Toronto Reference Library at 40: Opening Ceremonies, November 2, 1977

November 3, 2017 | Richard

Comments (5)

Thousands were in attendance when the Metropolitan Toronto Library Board officially opened its new library at 8 pm on Wednesday November 2, 1977.  The event was the culmination of nearly a decade of planning, re-planning and political wrangling about the building and its location, and two months of delays to finally open the library.

MTL1977Opening Day-004
fficial opening of the Metropolitan Toronto Library, November 2, 1977

The building was Toronto's third central public library and the only one to be completely financed with public money. The first (1883-1909) at the northeast corner of Church and Adelaide streets had been inherited from the Toronto Mechanics' Institute. The second (1909-1977) at the northwest corner of College and St. George streets was initially funded with $275,000 of a $350,000 grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York

The new library cost $30 million - $23 million for the building, designed by Raymond Moriyama Architects and Planners, and $7 million for the site, located on the east side of Yonge Street between Asquith Avenue and Collier Street. Its mandate was to provide a reference collection and special library service for all residents of Metropolitan Toronto. It was to be called Metropolitan Toronto Library, instead of its old name of Metropolitan Toronto Central Library. 

MTL1977Ext001Metropolitan Toronto Library, 1977

The old Central Library at College and St. George closed on July 23, 1977 and staff were given six weeks to get the new library at Yonge and Asquith ready to open to the public on September 6.

Karen McMechan, Access Services, Toronto Reference Library, remembers "the day, shortly after the July 27, 1977 move to MTRL, when the computers came in. We were trained on how to use the computerized booking system (this system was used as a holds service, trapping AV items and shipping them out to various libraries in Toronto) via a phone call with a person from the East Coast. After the training session, we were left to experiment with the new system."

The official opening was planned for September 15, and 6,000 invitations were printed and sent out to civic officials and other guests.

TRL opening_invitation
Invitation to the official opening planned for September 15, 1977. Courtesy Alan Walker

However, because of an electricians’ strike, both the public and the official openings had to be postponed. Almost all of the invitations were tossed in the garbage and the Library Board spent about $14,000 on ads informing the public of the delay and $200 to print new invitations.

November 2nd was chosen for the new official opening since that was the earliest time that the Honourable Pauline McGibbon, lieutenant-governor of Ontario, was available. ”She’s a very busy lady,” a library spokesperson exclaimed. “We booked her last December for the September opening.” This time, reported Globe and Mail society columnist Zena Cherry, “More than 8,000 invitations, each for two persons, were sent out, and about 3,500 have accepted”.

77-261-2_TRL openingHonourable Pauline McGibbon arrives at the library and is greeted by Walter Cassels, Chair, Site and Building Committee 

Although the library had been opened to the public since Monday October 24, the main attraction for most attendees must have been to see Raymond Moriyama’s architectural masterpiece for the first time. For a thorough review of the landmark building, see Bill V's wonderful blog Toronto Reference Library at 40: Raymond Moriyama and the Original Architecture.

There also were speeches, presentations, exhibits, and refreshments of Canadian wine, cheese and fruit, along with coffee, tea, lemonade and cookies. Because of the large numbers, planned tours of the buildings had to be cancelled.

982-3-279_TRL official openingCrowd at the official opening ceremony, November 2, 1977

Several current staff at Toronto Public Library attended the opening, and have vivid memories of the event. Susan Murray, Special Collections, recalls the large crowds, Mounties in scarlet uniforms surrounding the lieutenant governor and dancers in filmy costumes flitting throughout the main floor. Alan Walker, Special Collections, remembers that Edith Firth, the esteemed head of what was then called the Baldwin Room was concerned for the safety of elderly guests.

TRL opening_program of events detail
 From Official opening of Metropolitan Toronto Library, November 2, 1977

The platform was jammed with about two dozen dignitaries but remarks were limited to six speakers. Nancy Oldfield, Northern District Branch, recalls Raymond Moriyama's speech in which he discussed the concept of "the empty cup".  In his remarks published in the official opening program, Moriyama stated that the emptiness within the center of the library was like a cup, which "allows the observer, the user, to fill the space with himself, his thoughts and imagination . . .  This central idea . . . to allow the user to achieve personal space and self-fulfillment - was the key to our design concept of the Metropolitan Toronto Library".

7711-05-03_TRL opening
Edward J. Canning, chair of Metropolitan Toronto Library Board, welcomes guests. 

TRL opening 1977Applause for the Honourable Pauline McGibbon, who gave the declaration of opening. To her right in the front row are other speakers: Robert Welch, Minister of Culture and Recreation; Paul V. Godfrey, Chairman of Metropolitan Toronto; Walter Cassels, Master of Ceremonies and Chair, Site and Building Committee and Raymond Moriyama, Architect and Planner

7711-03-08_TRL opening
 Raymond Moriyama and Brian Harrison (Metro Councillor and Library Board Member) are having a smokin' good time at the official opening. Pictured to their left are John Parkhill (Director, Metropolitan Toronto Library) and the back of Walter Cassels. 

If you were at the opening 40 years ago, we’d appreciate you sharing your memories in the comments section.


Prepared by Richard MacCallum, Librarian, Toronto Reference Library, and Barbara Myrvold, Senior Services Specialist, Local History. All images are from the Toronto Public Library Archives unless credited otherwise.