Great Library History – part 2

Manitoba Law Library – A story of change pt. 2

“Rather oddly, the [Law Society] Act does not require, nor even explicitly authorize, the Society to maintain a library. But nevertheless it does so;” (Cameron Harvey – The Law Society of Manitoba 1877-1977)

The story of the Great Library and the Old Law Courts Building is fundamentally a story of change. As the judiciary grew to accommodate the growth of the City and Province, so too did the courthouses. From early log cabin style buildings to the original courthouse on Kennedy Street, finally to the construction of the Old Law Courts Building on Broadway, the early story of the judiciary and its buildings is one of expansion.

“Old Law Courts Building on Kennedy Street built in 1882, replaced in 1893. University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, Art Work on Winnipeg RBR FC 3396.37.A77, volume 6 page 4.” – retrieved from Heritage Winnipeg site

This was also reflected in the need for a law library to serve the city’s legal practitioners, and in 1871, one of the first actions the newly formed Bar Society took was the establishment of the first library in the Kennedy Street courthouse. As the judiciary expanded, so did the need for library services – regional libraries followed suit in the province and the library continued to grow its collection. That said, frugality has always been a hallmark of the library, and the library’s budget has always been one of the cost-saving areas of the Law Society.

Despite the profession’s acknowledgment of the necessity of a library and its usefulness evidenced by its steady expansion, the library (like today) occupied a paradoxical space, caught between a clear need and being one of the first areas to face budget cuts when times were lean. In 1885, for example, despite a majority of the Benchers being in favor of establishing a downtown library branch in the McIntyre Block, a deficit of $700 in the library budget meant setting aside the plans when it came down to a vote. This trend would continue through the twentieth century.

During the Depression, the library suffered drastic cuts to its purchasing capacity, which continued during the war years when members were no longer contributing fees while they were in service. In 1972 the Law Society commissioned a report that would review the adequacy of the library’s resources. The report found that the library was not meeting the needs of the profession and allocated money to hire a full-time librarian and to improve the collection. Not long after, Garth Niven was hired as Chief Librarian and he saw the library through the next three decades of rapid technological and structural change.

After reading the old annual reports during the building renovations in the 1980s, I wanted to find out more about this next chapter in the Library’s history. Karen insisted that the person I had to speak with was Facility Manager of the Law Courts Complex, Martin Jandavs. Martin had been at the Law Courts Complex during the time of the renovation and would know everything about the changes that the buildings had undergone. Martin graciously agreed to speak with me about the Old Law Courts Building, and he did not disappoint. We sat at one of the original carved wooden tables in the Library, and he told me all about the last 40 years at the Law Courts.

Continued in part 3…

Part 1