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Library History

1864 – 1889

In 1864, a group of villagers met in the little Village Hall on Athol Street and decided to establish a Mechanics Institute Library:

“A movement is on foot for the organization of a Mechanics’ Institute for our village. Some sixty-one names of members have already been obtained, which places the successful formation of the society beyond a doubt. A meeting is to be held in the Town Hall this evening for the purpose of giving all who desire, an opportunity of joining in the movement, and also for the election of office bearers, adopting a constitution, etc.” (Oshawa Vindicator, August 1864)

Pioneers and founders of the Oshawa community were among the first officers and committee members of the Institute. Serving as President was William McGill, and as librarian, William Dickson. Their goal was to provide an all-encompassing library based on the model of the Mechanics’ Institutes, which had its origins in Edinburgh, Scotland where the world's first Mechanics' Institute was established in October 1821.

The Oshawa Mechanics’ Institute served as a reading room and offered courses as well as a collection of books and magazines acquired for tradesmen who wanted to improve their knowledge and skills. A membership ticket was issued for a $2.00 fee which entitled the member to admission to debates, lectures and entertainment and to use of the library. Additional sums of money were obtained for the purpose of procuring new and interesting works for replenishing the library shelves every year. The funds allowed the Institute to provide a superior course of lectures and other entertainments for the winter evenings, including a Reading Room containing a number of leading English, American and Canadian papers.

The Institute soon outgrew the limited space it had as a reading room. In 1887, the library moved to larger quarters situated over Higginbottom’s Drug Store. The new library provided a smoking room where chess and checkers could be played. By 1889 the library consisted of 1,003 volumes. Library membership totaled 199 people.

1890 – 1914

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.” - Andrew Carnegie

For the better part of the 1800s, community libraries in Ontario relied on private funding, membership fees and a committed group of citizens to organize and run them. The Oshawa Mechanics Institute was no exception. In 1884, the Institute had to close for a period of time due to financial difficulties. This temporary closing galvanized Oshawa citizens to speak up at town meetings and to write editorials to the local newspaper about their desire for a free public library available to all.

The Ontario government passed the “Free Libraries Act, 1882”. This act allowed for the establishment of a library in any town, city or incorporated village. Oshawa’s Town Council appointed its first Oshawa Public Library Board in July 1898. This Board was empowered to take over the assets of the Oshawa Mechanics Institute, raise funds from local taxes and receive government grants. The newly formed Public Library delivered service for several years in crowded, rented quarters.

By the early 1900’s, the population of Oshawa was just over 5,500. The need for a more spacious library was apparent. The rented space could no longer accommodate the growing collection of over 4,000 volumes. A solution had to be found.

Carnegie Library - 1906

In the early 1890’s, Scottish-American steel magnate and self-made millionaire Andrew Carnegie had written that the best gift to a community was a free, or “public” library. Books and libraries were very important to Andrew Carnegie, even as early as childhood. In order to obtain a Carnegie grant, the Town of Oshawa had to purchase a site upon which to build a library and show future sustainability for the library. In 1906, a site on the corner of Simcoe and Athol Streets was purchased from Dr. Coburn for the sum of $1,500.00. Oshawa did receive a Carnegie grant in the amount of $12,000.00 for the new building, the amount based on $2 per citizen. This grant money was dispersed as the project moved forward.

The first public library building in Oshawa opened its doors in 1909. Above the entrance, “Oshawa Public Library” was boldly etched into the stonework. This library was intended to serve a population of 5,550 to 10,000.

The Gift

In 1906, the Carnegie Library was built in the City of Oshawa to serve a population of 10,000. Within thirty-four years, it was providing library materials and services to a citizenry exceeding 29,000, with more than 30,000 books, and an annual circulation of 143,463 volumes.

This Carnegie building was not designed to allow for the additions that were needed to increase its interior space and no funds could be found to even consider erecting a new building on a larger land plot.

