To quote from an article from the Chronicle Telegraph (now the Waterloo Chronicle) of November 19, “The necessity for new quarters for the Waterloo Public Library arose from certain conditions over which the Board of Directors had no control. In 1900 and the subsequent year the Education Department threatened to withhold the Legislative Grant if a more suitable reading room were not provided for the general public.” In the fall of 1901, the Library Board laid the matter before the Town Council and proposed a scheme. The plan was not favourably received for a number of reasons, including the worry that the Librarian would not be able to exercise the necessary supervision over the reading room.


David Bean, Mayor of Waterloo, informed council that Library grants were available from Scottish-American philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie. A joint meeting of the Board of Trade, Waterloo Town Council, and the Library Board was held. An application for $10,000 was drafted and mailed to Andrew Carnegie.*

At this time the Waterloo Free Library’s collection contained 7,013 volumes. 6886 volumes circulated in 1901. Annual expenditures were $500. Waterloo’s population had increased to 3600 inhabitants. The Library Room in the old City Hall on Albert Street was no longer large enough. On July 18, 1902, the grant was approved.

*Who was Andrew Carnegie

Photo of Andrew CarnegieIn 1848, Andrew Carnegie (pictured left) immigrated from Scotland to Pennsylvania with his family. His formal education ended upon immigration and, as a teenage telegraphic messenger boy, he borrowed books from a private library with a $2.00 annual subscription fee. Carnegie successfully argued that all fees should be eliminated and it became a free library.

In 1901, Carnegie retired, having made his fortune in the steel industry, and devoted himself full-time to his philanthropic works. He felt the provision of a library to a community was the “best gift” that could be made. Over the years Carnegie, and later the Carnegie Corporation, donated over $56 million to build more than 2,500 public libraries world-wide, with over $2.5 million granted for library construction in Canada. A total of 125 libraries were built in Canada, with 111 of these being in Ontario. One being in Waterloo!


Photo of Charles MoogkArchitect, Charles Moogk (pictured left) drew up plans for the Carnegie Library building, and submitted them to Mayor David Bean for approval.

Charles Moogk was born in Preston in 1848, the son of Germany immigrants. As a young teen, Charles left school and began working.  He developed an interest in carpentry and construction, spending several years both in Ontario and the United States honing his skills. He met his future wife Josephine Lockard in Philadelphia, and the couple moved to Waterloo in 1874.

Through family connections, Moogk was hired to work on the building of the new Village Hall in 1874. Being involved with this prestigious building, now the site of the Marsland Centre, boosted Moogk’s career.   Thanks to his considerable talent as an architect, as well as his integrity, promptness and reliability, Moogk became Town Engineer in 1899.  He would be responsible for a number of buildings in Waterloo including the Waterloo Park Pavilion (1897) and the Carnegie Library in Waterloo!

Property was purchased at Albert and Water (now Dorset) Streets. On November 12 the cornerstone was laid during a large, public ceremony. Within the cornerstone was laid a metal box containing copies of the local newspaper, the history of the Free Public Library (to date), a list of town officials and copies of correspondence concerning the Library. By December 25 the roof was in place and the interior work began.

Photo of Emma Belle RoosEmma Belle Roos  (pronounced Rose) was the Waterloo Carnegie Library’s first librarian. She was born on November 15, 1880, one of eleven children. Her mother was Mary Ann Springer, a daughter of Moses Springer, one of the most influential citizens in Waterloo’s early history. Emma Belle was the Town Hall Librarian before taking on the new task of the Carnegie Library.

As the new public librarian, Emma Belle Roos (pictured left) commanded an atmosphere of whispered silence, with no chatting, and demonstrative behaviour was frowned upon. For a number of years, she alone checked out books, did the re-shelving and carried out the ordering and cataloguing of new purchases. Her salary was $200.00 a year. She held this position for 46 years until her retirement in the summer of 1949.


Photo of the original Carnegie Waterloo Free LibraryNovember 6 was the grand opening of the new Carnegie Waterloo Free Library.   The new library cost $9,100 to build.  The Library was 44 x 54’ and built in the Classical Revival Style. The exterior was constructed of red Milton pressed bricks, with a Credit Valley sandstone basement. The numerous large windows admitted an abundance of light into the interior. There was ornamental brickwork and pediment over the front entrance, the stained glass window to the east of the entrance, and a Bronze Honour roll on the south elevation.

