Celebrating Main Street Branch Centennial: Snapshots of the Last 100 Years

December 14, 2021 | John P.

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On December 16, 1921, Toronto’s Globe newspaper carried a small article entitled “New Library Opened at Main and Gerrard”:

“East Toronto’s new Public Library, at Main and Gerrard streets, was opened last night for the adult population, but the children will have their initial function on Saturday. The building is of brick and raftered stucco, and, while the lower floor, for the grown-ups, is pleasant, the upper floor...the children’s own, is a near approach to the ideal. Miss Margaret Wainwright is children’s librarian and Miss Redmond will look after the serious literary needs.”

Main Street Branch went through many changes to become the busy community hub we know and love today. Here, as the branch celebrates its 100th birthday, is a brief look at its history.


The early days

The branch first opened in 1903 at the YMCA building on Main Street, between Gerrard and Danforth. To keep up with the growth of Toronto between 1908 and 1920, the number of public library branches increased from two to sixteen locations, and the spaces continued to expand. Eastern Branch was one of the impacted branches, and an expansion of the space to better serve the community was financially supported by the city in 1916. This was highlighted in an article in the Globe newspaper titled “Two Branch Libraries Are to Be Enlarged”:

“…The eastern branch has been occupying rooms in the old railway Y.M.C.A. at the corner of Main and Gerrard streets. A largely-signed petition was sent to the board asking for more accommodation, and the board has decided to use all of the main floor of the building in the future”

You can read more about the expansion in TPL’s Thirty-Seventh Annual Report.


New building in 1921

In 1921 the branch moved into its current location at 137 Main Street. It was designed by architect James Patrick Hynes (1868-1953). The construction was completed quickly, costing almost $40,000, and Toronto’s Mayor Tommy Church lay the cornerstone on June 16. Board Chairperson W.T.J. Lee opened the branch to the public on December 15.

Here are some images following the construction.

Eastern Branch Building in 1922
Eastern Branch from Construction in June 1922
The Boys' and Girls' Room, where children would have gone for reading and storytelling.
The Boys' and Girls' Room, where children would have gone for reading and storytelling. from R.A.I.C. Journal, iii, May-June 1926.


A renovation

The branch was renovated again in 1928 with the addition of a new wing to house the stack room (you can read more about it in TPL’s Forty-Fifth Annual Report). As it continued to grow, the branch became a community gathering place known for its domestic architecture and spacious lawn, where many programs took place and memories were made.

Here are some images of various activities throughout the history of the branch.

Children reading
Children reading in the Children's Room, approx 1930. View on our Digital Archive.
The Three Bears Puppet Play
Eastern Branch - the Three Bears Puppet Play, June 1934. View on our Digital Archive.
Easter Branch building in 1939
Eastern Branch in July 1939 from the City of Toronto Archives, Fonds 1231 (James Salmon Collection), Item 828. In the public domain.
1974 Festival on the Lawn with musician Edward Bear.
1974 Festival on the Lawn with musician Edward Bear. View on our Digital Archives.
1974 Festival on the Lawn performers.
1974 Festival on the Lawn performers. View on our Digital Archive.


Another renovation and a renaming in 1977

The Eastern Branch served its community for almost half a century before undergoing another renovation in 1977 with a name change to Main Street Branch. The renovation increased the materials' capacity and reading room by one-third as well as constructing a new northside wing. Landscaping at the building’s front increased its street presence. Renovations to the Children’s section included a new story room, and new access stairs.

Proposed model of Main Street post renovations 1977
1977 Architectural model. View on our Digital Archive.


More recent changes

Over the years, there have been a number of improvements at the branch, including the addition of an elevator to improve the accessibility of the upper floors, the introduction of express checkout stations, and an increase in hours of service. You can find a complete list of more recent changes to the branch under the history tab in our Main Street branch profile.
Today the branch continues to be a valued community hub through its many services and program offerings.

Here are some recent images of the branch.

Main Street children's looking towards ref desk and quilt
Reference desk and quilt in the Children's area at Main Street Branch in 2021. Photo by staff.
Main Street building in 2021
Main Street Branch exterior photo in 2021. photo by staff.
Main Street Branch front garden.
Main Street Branch front garden. Photo by Beach Garden Society.