McLaughlin Reading Room - 1954

The answer came on June 20, 1952 in the form of a letter written by Colonel R. Samuel McLaughlin to the Oshawa Public Library Board whereby he offered the City of Oshawa the generous gift of a brand new library building. His only stipulation was that the building be attractive, spacious and well-equipped to provide the city with an aesthetically pleasing cultural centre.
The Oshawa Public Library Board responded to Colonel McLaughlin’s offer on July 24, 1952:

“At a recent meeting of the Oshawa Library Board, it was my privilege and honour to acquaint the members with your munificent offer to erect the greatly needed new home for the Library. The news of your generous offer to make it possible for us to do what we have so long dreamed of doing was an overwhelming experience for the Board.”

The McLaughlin Public Library was opened on December 6th, 1954, with Premier Leslie M. Frost officiating at the formal ceremony. The building was an immediate success. It was built at a cost of $450,000 and formed the third unit of a group of buildings erected in Oshawa’s then new civic square.

Inside, the vestibule includes walls of Italian marble and a graceful circular staircase that spirals down to the auditorium and children’s department. Above the staircase, in gold lettering inscribed in the green marble wall, is an inscription to our generous donor:

“This library completed in the year 1954 was the gift of Colonel R. Samuel McLaughlin LLD whose vision and interest in his fellow citizens created this means of access to the wisdom and culture of all ages”

Go Places With Books!

Bookmobile Dedication - 1962

In 1962, eight years after he had presented the City with the keys to the McLaughlin Branch, Colonel R.S. McLaughlin generously donated a truck and trailer to serve as a bookmobile to the City of Oshawa.

The trailer was electrically lit, heated and cooled by a special meter that the Public Utilities Company of Oshawa installed at each site. The trailer was the only air-conditioned department of the Oshawa Public Library.

In its first three months of operation, 111 adults and 357 children registered at the travelling library. The first full year of bookmobile service was a busy one with 191 stops and a circulation of 23,326.

In 1978, a new bookmobile with four-wheel drive and automatic transmission replaced the old truck and trailer and was officially presented by Miss Isabel McLaughlin.

No matter the weather or the road conditions, the bookmobile successfully provided library services to ten sites, extending library services to all sectors of the city. Each Oshawa district was visited bi-monthly. Children who could not visit the main library benefitted from this unique travelling library service.

Over the course of 34 years, bookmobile services met the needs of a rapidly growing community, bringing thousands of books to Oshawa’s communities where there were no library branches.

Your Neighbourhood Branch

Jess Hann Branch

Jess Hann Ribbon Cutting - 1977

Before Oshawa Public Libraries included a south end branch, people living in south Oshawa had limited access to Library services. For a long time they had only the downtown Library to visit, and this depended on finding the means to get there. Yet by 1946, Oshawa Public Libraries had 16,093 subscribers and a circulation of 143,463 volumes.

These statistics showed Library usage was increasing and there was a need for services to be extended to the south Oshawa community. For three decades temporary solutions ranged from a book deposit at Cedardale Public School, a mobile trailer at St. Peter’s Anglican Church, and service at Sydenham Post.

Robert Hann’s generous gift of rent-free space in his Lake Vista Plaza at Cedar and Wentworth Streets finally gave south Oshawa a permanent library. The gift was made in memory of Robert’s father, Jess Hann.

Mr. Hann’s generosity continued when he extended the Library’s rent-free lease from 15 years to 25 consecutive years and donated $60,000 to be used for books and furniture at the new branch. The Jess Hann branch opened on March 1, 1977, and, within 10 months, the branch circulated 76,500 items to a membership of 4,600. It was later renovated in 1989 with funds from the Jess Hann Reserve.

Jess Hann Children's - 2007

In 2007, Oshawa Public Libraries celebrated 30 years of serving the south Oshawa community by renovating the Jess Hann Branch. The new design included a reading area with a fireplace, a dedicated children’s space with large murals, bright furniture and new children’s computers, wireless Internet access, and new Career Centre with technological resources. On May 5, 2007, Mayor John Gray and members of the Jess Hann Family were on hand to re-dedicate the branch.

Legends Centre Branch

Legends Book Displays - 2014

The Legends Centre branch is located in the North Oshawa civic complex at 1661 Harmony. The Legends Centre opened to the public in 2006.