The library was an immediate success! A story from the Chronicle Telegraph of December 14, 1905 has the following headline: “Books Taken From Library During the Month of November Reach a Grand Total of 818.” and continues, “An evidence that the Waterloo Free Library is being patronized better than ever since moving into the new building may be seen in the large number of books taken out during the month of November, which totalled 818. Moreover, books have only been issued since Nov. 7th, so that the number issued during the month may be considered a very good showing indeed.”

By 1909 the second floor was completed and served as a meeting hall with a capacity for 300 people. Books cost between $0.40 and $1.05; Ladies’ Home Journal was $1.65 for a one year subscription.

A special opening ceremony was held when the construction of the second floor was complete. An orchestra kept the crowd entertained until the speakers were ready. Then Mayor Weidenhammer welcomed the guests and reviewed the history of the Library to the present. Following was the Reverend Mr. Lee, who after expressing his delight at working with the Board of Directors in the betterment of the community, concluded his speech by “…hoping that the Waterloo Library shall be as a spring from which there shall ever gush forth a fountain of knowledge and truth that will be a blessing to the whole community.”


On June 13, 1920, William Lyon McKenzie King spoke at a Library fundraiser, held at the town hall.


A special section of the library was devoted to the younger readers.


To encourage children’s reading, the first Story Hour was held. The program was a resounding success.

1300 books were being borrowed by customers each month.


The Meeting Hall at the Free Library is renovated to become a Children’s Department and the first Children’s Librarian is hired.


After 43 years, Chief Librarian Emma Belle Roos retires.  Maureen Williams assumes the role of Chief Librarian.

1955(?) to 1959

Elizabeth Christiansen takes on the role of Chief Librarian when Maureen Williams retires. Note: a Maureen Williams Memorial Fund was created at WPL in 2004 when she passed away in her 9oth year. This special fund will be used to support an expansion of the picture book collection.

1960 - 1963

Photo of Charles BrisbainElizabeth Christiansen retires (1960) and is succeeded by Charles Brisbain (pictured left).

The Waterloo Lion’s Club donated time as well as $7000 to renovate the basement to become the Children’s Department.

The Adult Department expanded to include the second story.

In 1962, Waterloo Public Library becomes the first Library in Ontario to open on a Sunday.

In 1963, Charles Brisbain retires and James Brown takes on the role of Chief Librarian.


By 1964, the Library had again outgrown its location. The site chosen to build a new library was opposite the Carnegie Library on land which originally housed the old fire hall and Market House (Waterloo Market). Coincidentally it was in Market House that the meetings for the Mechanics Institute took place.


Photo of the new Waterloo Public LibraryOn Jun 11 the new Waterloo Public Library opened at 35 Albert Street. The cost of constructing the new Library was $515,000. The two-story building, designed by architects Horton & Ball and engineers Walter, Fedy, McCargar, Hachborn, boasted 17,000 square feet of floor area, an auditorium-gallery, adults’, children’s and reference departments.

The Carnegie building was occupied by the Waterloo Police Force (later the Waterloo Regional Police). After the Police moved to large offices on Erb Street, the building was (and still is) used by Habitat for Humanity Canada.


Photo of the Parkside Branch, later renamed McCormickOn September 15, the Parkside Branch (later renamed McCormick) opened for business at 500 Parkside Drive. Combining a library with an arena/recreation centre was a new concept.

The library starts holding an annual Summer Reading Club for Kids the following year.  24 children registered.Thirty years later, over 2000 children would be participating.


James Brown retires as Chief Librarian and is succeeded by Isabel E. Staal.  Staal was originally hired in 1972 as an Assistant Librarian.

1983 - 1986

Report was submitted to City Council which stresses the immediate need for an expansion of the existing Library. The city’s population and the Library’s membership had doubled since 1966 yet the size of the building remained virtually unchanged. The City did not approve the grant for 1984, so a portable building was erected as a staff workroom, and the auditorium was converted to a Reference Room (in 1985). In 1986 a Library Needs Survey again recommended expansion and City Council granted approval.


The Carnegie Library building was given a heritage designation.

