Constructed with $10,000 magical dollars from a Carnegie grant, Weston Library belongs in a fairy tale from the last century. Flower boxes, stones, and vines on a trellis set the stage for enchantment, and the spell remained once I ventured inside the old section of the library. Its simple elegance gave me a spiritual lift.
I loved how the dignified plainness of the original brick walls allowed the stained-glass windows to shine all the more brightly. Reflecting a less inclusive canon of literature than today’s, the windowpanes bore shields with the names of dead white British male writers: Wordsworth, Tennyson, Milton, Thomas, Longfellow,Â Shakespeare, Ruskin, Chaucer, Addison, Duncan, Havergal, Lamb, Burns, and Dickens (among others).
One window’s shield didn’t have a name underneath it, which gives me hope that it’s reserved for a contemporary feminist of colour such as Nalo Hopkinson, bell hooks, or Alice Walker. This would considerably improve the quality of after-hours debates between the windows’ representatives, especially on the topics of gendered language, the male gaze, and colonial oppression.
While most of the panes offered unobstructed views of the streets outside, one window gave patrons a glimpse of the library’s private office instead. The office was part of an addition to the south side of the building.
Regrettably, this tacked-on addition spoiled the fairy-tale effect for me. After spending exalted moments contemplating the classic if overly-patriarchal giants of literature, I suddenly fell to earth with a thud at the sight of filing cabinets, piles of paper, and a plastic snack tray.
The grapes, doughnuts, and Cadbury fingers on the other side of the glass were arranged in a reasonably artistic manner. However, I didn’t want to disconcert librarians by taking pictures of their snacks, so I moved away from the window to check out the other wing on the main level.
Added in 1981, the newer wing of Weston Library held the ESL, Teens, Spanish, and French collections. After noting the striking architectural contrast between the 1914 and 1981 sections, I went downstairs to the basement level, which contained a spacious Children’s department with murals that covered three walls.
While Shakespeare, Lamb, and Milton kept it old-school upstairs, the pantheon of the downstairs mural included a Wild Thing, Babar the Elephant, Curious George, Peter Rabbit, The Cat in the Hat, and Paddington Bear with a jar of marmalade.
As a way to integrate the early and late 20th century elements of the library, I wished the muralist had been encouraged to match the writers on the windows with the characters in the basement. For example, Chaucer and Burns could be Wild Things, Dickens would make a fine Curious George, and Ruskin could serve as Peter Rabbit.
A second mural showed a variety of outdoor activities in progress that frogs occasionally joined. One frog, however, questioned the merits of hockey.
From murals to stained-glass windows, Weston Library was a delight to visit. It also helped me feel connected to a historical era on the precipice of the first World War. Weston’s square simplicity and window-proclaimed faith in an unchanging British literary canon reminded me of a quotation from L. M. Montgomery‘s journal.
In Lucy Maud Montgomery: The Gift of Wings, Montgomery’s biographer, Mary Rubio, cites a 1932 journal entry that comparesÂ Montgomery’s generation to that of her grandparents. The latter inhabited an “apparently changeless world. Nothing was questioned — religion — politics — society . . . And my generation! . . . Everything we once thought immovable wrenched from its pedestal and hurled to ruins . . . (with) nothing (left) but a welter of doubt and confusion and uncertainty” (422-23).
Gazing through windows that have endured for a century, I hope Lucy Maud would be comforted to know that they are still here, even though the view is different.