Ontario Heritage Foundation
November 14, 1977.
MINISTER OF CULTURE AND RECREATION TO UNVEIL PROVINCIAL PLAQUE TO MARK EARLY LIBRARY
On Saturday, November 19, 1977, at 12:30 p.m the Honourable Robert Welch, Q.C., Minister of Culture and Recreation, will unveil a provincial historical plaque commemorating "The Niagara Library", the first circulating library in the province. The event will take place in the Large Hall of the Court-House Building, 26 Queen Street, Niagara-on-the-Lake. The plaque is being erected by the Ontario Heritage Foundation, an agency within the Ministry of Culture and Recreation and dedicated to promoting the appreciation and preservation of the province's historical and architectural heritage. The unveiling ceremony forms part of the Ontario Library Association's 75th Conference, held November 17-20 in Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake . The ceremony is being jointly sponsored by the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library Board and the Ontario Library Association, whose President, Mr. Andrew Gregorovich will act as programme chairman. Others expected to participate include: Mr. Wilbert N. Dick, Reeve of the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake; Mr. William Andres, M.P. (Lincoln); Professor William Ormsby, representing the Ontario Heritage Foundation; and Mrs. Elizabeth Kormos, Chairman of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Public Library Board, who will give a brief historical address on the Niagara Library.
The inscription on the plaque reads:
THE NIAGARA LIBRARY
On June 8, 1800, the Niagara Library, the first circulating library in Upper Canada, was established "to diffuse knowledge" among area subscribers. Financed by this group, library services were begun in 1801 with some 80 works for circulation, many on religion and history. Under the management of Andrew Heron, a merchant, the collection was steadily enlarged, and in 1805 the books of the Niagara Agricultural Society were added. The library operated successfully until the occupation of Newark (Niagara-on-the-Lake) by American forces in 1813, when numerous volumes were lost. By 1818 financial support for the library had seriously declined, and in 1820 the holdings were incorporated in a new subscription library, begun two years earlier by Heron, then a publisher and book-seller.
The early growth of Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake), one of the province's oldest communities, stimulated the establishment of several significant organizations, including the Niagara Agricultural Society (1792), the Law Society of Upper Canada (1797), and the Niagara Library, the first circulating, library in the Upper Canada. In the other major centres of Upper Canada, York (Toronto) and Kingston, comparable libraries were not established until 1810 and 1813 respectively.
Until the formation of Mechanics' Institute libraries and, largely after 1882, the development of municipally-supported libraries, library services in the province were generally provided through churches and educational institutions, or by the formation of circulating libraries funded and used by local subscribers. Prior to 1800, no library services were available in Niagara, with the exception of books borrowed from private collections. On 8 June 1800, forty-one prominent Niagara residents met to form a subscription library, which they named the Niagara Library. "Sensible how much we are at a loss in this new and remote country for every kind of useful knowledge1; the subscribers resolved, "and convinced that nothing would be of more use to diffuse knowledge amongst us and our offspring, than a library, supported by subscription in this town, we, whose names are hereunto subscribed hereby associate ourselves together for that purpose, and promise to pay annually a sum not exceeding four dollars to be laid out on books as agreed upon by a majority of votes at a yearly meeting". Heading the subscription list, and probably instrumental in the library's organization, was Andrew Heron (c.1765-1848), a merchant and land speculator resident in Niagara since 1785.
On 15 August 1800, Heron and another leading subscriber, Martin McClellan, were appointed to collect subscriptions and order books. The library's initial selection, comprising some 80 works, many on religion and history, was received on 2 March 1801, and soon made available for circulation among the initial subscribers. From the outset, the Niagara Library appears to have been housed in the homes of various subscribers, including Andrew Heron, who, at different times, served at librarian, treasurer, and secretary. Under Heron's management, the collection of the Niagara Library was steadily enlarged. By 1805 the number of volumes had risen to 344, which included a large selection of works on religion and morality, literature, history, geography, and travel, and the collection had been opened to non-subscribers as well as Niagara-area subscribers. That same year, the 49-volume collection of the Niagara Agricultural Society, containing many specialized works, was added to the Niagara Library. In exchange for the books, the Society members were given borrowing privileges in the Niagara Library.
The Niagara Library operated successfully until the War of 1812-14. By mid-November, 1812, the collection had been increased to 827 volumes, but in 1813 and 1814 war-time conditions forced the cancellation of regular subscribers1 meetings and the apparent suspension of acquisitions. Between June and December, 1813, during the American forces1 occupation of Niagara, then known as Newark, the military borrowed books from the library. Many other volumes, however, were lost, stolen, or destroyed by the time the American forces withdrew and burned the town in December, 1813. Although the annual meetings resumed in 1815, by 1818 membership and financial support for the Niagara Library had seriously declined.
The Niagara Library ceased operations in 1820. Its holdings -about 200 books remained-were incorporated in the new subscription library begun in November, 1818, by Andrew Heron, then a bookseller and, from December, 1817, publisher of The Gleaner and Niagara Newspaper. In return for relinquishing the collection, the Niagara Library subscribers were granted the use of Heron's new library for a period of three years. The subsequent history of the Niagara Library and Heron's library is uncertain, although both appear to have been sold or dispersed. Today, only two of the original Niagara Library volumes - Blossoms of Morality and The Communicant's Companion - survive and are now located in the Niagara Historical Society Museum. The present public library at Niagara-on-the-Lake dates from the founding, in October, 184 8, of the Niagara Mechanics' Institute, which was established for the "promotion of scientific pursuits, the advancement of knowledge, and acquisition of a library and necessary apparatus."
HERITAGE ADMINISTRATION BRANCH
Ministry of Culture and Recreation