Remembering Andrew Carnegie’s $350,000 Donation to Toronto Public Library: January 27: Snapshots in History

January 27, 2017 | John P.

Comments (0)

Excerpt from Toronto Public Library Annual Report 1903#1

Excerpt from Toronto Public Library Annual Report 1903#2


Source: Toronto Public Library Annual Report 1903, pages 3-4.


On January 27 and beyond, take a moment to reach back into time to January 27, 1903 when Scottish-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie made an offer to donate $350,000 to Toronto Public Library for the construction of a new central library and three branch libraries. The Toronto’s Carnegie Libraries section on the TPL website outlined the steps that municipalities had to follow in order to receive a Carnegie grant to build public libraries:

  • State agreement to the proposal in a formal letter response
  • Provision of an acceptable building site to construct a library
  • Provision by the municipal council of at least ten per cent (10%) per annum of the grant total to support library operations
  • To qualify, public libraries had to be free of charge to their citizens and not charge membership fees (Grants were calculated at roughly $2 per person)

Adorned on the front page of The Toronto Daily Star on January 28, 1903, readers were offered the following headline: “MYSTERY SURROUNDS THE CARNEGIE OFFER: No One Will Admit Having Approached the American Millionaire – Unusual Generosity Shown to Toronto – Citizens Discuss the Question of Acceptance…” The article offered opinions from a variety of citizens and elected officials who weighed in on whether to accept or reject the offer. (Ultimately, City Council accepted the offer on February 23, 1903 as stated in the TPL Annual Report 1903.). (To view the article online, please log-in at the Toronto Star Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card and PIN number.)

The Globe of January 28, 1903 on page 6 offered an editorial comment under the title “Mr. Carnegie’s Offer” opined that “Mr. Carnegie’s offer of $350,000 for the construction of a central library building and three branch buildings should be promptly accepted by the City Council, as it probably will be by the Public Library Board…There can never be too full or too accessible a reference library in a city like Toronto. There are several others here besides the Public Library, but they are all intended for special classes, and none of these are extensive enough for research work…”  The January 28, 1903 issue of The Globe also carried an article on page 10 entitled “CARNEGIE'S OFFER TO TORONTO: $350,000 For Public Library Buildings REFERRED TO NEW BOARD Librarian Bain Strongly Favors Acceptance Chairman Banton in Doubt-- Views of Aldermen and Other Prominent Citizens-- Some Dissenting' Opinions--Marked Need For New Buildings” that was similar in tone to the Toronto Daily Star article mentioned above in that it contained a variety of public figures and citizens expressing an opinion on whether to accept or reject the Carnegie grant offer. (To view the articles online, please log-in at the Globe and Mail Historical Newspaper Archive database with a valid Toronto Public Library card and PIN number.)

This Carnegie grant given to Toronto Public Library in 1903 was unprecedented in size of any grant assigned in Canada, and was exceeded on the North American continent only by the Carnegie grants assigned to New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh. As a result of the 1903 grant, Toronto Public Library opened a Central Library at 214 College Street on September 8, 1909 (that closed in 1977 - and is currently the Koffler Student Centre at the University of Toronto), Yorkville Branch on June 13, 1907,  Queen and Lisgar Branch at 1115 Queen Street West on April 30, 1909 (that closed in 1964 – and is now used by Toronto Public Health, Parkdale District), and Riverdale Branch at 370 Broadview Avenue that opened on October 19, 1910.













It should be noted that neighbouring municipalities (now part of Toronto) were also given Carnegie grant money to build public libraries: West Toronto received $20,000 to build the Western Branch (now Annette Street) at 145 Annette Street that opened on September 1, 1909; Weston received $10,000 to build Weston Branch at 2 King Street, Weston, that opened on December 29, 1914; and, Mimico received $7,500 to build Mimico Branch at 47 Station Road  that opened on March 2, 1915, was demolished in 1966, and replaced by Mimico Centennial Branch in 1966 on the eve of Canada’s centennial year in 1967.












A subsequent $50,000 Carnegie grant to Toronto Public Library resulted in the construction of three identical branches in 1916: Wychwood, High Park, and Beaches.

See also: