lakes District Museum photo/Lakes District News)

Tracing Burns Lake Public Library’s roots

© 2018 Michael Riis-Christianson and the Lakes District Museum Society

The Burns Lake Public Library can trace its roots to a Dec. 7, 1944 meeting of the Burns Lake & District Board of Trade’s library committee. Committee members V.A. (Vic) Montaldi (chairman and secretary), V.A. (Verne) Taylor (treasurer), Mrs. Walter Wilson, Mrs. G. Wynn, and others met on that date in the Wilson home to establish the new library’s rules and regulations. Adult membership fees were set at $1 per year; children were exempt from dues.

The first library, established with donated books, was set up in Taylor’s business, the Sunset Hardware Store. The proprietor also served as librarian.

When the institution was well established, the committee requested the loan of 150 books from the Prince George Library. One hundred and six people signed out those first borrowed volumes, and by February 1, 1945, 40 adults had joined the library.

Use of the facility increased rapidly, and by 1946, it desperately needed funding. Because the provincial Public Library Commission only awarded grants to duly organized public library associations, a public meeting was held to establish a more formal organization in accordance with the provincial Public Libraries Act. The Burns Lake Public Library Association came into being April 8, 1946; Montaldi remained chairman, and Kaare Engstad (who had represented Canada in the 1932 Winter Olympics) assumed the position of secretary-treasurer. Other organizations, including the board of trade and the municipality, provided additional financial assistance.

For a time, the library operated out of the old Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce building (which the association had purchased for $1). The expanded organization required new lodgings, though, and shortly thereafter moved to the village fire hall.

On October 6, 1956, the library and its 1,465 books moved from the old fire hall to the old municipal office. Mary Richmond, the wife of game warden Bill Richmond, served as librarian for many years.

Eleven years later, the library was still operating out of the old municipal building. Around this time, changes in provincial regulations required that public library buildings meet stringent standards; failure to comply would result in the loss of provincial funding.

With the new regulations scheduled to take effect in 1971, the library association began soliciting public funds to build a new facility. In January 1970, as an interim measure, members moved the institution’s 7,000 volumes to temporary quarters in the federal building (currently home to Canada Post) on Government Street.

A permanent location for the library was found on school property near the western junction of Government Street and Highway 16. Once again, citizens, clubs, service organizations, the municipality, and local First Nations donated money, materials, and labour to the cause. The new, modern library, a Centennial project celebrating British Columbia’s entrance into confederation, officially opened December 30, 1971.

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