Description of Historic Place
The Memorial Park Library is a classically-inspired, early twentieth-century, two-storey sandstone building located on 1.93 hectares in Central Memorial Park in downtown Calgary. The library is situated within view of other Calgary landmarks such as the Masonic Lodge and the First Baptist Church. An east facing portico set atop a series of granite steps is adorned with Ionic columns and a skilfully carved pediment, creating a dignified entry into the library. The building is topped with a low hipped roof, and expertly executed decoration.
The heritage value of the Memorial Park Library lies chiefly in its status as the first major public library building built in Alberta. The building also stands as an exquisite example of a classically-inspired public building of the Edwardian era, within a carefully planned landscape environment.
Opened in early 1912, the Memorial Park Library was the first public library building in Alberta and one of the over 150 libraries built in Canada with funds from the American millionaire Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie, the world's wealthiest man at the time, had limited formal schooling, which convinced him of the need for freely accessible learning for all people. To achieve this goal Carnegie focused his philanthropy upon building and funding libraries. Calgary's first librarian, a classicist from Ontario named Alexander Calhoun, firmly believed that the city needed a first rate building to underline the importance of education and culture in the West. In his own words he wanted to build a library as a "temple of knowledge" and "intellectual counter balance" in rough-and-ready Calgary. To this end he campaigned tirelessly to raise financial support from individuals as well as ongoing city investments in the library - one of the stipulations for receiving Carnegie funds. The Memorial Park library became an enduring symbol of that ideal. It cost one hundred thousand dollars to build, a full eighty thousand of which was provided by Carnegie.
Robustly constructed and richly detailed, the Memorial Park Library is a fine representative of Edwardian Classicism, a pre-First World War architectural style related to the French Beaux-Arts style. Edwardian Classicism was popular for monumental public and commercial buildings. Often the elegance and grandiosity of Edwardian Classical buildings was echoed in the formal landscapes in which they were set. Central Memorial Park, which surrounds the library building, is a planned urban green space typical of turn-of-the-century urban parks. Initially designed by Parks Superintendent Richard Iwerson, the development of the park was undertaken by his replacement William Reader. As Parks Superintendent from 1912 to 1942, Reader designed many Calgary parks during this period. As an Edwardian era park designed in the Victorian style, Central Memorial Park reflects the ideals of that time. Its symmetrical layout, manicured lawns, mix of domestic and exotic trees and plants, intricate bedding schemes and geometrical walking paths provided tranquil respite for urban dwellers while, at the same time, demonstrating the far-reaching influence of the British Empire and the triumph of mankind's rationality over the chaos of nature. Many of the park's elements were intended to evoke feelings of British patriotism and to memorialize those who sacrificed their lives for the Empire to ensure its expansion. Park features such as its flag pole, statuary and memorial monuments demonstrate these purposes. While the fervour of Imperial patriotism has passed over the generations, the park is still significant as a memorial to Canada's veterans and those killed in combat. While some additions and changes have been made over the years, the park retains most of its original design elements and most of its memorial statuary.
Source: Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch (File: Des. 150)
The character-defining elements of the Memorial Park Library include such features as:
- load-bearing yellow Paskapoo sandstone walls, smoothly finished, and backed with brick;
- projecting front entry way with two smooth columns with volutes supporting a pediment surmounted by a replicated decorative shell;
- tympanum bearing a cartouche with a carving of an open book;
- entablature bearing the words CALGARY PUBLIC LIBRARY;
- stone stairs with twin wrought iron lampposts lead to the front entrance;
- copper roof with finials;
- replica decorative shell motifs on roof (originally was of carved sandstone);
- cornices with shell motifs over the front and side windows;
- curved facade with evenly spaced bands of windows on rear of the building;
- rusticated masonry on the foundation;
- white-painted window frames, balconets on the first floor and latticing in the smaller second storey windows;
- original interior public spaces, including the main floor reading room;
- plaster walls and ceilings with classically-inspired decorative mouldings and ionic columns;
- terrazzo floors with mosaic trim in the main reading room and circulation area;
- marble staircases to the second floor.
- symmetrical arrangement of walkways, lawns and bedding plants;
- ornate landscaping;
- formally designed raised beddings with brilliantly coloured plantings;
- use of Russian poplar trees along the edges of the park, spruce trees around the library building and shrubberies throughout the park;
- orientation of most statuary and memorial elements on the park's central axis;
- the 1914 equestrian statue The Horseman of the Plains, commemorating the South African (Boer) War, located in the centre of the par's oval;
- First World War Memorial, added in 1924, located at the east end of the park in front of the library;
- Cenotaph and accompanying benches, added in 1928, located at the west end of the park;
- Federal Geodetic Survey marker, added in 1928, located at the east end of the park's oval;
- water fountain commemorating the 50th Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force, added in 1930;
- R.B. Bennett memorial south of the library building, added 1953 (not located on the central axis);
- Eternal flame memorial located to the east of the cenotaph, added 1967;
- Royal Canadian Legion Commemorative Medallion located to the West of the cenotaph, added 1994;
- Second World War memorial, Burma Star, located near the cenotaph, added in 1996;
- memorial to the Australian and New Zealand armed forces located near the cenotaph, added in 2004;
- wrought iron lampposts and bollards throughout the park;
- flagpole located near the cenotaph.
Location of Supporting Documentation
Alberta Tourism, Parks, Recreation and Culture, Historic Resources Management Branch, Old St. Stephen's College, 8820 - 112 Street, Edmonton, AB T6G 2P8 (File: Des. 150)
Cross-Reference to Collection