Fire-damaged Little Red Library back in business Beloved community fixture refurbished after arson

The Little Red Library is both a community jewel and a hidden gem. It looks like one, too: a translucent cube in a bright tomato red, tucked into Hugo Park just off Wellington Crescent.

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This article was published 04/02/2022 (237 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Little Red Library is both a community jewel and a hidden gem. It looks like one, too: a translucent cube in a bright tomato red, tucked into Hugo Park just off Wellington Crescent.

And now, it’s set to return home after a months-long absence. In May, the structure was badly damaged by arson. Storefront Manitoba, a not-for-profit design organization that was co-founded by the Little Red Library’s designing architect, the late David Penner, spearheaded the refurbishment, which was bolstered by the support from the community.

“We couldn’t be (at the site) for five minutes without having someone stop and chat and tell us how much they missed it and were concerned about its future,” says Chris Wiebe, a board member for Storefront Manitoba and a member of the library’s original design team. “So it really became apparent that, not only do we have to fix it, it has to stay there.”

The Little Red Library was particularly popular earlier in the pandemic when public libraries were closed. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

Indeed, Wiebe says the structure already needed some love prior to the act of vandalism — though, he acknowledges, perhaps not as much love as if it hadn’t been set ablaze.

“Now it’s been refurbished completely, much more than we would have, probably,” he says. “It should have a long life ahead of it.”

The Little Red Library has had a few past lives, too. It was originally conceived, via a partnership between David Penner Architecture and Jane Bridle, a librarian, in 2015 as a community library/warming hut hybrid for the annual warming huts competition held on the river trail.

After that, it became known as the Little Red Art Gallery for a spell, hosting art shows at Peanut Park, before moving to its home in Hugo Park on Wellington Crescent, where it’s lived for the past five years or so as a library.

The Little Red Library is part of the international Little Free Library movement. Established in 2009 in Wisconsin, LFL promotes literacy and community building through book exchanges hosted by accessible public bookshelves — or Little Free Libraries — that operate under a “take a book, leave a book” honour system. There are now more than 200 Little Free Libraries in Winnipeg.

During the pandemic, the Little Free Library network took on added significance. “It became one of those things where it was one of the only places that you could borrow books,” Wiebe says. “You couldn’t actually go to a public library for the longest time.”

Little Free Libraries are often handmade, crafted from repurposed cupboards and cabinets and erected in people’s front lawns. They’ve been, since their inception, a canvas for creativity. Some people paint their libraries in vivid, eye-catching colours, or wrap them in murals rendered in blobby acrylic paint. Others go all out, creating miniature British phone booths, barns, churches — or, if you’re an architect, a modern, minimalist take on an ice-fishing shack, made from glass and silicone.

Wiebe says the outpouring of support for the Little Red Library has been “tremendous.” Between donations from the community and a grant facilitated by Fort-Rouge East Fort Garry Councillor Sherri Rollins, the refurbishment campaign raised just over $11,000.

The Little Red Library at Hugo Park was damaged by arson in May of last year. (Jessica Lee / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I knew it was well used, but I didn’t know how well loved it was,” Wiebe says. “As a designer, you put things out into the community and sometimes they’re accepted, sometimes they’re ignored — but once in a while, something is actually fully embraced and loved. That’s very rewarding.”

The official reopening of the Little Red Library is on Saturday, Feb. 5, at 2 p.m.

Twitter: @JenZoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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