collage of three images of brant hills library exterior and book stacks in central's second floor great hall and exterior image of central branch

Burlington Public Library Historical Timeline

Proudly serving our community since 1872.

January 1872

School Section No. 1 Nelson Trustees vote to spend $56 on books from the Toronto Board of Education. The books are purchased in March and placed in the reception hallway at the schoolhouse located on the southeast corner of Brant and Caroline Streets.

Members pay fifty cents a year to access the collection between 4 and 5pm on Friday afternoons.

W.H. Finnemore chairs the first incorporated Public Library Board.


The Trustees approve a further allocation of $25 in 1873 and $33 in 1883. The teachers and students provide an entertainment in 1884 that raises $50, which is matched by the Trustee Board. The Trustees appoint the newly established Library Committee (Dr. William Richardson, C.T. Springer and James Allen) to spend $100 on books.


The library purchases more books with funds raised through the membership fees, proceeds from concerts and social events, and occasional grants from the school trustees. A variety of groups, including the first YMCA and the Mechanics Institute, maintain the community library’s collection.

The collection moves around, often kept in the homes of local residents who serve as librarians. Eventually the library collection settles in the home of Henry Berry on Brant Street.

31 December 1901

The year end report shows the library collection numbers 2,075 books with an annual circulation of 3,136.

Oliver T. Springer first records the history of the public library property. The earliest records of Burlington Public Library Board appear to be lost.


January: Librarian Edward Weber reports that 4,346 books were borrowed and $93.49 paid out for new books in 1905. (The Burlington Gazette, 10 January 1906)

Initially an anonymous donor, John Waldie, former village reeve and MPP for Halton, offers to pay the cost of a permanent library building to house the library service if the Village provides a site. Eighty-three of the eighty-five eligible voters support this plan during a public referendum.

6 April: Council votes to grant the Public Library Board $1,000 to purchase a site. In June 1906 the Board purchases a site from Alex Riach.

Around this time, there are 130 library members and the collection includes 2,600 books and 12 magazine subcriptions.

21 February 1907

Burlington Public Library opens the doors to its first permanent location at the corner of Brant and James streets, the current location of Burlington City Hall, sharing space with town offices and council chambers. In addition to funding the building, John Waldie generously donates 6,000 books to the public library.


Dorothy Angus becomes the chief librarian and revives the endangered library.

19 December 1952

The Library Board turns the Brant Street building over to the town in return for a house at 482 Elizabeth Street, formerly owned by the town’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Austin Hager Speers. The new space includes a 60-seat auditorium for community programs.

1,534 members use the library’s growing collection of 10,000 items.

19 December 1956

The new library extension opens to the public on December 17, with an official ceremony two days later. The expansion includes two meeting rooms, and art gallery-auditorium seating 300, and more space for books.


Burlington's population jumps from 9,165 to 32,935. When the library abandons plans for a bookmobile, the building grows again, this time with a new garage that is used for stacks (books that are held in storage off the public floor) and a staff room.

29 September 1960

Aldershot branch, BPL’s first satellite location, opens in the basement of the Dominion Store.

January 1963

Ida Reddy becomes the chief librarian as the library strives to meet the increasing demands of the amalgamated community.

Mid 1960s

After several renovations and expansions of the library, the Library Board starts planning for a new building.

02 June 1964

Aldershot branch relocates to the Towers/Zellers Plaza in May and reopens in June.


In the spring, a small browsing collection and book drop opens in the Coulter farmhouse on Guelph Line, near St George's Anglican Church in Lowville, to serve north Burlington residents. This collection, known as Lowville Library, moves with the Coulters to their new home on Derry Road around 1966.

Skyway branch opens to the public on July 26 in east Burlington’s Skyway Plaza, and hosts a community celebration on September 16.


January: Lucille Galloway becomes chief librarian and leads the library’s transition from the converted house on Elizabeth Street to the current Central Library on New Street in Central Park. This transition shifts BPL from a small community library to a modern urban library. She and the Library Board, led by Frank Rose, tirelessly champion and advocate for this important and enormous step in the history of library service to the community.

October: Mountain Gardens branch opens in the Mount Royal Plaza.


Lowville Library relocates into Kilbride Public School and opens as Kilbride branch (in January 1979 it relocates within the school to its current location).

15 November 1970

Governor General Roland Michener officially opens the new Central Library on New Street in Central Park.

This state-of-the-art facility was designed by Brook-Carruthers-Grierson-Shaw Architects.


Central Library wins the prestigious Award of Excellence in the Concrete Awards program (for buildings costing less than $1,000,000) presented by the Department of Industry, Trade & Commerce and the National Design Council.

22 November: Skyway branch relocates to Appleby Mall and opens as New Appleby branch. The library officially celebrates the new location on 16 January 1972.


$550,000 extension to Central Library begins.


24 May: Central Library’s first building expansion officially opens, and houses a seminar room that seats 50 and the relocated film department. This new extension results in a larger adult circulation area (children still have their own check-out desk) and a larger reference area.

April 1978

Mountain Gardens branch relocates and becomes Tyandaga branch.

20 March 1979

Aldershot branch relocates to the Maplehurst Plaza and opens to the public.

20 October 1983

New Appleby branch relocates to the new Appleview Plaza on the corner of Fairview Street and Appleby Line and celebrates its opening.

