In search of my 74th Toronto Public Library, I took the subway to Keele station and then walked north along Keele until I discovered Annette Street. After turning left, it wasn’t long before I spotted the solid classical form of Annette Street Library, which opened one hundred years ago. Situated beside a Masonic Temple and across from a church building that was for sale, Annette Street branch shared the Edwardian flair of Yorkville Library (1907). The year of Annette Street Library’s construction, 1908, was etched in stone above a grand entrance flanked by two ramps. Two solid Corinthian columns framed the door, adding drama to the mere act of ascending the stone steps into the building. My library, my temple!
Initially descending into the basement level, I came upon an office devoted to the West Junction Historical Society and its archives. The office was closed, but I was able to peer into a lovely darkened room that was waiting for the next day’s scholars to turn up with their notebooks, questions, and visions of the past. This lower level also contained two community rooms concealed behind massive wooden doors with extra-wide frames.
Retracing my steps to the lobby, I went up a short curving staircase to the main level. I liked the heightened suspense created by delaying immediate entry to the library; the staircase provided a feeling of physical elevation, of having to work a little harder and reach a little higher to achieve access to the books. (However, the elevator was also an option).
At the top of the steps, the check-out desk was directly in front of me. Pausing to get my visual bearings, I was immediately awestruck by the luxuriously high ceilings that contained cornices decorated with carved ferns. Wow! What elegant mouldings! What classy hanging lamps with glass globes!
A century-old “Edison Home Phonograph” rested in the gap between the wall behind the checkout area and shelves of children’s books behind it. Moving closer to study the historical object, I marvelled at the way such a thin tube supported the giant unfurled cornucopia of a speaker.
To the left side of the checkout station (and behind it) was the children’s wing. Filled with a wide variety of books, DVD’s, French materials, and music, this part of the library looked like a well-organized educational playroom that achievement-oriented parents had provided for their many kids. For instance, there was an earnest poster next to shelves of children’s non-fiction which showed the different trees found in Ontario’s Forest Regions: White Birch, Trembling Aspen, Sugar Maple, Sassafras, Tulip Tree, and Eastern White Pine. Next to a collection of CD-Roms (including one on dinosaurs) sat a stuffed Barney. Barney’s fur was mostly reddish purple, but his tummy was green and his six toes yellow. Far above Barney’s head were two train sets facing off on a narrow ledge, a fitting tribute to local history, as West Toronto Junction “began as a Canadian Pacific Railway Stop” (as explained by a sign on the other side of the library).
Before I explored the remainder of the building, I paused at a table to get a greater sense of the atmosphere. It was fairly quiet on the Wednesday afternoon that I visited. Most of the windows were open on that glorious May day, making this library the perfect oasis to savour the end of a long winter. Eggshell-white walls complemented the pearly natural light which filled the interior, making the place calm, clean, open, and airy. All that was missing was a nineteenth-century gentlewoman playing the pianoforte in an Empire gown while her listeners reclined in states of polite repose.
Imaginary pianofortes are well and good, but the library certainly had its practical side. When I got up to investigate the west wing, I noticed a special display of books for job-seekers. (I read in Margaret Penman’s A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983 that the Toronto libraries performed a similar function in the 1930′s, providing a haven for the unemployed and books on topics such as crafts, welding, sales and agriculture (43)). The ESL section was solid, as was the large collection of French books.
The west wing also featured a Local History section, which contained titles like Mayors of Toronto and Not a One Horse Town. Supporting the historical theme, portraits of the first five mayors of West Toronto Junction (in office from 1889 to 1898) presided high on a wall near the check-out desk, a quintet of very purposeful-looking gentlemen in sober attire. And a nearby plaque commemorated the fact that Annette Street branch (formerly Western Branch) was built with funding from Andrew Carnegie and the Public Library Board of the City of West Toronto.
Of Annette Street Library’s many charms, one last feature was a pleasing study area that dipped about two feet below the main floor. I found this carpeted depression to be a great spot to daydream while looking out onto Annette Street. Although chairs were available, one relaxed patron was sitting on the floor beside the window studying the newspaper. I felt fortunate to just sit still while a quiet contentment filled the sunny room.