1961-2011: 50 years of the Canadiana Collection

September 28, 2011 | Irena

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Current display marking 50th anniversary of Canadiana Collection

The Canadiana Collection was created by North York Public Library in response to frequent requests for local and Ontario history materials.  When the library held a book drive in 1961, appealing to the public for book donations to stock 3 new branches, the donated items were found to contain a number of titles suitable for a special Canadiana collection.   In the same year, Mr. John Chancellor Boylen donated roughly two hundred Canadian titles from his personal library.  The collection was further enhanced between 1968 and 1977, when important collections were purchased at antiquarian book markets and auctions. And in 1972, a partnership agreement with the Ontario Genealogical Society resulted in the transfer of the society's  deposit collection to Canadiana.

Starting in 1956 the North York Public Library adult services librarian, Patricia Hart, spent countless hours researching North York history.  In 1968, with the assistance of a Borough of North York grant, she published Pioneering in North York .  Many of the materials acquired through her research were also added to the Canadiana collection.

First housed in the basement of the former Willowdale Library on Yonge Street [which later became North York Central Library], the collection moved in 1977 to Fairview Library, where it was stored in a separate climate-controlled facility.  By then, the collection contained 35,000 books, manuscripts, documents and pamphlets. 

1977Canadiana 04 The entrance to the collection was reminiscent of a log cabin.


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The space included a reading room, with reference staff available to help with genealogy and local history research.





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To coincide with the opening of the department in its new premises, the Canadiana Department Head, David B. Kotin, curated an exhibition highlighting the Book Arts in Ontario, featuring items from Canadiana, as well as from the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at University of Toronto, the Metro Toronto Library Fine Arts Section and private collections.



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The opening reception was held March 21, 1977.







A second exhibition was held in May-June 1981 and it was re-installed at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in July-August 1981.


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A catalogue was published for  each exhibition, with the title Reader, Lover of Books, Lover of Heaven

The 1978 catalogue was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Arts' Certificate of Excellence as one of the best designed books in North America in 1978.  It was one of 105 books selected for exhibition in New York City from over 1,000 entries, and one of the first publications from a Canadian library to receive this award.



In 1987 the collection moved to the 6th floor of the newly opened North York Central Library.

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The collection currently numbers well over 100,000 items, with a focus on Canadian genealogy and Ontario local history.  Each year the department is visited by intrepid family researchers, not only from Toronto and other parts of Ontario, but also from the United States, and as far away as Australia.

And through innovations of recent technology, many gems in Canadiana and Special Collections (Toronto Reference Library) have been digitized through a partnership with Internet Archive, making them available online.