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The last chapter of a legacy

By NEIL CORBETT
October 19, 2012 · 12:49 PM
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Artist Paula Funk and library manager Hilary Russell unveil Funk’s rendering of the MSA Centennial Library at a social event on Friday, Oct. 12. The wood-stained piece will be hung in the new Abbotsford Community Library. / Neil Corbett

Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson lit the Centennial flame on New Year’s Eve 1966 to ignite celebrations of the 100th anniversary of confederation.

Across a nation gripped in patriotism, every community made plans to mark the occasion. The economy was at a post-war peak, and commemorative projects sprung up everywhere – centennial arenas, pools and community centres.

It was the year that brought this city MSA Centennial Library.

For decades the hub of downtown Abbotsford, the library closes its doors for good on Nov. 2 at 5 p.m.

“I’m very sad to see it close,” said Judy Casey, who was the branch supervisor for 15 years beginning in 1993.

“There’s something comfortable about it, even though it’s not up to 21st century standards. Old buildings that creak and make noises are comfortable.”

The building officially opened on May 12, 1967, at 33660 South Fraser Way, with Social Credit MLA Ken Kiernan wielding the scissors at the ribbon-cutting event. According to The Reach Gallery Museum archives, it cost $76,000 to build.

There will no doubt be a similar event for the opening of the new $4-million Abbotsford Community Library on Nov. 26 at the Abbotsford Senior Secondary campus at 33355 Bevan Ave.

Casey remembers using it as a patron in 1967, and it seemed big and modern. It was the largest library in the region and attracted people from other communities, such as Aldergrove. People would bring their kids there for children’s programs, and it was a meeting place for community groups. Sometimes, it was a simple refuge for local characters that frequented the Jubilee Park area, who sometimes needed to come in from the cold.

“It was the heart of that area – the old part of Abbotsford,” she said. “They’ll be very sad – the people who used to frequent it all the time.”

Yvonne Holden goes back a little further – she worked at the MSA Library from 1978-80. Even in those early days, it was not celebrated by the staff as state-of-the-art, she said. There was no insulation in the roof back then, and the building was cold in winter and hot in summer.

“And the furnace was put together from three different furnaces,” she recalled. “It was the monster that lived under the stairs.”

The “monster” was of course temperamental, “and there was only one fellow in town who knew how it worked.”

And then there were the book deliveries, which had to come up three flights of stairs. Generally, there were about 15 boxes which arrived in a shipment, each burdening the delivery drivers with some 30 pounds.

“They certainly developed some muscles,” laughed Holden.

But she said the staff were great to work with, and gave the place its charm.

“For 90 per cent of them, the reason to come to work was to be of service to the public – that was a strong ethos.”

As a library user, she said the request system in the Fraser Valley Regional Library is “superb.”

“There are a lot of people who feel sentimental about this library, and I think it’s the people and the collection.”

People made themselves at home. She recalled one night when the janitor forgot to lock the door after cleaning up. The next morning staff arrived to find patrons had walked in, turned on the lights, and were perusing the shelves.

Hilary Russell, the manager of Abbotsford libraries for the Fraser Valley Regional Library, said there will be a three-week gap between the closing of MSA Centennial and the opening of the new facility. This will allow time to move some 30,000 items in the collection to the new building, and the addition of approximately 10,000 new items.

Russell said the new building will have 11,000 square feet on the public library side. There will be an additional 4,000 square feet of space for the Abby Senior school library, which will be available to the public outside of school hours. Centennial had 6,000 square feet in total, but with just the top floor; about 3,000 to 4,000 square feet has been in use.

With the new facility essentially double the size, library patrons will notice more space and lounge chairs. There will be a self-serve book checkout, and an automated check-in for book returns – which will sort the books for staff restocking shelves. Russell describes it as more open and modern in style.

She attended a social event on Friday, Oct. 12 for people to say goodbye to MSA Centennial.

Local artist Paula Funk has created a wood-stained image of the old library, unveiled at the event, and it will be hung in the new building.

As for the old building, a group called Friends of MSA Centennial Library is petitioning city council to turn it into a community arts centre and cultural hub.

“It’s kind of an iconic building in its own little way,” Russell said.

“A lot of people have grown up with it – it’s their library.”

 

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