Atwater Library: Over 180 years of service to Montrealers

Lynn Verge
The Mechanics' Institute. (Courtesy of the Atwater Library)

larger_atwater.library.jpgFounded in 1828, Canada’s oldest lending library, the Atwater Library and Computer Centre (ALCC) is celebrating 180 years of service to Montrealers, and it is marking the milestone anniversary in a number of ways.

On Nov. 21, 1828, the organization was founded with the name Montreal Mechanics’ Institution. Over the years the names have changed, but the mission remains focused on promoting learning and building community.

Originating in Scotland, the international movement of mechanics’ institutes began in the early 19th century. A large segment of the male working population, including tradesmen, artisans and professionals, then identified themselves as "mechanics." This movement spread worldwide as a source of education, apart from the control of church and state, and as an important precursor to modern adult education.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, there were mechanics’ institutes in most towns in Quebec and across Canada. As the social-welfare state developed, many were absorbed into publicly funded libraries and technical schools. The ALCC is the only Canadian mechanics’ institute still operating independently.

In 2005 the ALCC building was declared a National Historic Site by the Government of Canada, in part to acknowledge the organization’s lengthy record of community service, and also to recognize the building’s beautiful architecture.

Here are some other ways the ALCC is marking its 180th anniversary:

The history section on our website has been greatly improved with the addition of the early hand-written minutes of the organization from 1828 to 1861, providing an important resource for historical research;

Historical panels with text in English and French, images and photos were posted on either side of the Atwater entrance to the main lobby.

A series of articles highlighting the early years of the organization and its leading members by Susan McGuire have been published in the Westmount Independent newspaper.

A number of people have taken on the tasks of documenting and publicizing the organization’s history. These include: former employee, Ralph Mackay, organized and catalogued the archives; former board member and past executive director, Susan McGuire,drove the efforts to have the building recognized as a National Historic Site, and she continues to our volunteer historian; archivist, Rob Michel, generously gave advice; McGill Library and Information Studies Masters student, Jen Hoyer, worked as a summer student to coordinate the archives project; museologist and archivist, Suzanne Morin, began volunteering and sharing her wealth of experience; Micromatt owners, Gerry and Anne Matthews, digitized the 19th century archives.