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Toronto Public Library Pilgrimage of 100 Branches

Handsome George H. Locke Library (1949)

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George Herbert Locke was the Toronto Public Library‘s second Chief Librarian, a position he held from 1908-1937. According to Margaret Penman’s A Century of Service: Toronto Public Library 1883-1983, Locke defended fiction’s right to be in the library, created National Story Hours for children, and gathered materials in Russian, Yiddish, Italian, and Lithuanian for new immigrants (pp. 22-23). Penman believed that Locke’s greatest achievement was “the establishment of an integrated branch system . . . that provided for interrelated services in all parts of the city of Toronto” (p. 24).

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George Locke’s namesake library made its architectural presence known the moment I emerged from Lawrence subway station. The solidly handsome building was a fitting tribute to a man once described as a “strong, straight-grained, sinewy Irish-Canadian, six feet three inches tall, two hundred and sixty pounds” (19).

Judging from Locke’s picture, I could see how this “outstanding example of manhood at his best” (19) might have quickened the pulses of a few maiden librarians. (From 1883 until the late 1950’s, female librarians were not allowed to keep their jobs after they got married. A Century of Service further describes how these hard-working women were perceived as “vestal virgins tending the flame of literature and dancing around the figure of the chief librarian” (38)).

No dancing librarians greeted me at the door of this sturdy stone branch, but sturdy didn’t translate as stodgy. In fact, the outer solidity enhanced the interior’s classical openness. Flanked by steadying wooden columns, the central circulation desk was the calming focal point of the entrance.

The entire library resembled a jewellery box with three sections side by side, all connected and flowing through space. If Locke Library were a dance, it would be a Viennese waltz performed by an elegant but not pretentious couple in their sixties.

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To the left of the main desk was the Children’s/Teens Collection. It was blessed with a wooden bench that rested below a bay window overlooking Lawrence Avenue. A large structure attached to the ceiling hosted eight parrots who faced away from the street. Each bird was swinging from the upper ramparts on individual trapeze stands, fine spots to observe library traffic below.

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Lower down on the structure were some toy animals who were hanging on for dear furry life. These precarious creatures included Skooby Doo (with a pack of Scooby Snacks), some bears, and a lone monkey. More stuffed animals led a less challenging existence on top of bookshelves and draped on chairs.

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Several steps away from the aerial menagerie, a nook in the northeast corner welcomed readers with three steps leading up to a sofa, a large round window, and shelves of picture books. The enchanting nook captured a fairy-tale mood, making it the perfect setting for the magic phrase “Once upon a time.”

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When I crossed over to the other side of the library, I found the Adult Collection to the right of the circulation desk. Unleashing my natural window-seat affinity, I made a bee-line for a bay window that mirrored its equivalent on the north side. Then I nestled into the warm corner where the bench met the wall, enjoying the afternoon sun on my left shoulder and the sight of a large pine tree in Lawrence Park and Ravine.

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Returning my attention to the interior, I liked how the sunny spaciousness felt like a continuation of the park. My fellow readers seemed to share the peaceful spring mood. One young patron had propped a giant skateboard beside his armchair before settling down to some homework. Others were absorbed in the newspaper or their laptop screens.

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Relinquishing my warm corner, I walked among the shelves and discovered that ESL was solidly represented but there wasn’t an extensive multilingual collection. At this branch, the largest one was the Children’s French Livres in the north wing.

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I couldn’t be disappointed for long though, especially when I spotted my third window-seat of the day. From this new perch, I gazed out at Yonge Street and then studied the play of shadows on the seat. Easily amused by objects in sunlight, I photographed Kaffe Fassett’s Glorious Interiors resting between diamonds of light and shade.

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I wanted to spend more time by the window, but I had an appointment to keep, and people rarely accept “I was late because I was taking pictures of library books on a window-seat” as a valid excuse. Though brief, I treasured my visit to this calm centre of down-to-earth elegance at Yonge and Lawrence.

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George Locke, your branch does you proud! As an enthusiastic TPL patron, I would like to thank you for the crucial way you strengthened the library system. Without your vision and dynamism, Toronto’s cultural heritage would be the poorer today.

2 replies on “Handsome George H. Locke Library (1949)”

Hi Catherine,
This is my childhood library in which my memories of an early love of reading are imaged. I attended story time in the nook, and I sat hours in those beautiful window seats. I remember reading every book in a series about twin children from around the world, and every Just So story book I could find.

The library has been renovated to be more open, although I can’t put my finger on just what they did – perhaps take away heavy wooden doors between the children’s and the adult areas to create more flow, but I was there a few weeks ago and it feels much the same as when I was young. I am especially glad that the beautiful window seats are still there. I think the book you photographed in the sunlight might be by the person whose designs are in the Trippy Pier?

I’m glad you enjoyed the George Locke and was glad to find out more about him, especially at a time when our libraries have been under threat. We need to keep his vision and keep the magic alive for generations of children to come.

Hi Brenda,
Your comments really made my day. Yes, the book on the windowseat is connected to Trippy Pier. Wonderful observation. I loved what you said about keeping George Locke’s vision alive.

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