Speaking of Fireplaces.... It's Cold Outside

January 19, 2016 | Bill V.

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Toronto Public Library (TPL) has historically valued the fireplace in its architecture.  According to Barbara Myrvold, Local History Services Specialist, Lillian H. Smith (TPL's early female pioneer of children's services and reading in the 1910s-1940s period) herself consciously chose fireplaces when planning children's rooms and services. 

Smith valued the cosy aspect of the fireplace in children's departments and libraries in settlement houses (intended to bring library services to poorer inner city areas and new immigrants) and for years, a fire would be lit for the children's story hour. I wonder if any (older?) readers of this blog post remember storytime with a fire at a TPL branch? 

Lillian H. Smith believed that the role of the children's librarian was to deliver "the right book, to the right child, at the right time.

The fireplace also plays a large role in many early designs especially Carnegie buildings and the three iconic branches spearheaded by Chief Librarian George H. Locke that are celebrating 100 years in 2016: Beaches, High Park and Wychwood.

If you're on Pinterest you may be interested and able to view the many historical photos we have posted on a Carnegie Library board

 Wychwood Branch main floor adult area circa 1916

Wychwood Branch opened on April 15, 1916. It was the first and model of three identical libraries (High Park & Beaches were the others) that TPL built with a $50,000 grant from Carnegie. Eden Smith's design, an adaptation of Tudor Gothic style, was "an almost entire departure from the traditional library building…the Reading room & Library, 70 ft long by 30 ft wide…is really a large hall with an open timbered roof, the walls above 19 ft high to the springing of the roof..the ceiling 29 ft at its apex." 

The main floor adult reading area great hall design of the Beaches, Wychwood and High Park featured large fireplaces as a focal point (as seen above at High Park). The separate children's area, in the lower level, had large windows, a cosy feel and also working fireplaces (see the Wychwood photos below).

Wychwood Branch Library vintage phioto 1927 Wychwood children's room.

Wychwood Branch - vintage phioto 1927 showing basement children's room.


Wychwood Branch Library vintage photo 1940 New Year's Children's room fireplace.

But the fireplace is not only a historical remnant within Toronto Public Library. Several branches still have working fireplaces of various kinds including Bloor/Gladstone, Dufferin/St Clair, Brentwood, Mount Dennis, Highland Creek, Oakwood Village and Taylor Memorial. Several other branches such as Riverdale, Beaches, Wychwood, Runnymede and High Park have fireplaces but they are no longer used.

Brentwood Branch Toronto Public Library fireplace photo 2015

Above is Brentwood Branch in Toronto's west end which was recently renovated.

Below is Bloor/Gladstone, one of Toronto oldest branches (although not a Carnegie building), which was also recently renovated and had this sleek update to its fireplace. Note the two angel cherub heads flanking the fireplace. The original setting can be seen in the 1913 photo in black and white of the children's department of Bloor/Gladstone. If you're interested in the branch and neighbourhood you can access Bloor-Dufferin in Pictures as a pdf from our website or visit the Bloor/Gladstone Pinterest board.

Bloor Gladstone Branch Toronto Public Library fireplace.

Bloor Gladstone Branch vintage photo.



Circa 1940s Boys and Girls House storytime.  Children's librarian reading to a group.
Circa 1940 Boys and Girls House storytime - librarian reading to children - Toronto Public Library.


Riverdale branch Toronto Public Library children's department with fireplace.
Riverdale Branch - Carnegie Library - Toronto Public Library - circa 1927 interior showing Boys / Girls / Children's department - notice roaring fire in background - see also the Wychwood and High Park photos from the same era showing children's departments


High Park Library Christmas 1940 showing librarian Marjorie Bullard in front of a roaring fireplace.
High Park Library Christmas 1940. Marjorie Bullard (staff at TPL for 45 years!) seated in the adult reading area in front of a roaring fire.



So, on a cold winter day this is my homage to the fireplace. 

You can always check Youtube as well.  


My father (God rest his soul) was a shepherd and woodcutter in the old country.  He once looked at a piece of wood in my fireplace and told me that it's pear, new growth from the top of the tree and wouldn't burn too long or too hot!  One reason I feel emotionally attached to gathering wood for home is the connection it gives me to him. 

My Dad in front of our fireplace.