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Original library vacant, future unclear

Fate of historic building, city archives has heritage advocates worried

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>The Carnegie Library was built in 1905 thanks to funding from American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.</p></p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Carnegie Library was built in 1905 thanks to funding from American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/7/2016 (282 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The future of Winnipeg’s original 111-year-old library is currently in doubt, along with plans for where the city’s thousands of archived documents will eventually be stored.

The city’s archives are currently scattered in three locations throughout the city due to extensive water damage suffered by the Carnegie Library building on William Avenue three years ago. The library, built in 1905, was actually being refurbished — including the installation of a new roof — when a torrential rain storm struck in June of 2013, forcing staff to move 20,000 artifacts/documents to storage at 311 Ross Avenue, the Manitoba Government Record Centre and a building at 50 Myrtle Street.

The Myrtle location, which was initially to be a temporary headquarters for city archivists, is located in an industrial area off Notre Dame Avenue.

But three years later, the Carnegie building, which was designated as a municipal heritage site in 1984, remains vacant and plans to continue the "renewal program" on the landmark appear on hold.

Heritage Winnipeg executive director Cindy Tugwell said she has been attempting to question city officials about the future of the Carnegie, but to no avail.

"I thought they (the city) were doing the (renovation/repair) work," Tugwell said. "That’s concerning. How much damage was done and why hasn’t it been repaired?

"It’s been three years," Tugwell added. "That’s when I thought, ‘What’s going on?’"

Requests made to the city’s communication department for any information about the current state of the Carnegie building, first made on Monday afternoon, have so far gone unanswered. A request to speak with city archivist Jody Baltessen was denied.

In a 2015 report, Baltessen stated that the Myrtle location is now full, and the lease expires at the end of 2016 and "no extension has been secured to date."

"This places considerable pressure on the Branch to develop options to house materials presently in storage at the MGRC," Baltessen noted, in the report. "The availability of storage space is a critical issue before the Branch. The two floors that comprise the Corporate Records Centre (at Ross Avenue) are at capacity.

"As well, given the physical effort required to shelve and move inventory and to respond to service requests from departmental partners, the Branch will begin using warehouse staff to pull and reshelve box inventory as part of day-to-day operations – this will result in an increase to operating costs for the program."

Meanwhile, Baltessen added: "Requests for tours and class orientations (at the Myrtle location) have declined given that there is no room to accommodate groups in the space available. Warehouse space used to house the primary research collection onsite is full."

Tugwell said keeping the city’s tens of thousands of archives in three separate locations is unmanageable and makes it difficult for researchers, city employees or the public to access.

"That’s also disconcerting," she noted. "It’s all over the place."

Other questions remain, Tugwell added. Is a lawsuit stemming from the rain damage — the city suing the contractor — that is causing a delay? And how much money had the city spent on upgrading the Carnegie building prior to the rain storm and subsequent vacancy? And does the city even plan to return to the original library, which was built for $75,000 on a donation from American industrialist Andrew Carnegie — one of 125 libraries the philanthropist funded across Canada?

The Carnegie served as Winnipeg’s main library until 1977, then became a branch library until it was repurposed to house archives in the early 1990’s. The city’s effort to renovate the building — which included everything from a new roof, to exterior renewal to new washrooms — were seen by local heritage advocates as an essential step.

"Unequivocally, the building has to be saved," Tugwell said. "It’s such a beautiful building. It was proving to be a gem and given its proximity to City Hall, it was perfect.

"It would be a nightmare for the city to leave it vacant," she added. "That would be a horrible, horrible shame."

Tom Nesmith, a University of Manitoba history and archival studies professor, has also expressed concern over the Carnegie building’s uncertain future.

Although Nesmith could not be reached for an interview, he has penned a blog on the Heritage Winnipeg website calling for action from the city, and public, to save the landmark.

"This is a tale of great hope, misfortune," Nesmith wrote, "and now I fear neglect that could do great harm to a vital community and city government Archives service and place a superb heritage building in jeopardy."

While Nesmith commended the city for beginning work on the old library’s "transformation," he lamented the lack of information being made available out of City Hall about the future of a building that was to house Winnipeg’s historical records dating back to the late 19th century.

"There is no public record of a word being spoken about it," Nesmith noted. "There is no media attention or outcry by anyone. In a city abuzz with justifiable pride in its architectural achievements and prospects, our City Archives languishes, seemingly forgotten."

"Our City Archives holds a unique Winnipeg body of records," he added. "No other archives, library, or museum has legal jurisdiction to acquire or maintain these records. No other archives has these records or would take them even if offered. Thus no other city has responsibility for them but the City of Winnipeg, its Mayor and Council. If we do not complete the renovation of the Carnegie building, these invaluable records will be far less readily accessible in the much less than adequate storage many are now in on Myrtle St."

 

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @randyturner15

Read more by Randy Turner .

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History

Updated on Wednesday, July 20, 2016 at 7:00 AM CDT: Adds photo

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