September 8 is International Literacy Day. Over a century ago, Lethbridge school Principal J. McCaig said, “One of the chief means of education is reading. The public should have a place to go and high school students should have the opportunity to obtain information free.” This sentiment is part of our community’s long-standing commitment to literacy.
The forerunners to the libraries were known as “reading rooms”. From 1885 on, reading rooms were an important social institution established to provide Lethbridgians the opportunity for relaxation through the printed word.
On April 5, 1887, the first Mayor of Lethbridge, Charles Magrath, presented books to the Treasurer of the North West Coal and Navigation Company. This gesture encouraged the employees of the Alberta Railway & Coal Co. to establish their company’s Reading Room and Library Society in 1890.
By 1910 letters to the editor, editorials, community meetings and community support for the establishment of a publicly-funded library in Lethbridge began in earnest. In 1911 City Council passed a by-law for provision of a library to be known as the Lethbridge Public Library. On August 14, 1919 Lethbridge’s first library was established and was helmed by librarians A.N. Filmer, L. McIndoe and Arthur Frayne. In its new home on the ground floor in the YMCA at 4th Avenue and 10th Street South, 3000 reading room books donated by citizens were made available to the public.
January 23, 1922 marked the Lethbridge grand opening of one of the 125 Canadian libraries funded by millionaire Andrew Carnegie. It was built on the south boundary of Galt Gardens facing 3rd Avenue facing 6th Street South at a cost of $26,996. This building is now home to the Southern Alberta Art Gallery and will always serve as reminder to celebrate and reflect upon library history in Lethbridge.