1987 to 1988

Photo of the Main Library on Albert StreetConstruction on the expansion of the Main Library on Albert Street began in 1987 and was completed in the spring of 1989.

The renovations cost $2,000,000.

The result was double the main floor (Adult Department) space, an audio visual department, a reference area, reading areas, and more room to display the books.


Photo of Joanne TateWith the expansion of the Main Library complete, Chief Librarian Isabel E. Staal announces her retirement and is succeeded by Joanne Tate (pictured left).


The Parkside Branch was renamed the McCormick Branch.

The card catalogue was replaced by a Dynix computer system at both the Main and the McCormick Branch. The Dynix system cost $616,000.

1992 - Art Installation

Susan Low-Beer’s sculpture, Looking Outward & Inward (on the lawn at the Main Libary’s Dupont Street side) is not a complete narrative. It is ambiguous, exploring the relationship between men and women, but also the male and female within each of us.  It can be considered contradictory, a reflection of a psychological state. Hopefully, each person will look inward and allow themselves to create their own story.


Due to major cutbacks in funding, the library introduced the Adopt-a-Magazine program.  Customers generously supported this new initiative, donating the cost of their favourite magazine’s subscription to ensure it would continue to be a part of the library’s collection.


DialPAC was introduced. This computer service allowed customers to “dial in” directly from their home or office. This service proved very popular, with over 22,000 calls being logged and over 2,300 holds being placed.

A partnership with David Chilton (author of “The Wealthy Barber”), RBC and WPL resulted in the acquisition of a new CD-ROM workstation at the Main Library.

The Kiwanis Club of Waterloo North donated $15,000 to buy materials, shelving and technology for the new Children’s Literacy Collection.

WPL’s 90 volunteers contributed approximately 8,700 hours of service.


The Work Place at the Main Library, an area dedicated to providing current information and assistance to people seeking employment, expands to keep up with demand.

735 children registered for the Summer Reading Club and read almost 5,100 books.


The Main Library launched “The Cancer Collection”, a selection of new books, cassettes and videos on traditional and alternative treatments for cancer.

1997 - Art Installation

The mural in the entrance hall leading to the McCormick Branch was created in 1997 by the Waterloo County Tole and Decorative Painters Guild in celebration of their 10th anniversary.

1997 - The Anne Abohbot Memorial Window

In September 1997, Waterloo Public Library lost a dear friend when librarian Anne Abohbot passed away. Among her duties, Anne was responsible for coordinating work with volunteers, developing audio-visual services, Visiting Library Service, books-on-tape, and large print book collections. Anne, along with Grete Pruefer, was instrumental in developing the “Cancer Collection” for the Library.

As a tribute to this special woman, family, friends, and co-workers commissioned a stained glass window in her memory. Robert Brown of St. Jacobs designed and created the window, which reflects Anne’s love of gardens and of reading. On October 4, 1998 the window was unveiled in the Main Library’s reading area facing Albert Street.


826,000 items were borrowed by customers and 35,000 holds were filled.

On an average day, 980 visit the library.

WPL staff placed #1 in the Corporate Challenge at the Terry Fox Run. In the 5 years that WPL had a team in the Terry Fox Run, they raised over $7100 in pledges.

1998 - The Grete Pruefer Memorial Garden

In January of 1998, Waterloo Public Library lost a valued colleague when Community Relations Officer Grete Pruefer also passed away. Grete was a dynamic woman who was responsible for Library promotions and fundraising, as well as serving on the Children’s Circulation Desk at the Main Library. Grete was instrumental in developing both the “Work Place” collection and, with Anne Abohbot, the “Cancer Collection”.

As the Library’s appearance and image was so important to Grete, we decided to have a memorial garden planted in her honour. The garden reflects the image created in Anne’s window, which is fitting as they were close friends. The City of Waterloo’s Parks Services Department generously donated the design, labour, and materials. Family, friends, and co-workers purchased two simple yet elegant reading benches for the garden. On October 4, 1998 the garden was dedicated in Grete’s memory. Grete’s Garden is located beside the sidewalk at the Albert Street entrance of the Main Library.


Over 900 children registered for the Summer Reading Club and read over 9000 books.

139 volunteers worked over 2360 hours shelfreading (putting books in order), shelving, covering book and delivering books to people who are unable to visit the library themselves.

Free Internet service became available in all departments.