The Way We Were

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 26, 2011 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Novel story of the Wakefield library could fill a book

by Philip Cohen and Louise Schwartz

It's sure nice to have friends with money. Last fall, the newlyformed Friends of the Wakefield Library cut a cheque for $10,000. These hard-earned funds, raised from the sale of donated books with some proceeds from the Nudes of Wakefield calendar sales, were handed over to the co-operative in charge of the new community centre in Wakefield.

From very humble beginnings, it's hard to believe the Wakefield Library has come this far. The first public book lending of any kind only appeared in Wakefield the early 1960s. It was a single bookmobile called the McLennan Travelling Library. Compare that with nearby Ottawa, which built its first public library in 1906.

The Way We Were
Long-time volunteers (from left) Ilse Turnsen, Glennis Cohen and Sue Graham-Ritchie, pose in front of the Wakefield library's wall of history created by Linda Vanderlee.

In 1964, a community library was finally established, through the efforts of leaders such as Mrs. Hans Geggie (Ruth) and financial support of surrounding municipalities. A heritage building, MacLaren House beside the Wakefield Mill, was leased from the National Capital Commission. Called La Peche Library, its startup was a huge undertaking. Work bees were formed to build large bookshelves, residents donated hundreds of books, and a volunteer group took on the cataloguing. Once operational, the library was staffed with keen volunteers and the bookmobile continued to service the outlying areas.

Although this arrangement worked just fine, Quebec establishing its own province-wide library system spelled the end for the little La Peche Library. Not only did the library shut its doors, the bookmobile ceased operation, too, after losing its provincial funding. To the dismay of the community, the library's book collection was dispersed, with many titles shipped to Philemon Wright High School in Hull. For ten years, beginning in 1971, Wakefield and area had no permanent facility. The only service was a provincial bookmobile operation called Bibliobus.

Finally, in 1982, Bibliobus was terminated and a small library set up in the former poolroom at the old Wakefield Firehall, thanks in part to Clare Albert (Lee). A volunteer corps supported the full-time and unpaid efforts of Patricia Cosh, followed by Sally Swan for two years, until Joan Garnett took the lead. In 1988, a major renovation took place, overseen by Garnett with special assistance from Anita Rutledge. At its grand opening in 1989, the Wakefield school chorus performed for the crowd.

When Garnett resigned in 1993, the library was serving a membership of around 400, the micro-fiche was about to be replaced by computers, and a roster of dedicated volunteers were in place, Most importantly, the mood of cheerful service to the community, which carries on today, was established. Two of the most active volunteers, Sue Graham-Ritchie and Glennis Cohen, were joined by retired librarian Wendy Scott to head up the expanding library. When Scott was replaced by Ruth Salmon, she, Graham-Ritchie, and Cohen were affectionately known as the Biblio Babes.

In 2001, the library expanded its space at the firehall when the fire department moved to its new building. Although still managed by volunteers only, in 2003 it won the award for Best Library for its Size in the Outaouais.

This month, the Friends of Wakefield Library feted past and current library volunteers with its first appreciation event. The Friends now can't wait until next summer. Then, the Wakefield Library will take a giant leap up the road on Valley Drive. In its new home in the Wakefield La Peche Community Centre, the library will gain almost double its current shelf space.

For today's 1,000-plus members, the benefits will be highly visible. Visitors will see a more inviting children's space and an improved collection of French language books. The reference book section will showcase its unusually good art book selection. The icing on the cake would be a salaried full-time librarian.


A focal point for villagers for years, the old Wakefield Rec Centre will make way for the construction of the new Wakefield-La Peche Community Centre, which will open its doors this year. The Community Centre Co-operative has established the Legacy Fund Programme, a donor program that recognizes legacy donations in a family name.

The money will go toward furniture, equipment and landscaping - expenditures not covered by government grants - and to help offset winter construction costs, as well. Anyone interested in learning more about the Legacy Fund Programme is invited to contact Mike Mulhall (613-230-7295) or visit www.wakefieldcentre.ca for information.

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