Kingston Road library celebrates half a century of service

The Taylor Memorial Library branch celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sept. 18.

Even before the branch opened at the corner of Kingston and Warden, there had been a small lending library 40 years earlier in southwest Scarborough.  It was operated by volunteers in a room in Birch Cliff Public School, and was organized by Ellen E. Reece, the school’s first principal, with a board that included a clergyman, a merchant and ‘community-minded women’.

Fred Taylor is seen with Lois DeGroot (chair of the Scarbough Public Library Board) on the steps of the Taylor Memorial Library on June 26, 1974. By 1985, this building on the northwest corner of Kingston Road and Warden Avenue had been razed and replaced.

It opened in 1921, and its 572 volumes were circulated 1,420 times that year. The total expenditure for 1921 was $483.19, with $384.59 spent on books. Costs were covered by membership fees, a provincial grant of $78.87, and $320 raised by the Birch Cliff Home & School Association. Two years later children’s books were added to the collection.

In 1943, its final year, the library was open 3.5 hours a week with a budget of $104.78. From of a population of 3,709, 115 readers borrowed 21 books on average annually. When the library closed, the collection was moved to the school basement for the use of pupils.

In 1962 a branch of the Scarborough Public Library opened in the former home of the Taylor Family at 1440 Kingston Rd. The Library Board arranged with Fred Ibson Taylor, a retired tobacconist, to lease the house for $100 a month with an option to buy. On March 29, 1962 the property was purchased for $16,368.12. Mr. Taylor stipulated that the library bear the name of his late wife.  The Scarboro Lions Club gave $5,000 to furnish a reference room, and the Lionettes donated $1,000 to furnish a basement room.

The house was originally built in 1921 for Florence Nightingale McMillan Taylor and her husband Fred by Florence’s father.  The lot and the house  cost $1,500.  Half way up the stairs was a large stained glass window called the ‘Blue Bird of Happiness’, a gift to Florence from the Massey family. This window had originally hung in the Massey home at Victoria Park and Dawes Road. The fireplace in the Taylor home also came from the Massey mansion when a section was razed for renovations.

The Taylor house was built on an old gravel pit. It was surrounded by fields. Fred, who ran a store on Main Street from 1916 into the 1920s selling toys, books, cigars and the famous Victrola phonograph, recalled that sitting out on his porch was a dusty experience in the early days. Warden Avenue was not paved and there was much horse traffic.

Florence was a member of the Women’s Institute and the Order of the Eastern Star. Women came to the house for meetings and needlework. During the Second World War they met there to knit clothes for the soldiers. Florence died in 1954 and Fred married Kate three years later. Using the house as a public library was Kate’s idea, and in her eighties, she was still visiting it.

On April 1967 the Scarborough Public Library Board decided to close the library and sell the building.  Residents, including the Birchcliff Community Association, rallied against this move to slash costs.  The Globe and Mail reported that the Scarborough controllers had found $67,000 in the general budget that could be used to keep the library open. Taylor was saved.

But in 1984 the house was demolished, and replaced in 1985 by the current building, which has more space to house a greater selection of materials and room for community activities. The ‘Blue Bird of Happiness’  and the fireplace were incorporated in the new building to keep the memory of the old house alive. The architects, A.M. Ingleson Associates, received an Urban Design Award from the Scarborough Planning Board.

Nowadays whenever I visit one of my favorite places, it always seems to be busy with readers scanning magazines by the Massey fireplace, using the computers, perusing the daily newspapers, selecting books and DVDs, and attending talks, book clubs, craft programs or visits by Canadian authors. On Sept. 11 local writer Cordelia Strube will speak at 7 p.m., and on Sept. 18 children’s author Linda Hutsell-Manning will be the guest at 2 p.m.

Renuka Jeyanayagam has been the branch head for four years, presiding over a staff of eight. She is hosting an open house on Monday, Sept. 18, 4-7 p.m., with light refreshments  and musical entertainment. All are welcome.

For more information on the Taylor Memorial Library, call 416-396-8939.

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