Fire damages Parliamentary Library (1952)

On today’s date in 1952, a blazing fire badly damaged the Parliamentary Library in Ottawa.

The Library of Parliament can trace its roots back to the 1790s, when the legislative libraries of Upper and Lower Canada were created. Operating separately until the creation of the Province of Canada in 1841, the collections were eventually amalgamated and followed the provincial capital as it moved from Kingston to Montreal, Toronto, and Quebec City. The library was to be established in Ottawa after Queen Victoria chose Bytown as the new seat for her crown in the Dominion of Canada in 1867. Four years later, the Library of Parliament Act officially established the institution.

Though construction of the library began in 1859 and the collection arrived in Ottawa in 1866, work was halted in 1861 and remained incompleted until 1876, when the 47,000 volumes, including several donated by Queen Victoria, were installed.

Additional costs brought the library’s total price to more than $300,000, a sum added to the total cost for all the Parliament buildings, which had already gone far above the original budget.

The library’s contents grew over the next 50 years and were saved from the 1916 fire that destroyed the majority of the Centre Block; the building was only connected to the main complex by a single corridor, and the library clerk secured the library’s iron doors before the fire could spread into that area.

However, in 1952, fire eventually erupted in the library, causing extensive damage through smoke and water. While the Centre, East, and West Blocks received extensive climate control and electrical upgrades, the library was largely overlooked.

Finally, in recent years, the deficiencies – as well as conservation, rehabilitation and upgrading – were addressed when a $52 million renovation was researched in 1996 and completed in 2006.

In 1976, the Royal Canadian Mint featured the Library of Parliament on a silver dollar to mark the library’s 100th anniversary. The coin has a weight of 23.32 grams, a diameter of 36.06 mm and a thickness of 2.84 mm.

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