June 1985

Wendy Schick becomes the chief librarian (later called the city librarian).


New Appleby branch relocates within Appleview Plaza and celebrates with an open house on January 10.

Aldershot branch relocates to the Downsview Plaza and reopens to the public on March 7. The official opening occurs on June 17.

06 June 1991

Eric Pilon, Board Chair and Wendy Schick, Chief Librarian of Burlington Public Library signed a 'Declaration of Sister Libraries' with Toshio Yoshino, Director and Kimihide Unose, Chief Librarian, Akatsuka Branch of Itabashi Public Library, Tokyo, Japan.

14 September 1996

Tansley Woods, the first new library branch in 28 years, opens in the City’s new community centre. Architects: Stafford Haensli Architects in association with Shore, Tilbe, Irwin and Partners.


Central Library renovation and expansion project starts.


June 25: Tyandaga branch relocates to the new community centre and opens as Brant Hills branch. Architect: Teeple Architects Inc.

September 24: Central Library, designed by Teeple Architects Inc., reopens with a big party.

3 April 2009

Maureen Barry becomes the chief executive officer (formerly called the city librarian).


27 Oct: The ground is officially broken for the library’s newest branch in northeast Burlington. This branch, together with a new high school and community centre, is the City’s largest joint community project. Anticipated opening: Fall 2013

01 Dec: Aldershot branch relocates and reopens in a new facility shared with Halton Community Housing Corporation.

13 January 2012

Aldershot branch officially opens. Designed by KNY Architects Inc., it is the first BPL branch to open in a residential complex.

30 September 2013

BPL's seventh branch library opened its doors. Alton branch, located in a shared facility with the Dr Frank J Hayden Secondary School and Haber Recreation Centre, is a unique hybrid library that blends public library and high school library services, and operates jointly with the Halton Board of Education. The community open house to mark the facility's official opening was on Saturday, November 23.

04 June 2018

Lita Barrie becomes the chief executive officer.


Burlington Public Library celebrates 150 years of library service in Burlington.

  • 1872 library services began; initiated by the school trustees with a start-up fee of $56 (a relative value of roughly $1,030 in 2010) – contrasted with over $1 million spent on acquisitions in 2011 (roughly $54,300 in 1872) historic purchasing power calculator
  • The library was first set up in the hallway of the old Central Public School, open one hour per week
  • The site of the original library building is now the home of Burlington’s City Hall
  • You can still “visit” the old library at 482 Elizabeth Street—it’s now Body Language Esthetics & Spa
  • The land on which the library now sits is the former Lankester Farm. The Lankester family was a family of 8 who bought the farm in 1929. On the farm grew lettuce, tomatoes, celery, spinach, and for many years after the farm was expropriated by the city in 1958, people who knew where to look could find asparagus in the playing fields.

One of the constants in the lives of village residents was the 1,000 pound town bell, which was purchased in 1894 and hung in the old town hall on Elizabeth St.  In those days not many people had clocks or watches, so the bell would ring at 7am when workers would start work, noon and 1pm to signal the start and end of the lunch hour, and 6pm when it was time to go home. When rung quickly, it meant there was a fire and alerted the town’s fire department. The first bell ringer, James Powell, was paid $50 a year in the first years; eventually this duty was included in those of the custodian of the Town Hall.

The bell was located in the bell tower of the Town Hall on the east side of Elizabeth Street, between James and Maria. In 1916, when the Town Council decided to join the other Halton municipalities in adopting Daylight Savings Time, the bell ringer cooperated for the first two weeks; however, there was opposition, and within two weeks the bell ringer reverted to the previous schedule.

When the Town offices moved to Brant Street in 1952, the Elizabeth Street building was sold to the Boy Scouts. Service to the bell was cut when the city decided it was too expensive to pay the bell ringer $250/year, so it went into storage. The bell tower was demolished and the bell was stored in a field at the Boy Scout Camp in Lowville. The bell served the Town for over 50 years.

One night it was stolen from its storage place in Lowville. Not long after the authorities were notified, they saw a car riding very low to the road—and when they pulled it over, the bell was inside. The thieves were taking it to a foundry to have it melted down.

The bell was then stored behind the Works Department yard until the early 1960s when William Gilbert, chair of the Library Board, raised $1,400 to install the bell in front of the Elizabeth Street Library, across the street from where the old town hall had been located.

The Library's fundraising campaign was completed in 1962, and the bell remained with the Library as it moved to New Street in 1970. Plans for the opening ceremony included having Governor General Roland Michener ring the bell to signify the opening of the building. Because Canada was in the midst of the FLQ crises at that time, the Governor General’s security detail refused to allow the Governor General to perform this task, so Michael Rose, son of the Library Board chair, rang the bell instead. Michael rang the bell again in 2005, at the reopening of the renovated building.

The bell, which likely heralded the final Armistice of 1918, officially sounded at 4.59pm on Sun November 11, 2018 as part of the local Bells of Peace event. Jane Richardson, an officer of the Royal Canadian Legion Burlington Branch 60, joined by local Cadets, presided over the public sunset ceremony. The national Bells of Peace initiative was developed by the Royal Canadian Legion in partnership with the Government of Canada to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War.

Central Branch: Now We Are 50

Image: Burlington Town Bell recovery, 1961

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