By Andrea Izzo
Originally published in the April 2015 of the Ontario Historical Society’s OHS Bulletin. Republished with permission.
When local history author Scott Kennedy first heard that the North York Historical Society (NYHS) had donated over 6,000 pages of scrapbooks containing more than 1,600 historical photographs to Toronto Public Library’s North York Central branch, he thought the partnership between the volunteer-run historical society and the City-owned library was a great idea.
Kennedy’s book, Willowdale: Yesterday’s Farms, Today’s Legacy, published by Dundurn in 2013, was well-received as an exemplary work of local history. It also relied heavily on the library’s local history collection.
“This donation will make an already impressive resource at the Canadiana Department that much more impressive. I would never have been able to complete my book on the farms of Willowdale without it,” remarked the Willowdale native.
Founded in 1960, the NYHS has long been collecting historical clippings, photographs, maps, posters, and books, often storing these items in members’ homes. This collection forms the basis of the scrapbooks now housed at the Toronto Public Library’s North York Central branch, located at the busy intersection of Yonge Street and Park Home Avenue.
A major portion of the photograph collection consists of the work of Toronto photographer Ted Chirnside, who worked tirelessly to document North York’s changing urban landscape during the 1950s and 60s.
The story of the NYHS echoes that of many local historical societies across Ontario. With limited funds and an aging core of volunteers, many organizations are facing pressure to find permanent, sustainable solutions to house their invaluable collections.
In 2004, the NYHS was granted five years of free office space in the restored Miller Tavern (formerly the Jolly Miller Tavern), a City of Toronto property. It was the first time that the NYHS had premises that enabled it to create a publically accessible Heritage Resource Centre, and it was here the collection was centralized, catalogued, sorted, and indexed.
Soon, however, the collection became too large to be stored in members’ homes and the office location – on the third floor of an operating restaurant – was not ideal from a preservation standpoint. When the five-year grace period ended, the NYHS did not have the resources to continue operating out of the Miller Tavern, and a long-term solution had to be found.
Positive discussions soon began with the Toronto Public Library’s North York Central branch’s Canadiana Department, and an agreement was struck to integrate the material into the existing local history collection. Future projects will enhance the material and its accessibility to the public.
The agreement, formally signed on February 6, 2015, tells a positive story of the symbiotic and sustainable partnerships that are possible between non-profits and civic libraries.
The idea is not a new one, but it is one that makes increasingly good sense.
For example, since 1912, the Kitchener Public Library has played an integral role in the success of the Waterloo Historical Society (WHS). For over a century, the WHS has been storing its archival collection at the library. The two bodies formalized their long-standing relationship when a similar agreement was signed three years ago during the WHS’s centenary celebrations.
Local history buffs and avid researchers like Scott Kennedy agree that these types of partnerships are crucial. “I have spent many happy hours in the sixth floor Canadiana Department at the North York Public Library, under the watchful eyes of the life-size golden lion statue carved by Paul Sheppard over 170 years ago. It would likely be impossible to calculate the endless volunteer hours that have gone into creating this precious resource of local history. I urge you all to grab your library card and pay the lion a visit.”
Photo: Sarah McCabe
Also please see Toronto Public Library’s March 9, 2015, blog post: Valuable Historical Photographs, Scrapbooks and Family Papers Part of Donation from North York Historical Society