SELKIRK -- The first community library of the Red River settlers was in Lockport, just six kilometres south of Selkirk, comprised of books donated by Lord Selkirk.
The first public library outside Winnipeg was also built here thanks to Andrew Carnegie, the American philanthropist of libraries. In 1909, Carnegie paid the shot to build Selkirk's library, as he did with three other libraries in Manitoba (all Winnipeg), and 125 in Canada (mostly Ontario), and 2,509 around the world.
So Selkirk has a thing for libraries. Little wonder it has now opened the spectacular $5.2-million Gaynor Family Regional Library. Local philanthropists Jim and Betty Anne Gaynor, former owners of Gaynor's Foods in Selkirk, donated $1.5 million to its construction.
Literacy has rarely looked so seductive. You can walk among the mountain ridges of bookshelves, in brilliant natural light from oversized windows and clerestory ceiling windows that permit additional light.
It's allowed the community to have a real library 'instead of a spot in a strip mall with a few pocket books'
But it's also a library-as-gathering-place. "It goes against library tradition where you're not allowed to talk and drink and eat," said Ken Kuryliw, director of library services.
You are allowed to do all those things here. The Ubuntu Café, with delicious coffee and pastries prepared by owner/baker Jana Badenhorst of South Africa, greets visitors at the entrance.
There's a teen area off in the corner of the 18,000-square-foot library where you can expect some talking. There's an electric fireplace built into Tyndall stone hearth where people gather to read the newspaper and have coffee chats.
But there are also out-of-the-way places that are inclined to be noise-free, more by architectural design than by Please Be Quiet signs. Plus, there is a reading room: the Robert Jefferson Heritage Room, in honour of the namesake and his $50,000 donation.
Donators Jim and Betty Anne Gaynor deflect any praise, crediting the architects, contractors and volunteer committees on the project.
Jim was born on a farm in Ireland and didn't have access to a library. He and a friend moved to Canada in the 1950s for the adventure. "I fell in love with Canada almost the day I got here," he said. He met Betty Anne, who was from Thunder Bay, Ont.
They ran Gaynor Foods, the largest grocery around with 125 employees, for 24 years, until 1999. The Gaynors see the library as giving back to the community, particularly to young people. The couple also donated $1 million to the local Selkirk foundation for youth projects.
Others say Gaynor was smart to attach deadlines to the library funding. The community had been trying to get a new library built since 2000, without success. The deadlines got everyone focused, including governments. "It put the cat in with the pigeons," said Jim. Money had to be in place by 2012 and the building completed in 2013. The builders just made it.
But the library is also a unique collaboration of three capital region municipalities: Selkirk and the RMs of St. Andrews and St. Clements. The two RMs chipped in funds for a facility that isn't even within their borders, said Colleen Sklar, volunteer chairwoman of the library. (People in those municipalities won't have to pay for library cards. A non-resident library card costs $55. In Winnipeg, non-residents paid $140 for a library card last year.)
It's allowed the community to have a real library "instead of a spot in a strip mall with a few pocket books," said Sklar, who is also executive director of the Partnership of the Manitoba Capital Region. "No one community could have built this type of facility."
The three municipalities each put up $350,000 and Selkirk put in another $700,000 from the sale of the former library building. The province put in $1.6 million and $2 million came from private donations.
It's as green as can be. Green features include ceilings made from reclaimed ash, carpeting from recycled materials, reused shelving purchased from McNally Robinson's closed Polo Park location and reclaimed glass for the quartz-composite counters. Three acres of dry-wet prairie make up the backyard that will have walking trails. A dry-wet prairie is an area where the land drains, so plants must withstand both extreme wet and aridity.
The old Selkirk library was well used, with traffic of about 100,000 visits per year. Based on the first month of operations, 160,000 visits are projected for the new one.
The library has a hoard of books; the most unique titles outside Winnipeg. The reason is library boss Kuryliw insisted its book budget be doubled -- it's now $90,000 per year -- before he agreed to take over and leave his job as the province's acting director of library services.
The Selkirk library has 50,000 books, 14,000 e-books and 4,000 DVDs. Its operating budget is about $600,000, with $145,000 paid by Selkirk and $100,000 from each of the two RMs. The province will chip in about $250,000.