In 2004, plans were underway to open a new branch in 2005 to be located in North Oshawa’s New Recreation Centre. It would be named the Legends Centre Branch after the name of the centre itself. Oshawa Library’s fourth branch opened April 18, 2006. The 10,000 square feet branch opened with a debut collection of 45,000 books, CDs, DVDs, magazines, picture books, graphic novels and audio books.

The branch offers a well-designed reading room, quiet study areas, public Internet computer terminals, an area for teens and the Laura Ellis Children’s area. The new branch circulated 216,299 items in 2006 and delivered 178 programs to 3551 customers.

Northview Branch

Northview Groundbreaking - 1986

The provincial government donated $571,000 to help build a new $1.7 million North Oshawa public library branch. The city and the library board shared the $1.1 million left to pay for construction of the building, which would be built at the northwest corner of Beatrice Street and Ritson Road. Ruth Brooking, the library’s chief executive officer at that time, said the $1.7 million cost would include furnishings in addition to the building.

The new 13,000-square-foot, one-story building replaced a 3,500-squart-foot branch that the city leases in a Simcoe Street North shopping plaza. The new branch was much needed because the old storefront library was bursting at the seams and could not any longer adequately serve north Oshawa.

The new branch was strategically located in an area of high residential density. The northwest corner of Beatrice and Ritson was considered a highly visible location in the city’s fastest-growing residential section. The new library branch included space for 50 parking spots, a large community meeting room, electrically-heated sidewalks and a kitchen for community groups using the building.

The Northview Branch, a bright and modern place, is an open-concept building without pillars, using skylights for most of its lighting. Architects, Mathers and Haldneby also did the work on the expansion of the McLaughlin branch and the Bell building. The interior design was worked out by Atkinson/McLeod Design Consultants Ltd. They too worked on the McLaughlin expansion.

Northview as of 2014 Renovations

The exterior was done in buff-coloured bricks with a complimentary tile roof, which contains several skylights, giving the interior an airy, light-filled atmosphere. Large windows on the north, west and east walls and the skylight over the south side entrance made it possible for people to see right through the library.

With bright banners flying from the arches the flag was raised on March 24, 1987 to signify the opening of the Northview Branch. Mayor Allan C. Pilkey and Norman J. MacLeod, Chairman of the Board, cut the ribbon and the public, who had waited so patiently during a year of construction, poured through the doors.

McLaughlin South Wing Area Renovation Plan

South Wing Renovation - 2000

In summer 2010, renovations were underway to refurbish the entire South End of the main floor of the McLaughlin Branch. The third and final phase of the renovation that began in 1999 would then be completed.

Reg Freethy, J. R. Freethy Architects and Tamara Dvorsky, Stantec Architecture did the architectural design and interior plans for the McLaughlin Branch – South Area Renovation Project. The cost of the renovation was slated to not exceed $2,100,000. It was completed at a cost of $1,987,000.00 with a surplus amount of $113,000.00.

As part of the renovations, the Oshawa Public Libraries created a teen area complete with a gaming area and dedicated collection space. New quiet study areas and increases in the number of public Internet terminals were welcome additions.

The new McLaughlin main floor was opened in the autumn of 2010. As a result of the new look and comfortable surroundings, in 2011 Oshawa Public Libraries saw an increase in circulation and memberships 20% and 9% respectively.

In the end, a beautiful space was created for library customers to enjoy for years to come.


The Oshawa Public Library started with a humble beginning in 1864 with less than 1,000 books for members to borrow. Today, we are proud to be a true community hub in Oshawa. We have a collection of over 400,000 items including books, periodicals, Music, Movies, Maps, iPads, eReaders, Games and so much more. Our annual circulation in 2013 was 1.8 million. We offered over 2,400 programs last year, which were attended by over 40,000 people. As we see our world move with increasing speed to digital and virtual spaces, we had over 858,000 visits to our virtual services in 2013. Looking back over the past 150 years, we believe we have achieved a constant realization of our mission statement – “The Oshawa Public Libraries enriches the lives of the citizens of Oshawa by connecting them to the world of information and each other.”