“It’s been here for 100 years, and it will be here 100 more. Just like the law.” – Martin Jandavs, Facility Manager, Law Courts Building Complex
During his tenure as Facility Manager, Martin Jandavs has seen the Great Library and the Old Law Courts Building through some of its biggest changes. I was initially curious about the period of renovation in the 1980s when Library staff were working from a temporary office in the new Law Courts Building at 408 York. The renovations were extensive and resulted in significant architectural changes to the building.
In the library, the staircase leading up to the second floor was added during the renovation in the 1980s. Prior to this, the spiral staircase on the far side of the Great Library was the only staircase and passed through to the floors below. There used to be two old clocks on either side of the mezzanine overlooking the main floor. When the new staircase was installed the second clock was removed and placed in the attic (accessible through the library archives room), where it remains. The building has been refitted for electrical, plumbing, and computer/technology infrastructure. As Martin said to me, it’s a solid building but it has changed.
By way of example, the Government of Manitoba used to operate its own workshop and renovations department. The department employed in-house plumbers, carpenters, and electricians. The workshop, referred to as the “Vine” location, was located at Vine Street and Whyte Avenue in the Weston neighborhood. When the renovations on the Great Library began in 1985, all of the furniture was labelled and brought to the workshop to be refinished. The labelling system was used to ensure that the furniture returned to its proper location, and the burgundy leather chairs in the library still have their labels.
Martin told me about two Hungarian carpenters, “real craftsmen”, who worked on the big round table in the Great Library. The table wouldn’t fit through the library entrance and so it had to be cut in half to be removed from the building. The two carpenters refurbished it, sanding it down and refinishing the wood. I hadn’t realized that the round top of the table was designed to rotate, a feature preserved by the carpenters.
We talked about the trend towards employing contract labour and the eventual shuttering of the Vine Street workshop. About how the history of a building can be lost when contract work replaces permanent staff. Those craftsmen, who knew these buildings inside and out because they had worked here for 30, 40 years, they were like a living historical record. I told Martin about how I felt similarly about the print documents from the library being replaced by digital documents. It’s easier to lose some of the historical record because of the ephemerality of the digital documents. Martin told me how he used to get out the big technical drawings of the building to use for reference because he preferred them, as opposed to the version on his computer. He is also a fan of the giant 1957 Canadian atlas just inside the front entrance of the library.
I asked him what he thought people would be surprised to know about the building, and he spoke about his staff that keep the building looking so great. Having a dedicated staff working behind the scenes who have specialized knowledge of the building and pay attention to the details are an important part of what makes the building so special. These details we might take for granted – the polish of the custom furniture, the emptying of my trash can every night. And just like the people who keep the building alive, the building animates the people that inhabit it.
In a sense, the Law Courts Building is a living thing. It literally contracts and expands with the weather, it houses all of the constituent parts and people that bring it alive, and has gone through periods of renewal and decay. Similarly, the law is a living thing – it responds to changes in our environment, it expands and evolves, and it also undergoes stages of decay and rebirth. As David R. Johnson says, “The law is an organism rather than a mechanism. It is alive.”
The life of the Great Library and the Law Courts Building is far from over, indeed it may still only be in its youth. My season at the library is coming to a close, but I take the knowledge I gained here with me. In my own small way, I take a piece of the library with me and a piece of its history.
I’m grateful to have been able to come to work here every day and to have gotten to know the building a little bit better. And I’m also now a part of its living history.
“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.
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.
[Editor’s note: John Bryans is a co-op student, completing his MLIS from Western University in August 2022. This is his final assignment at the Great Library.]
“[…] a lawyer, to be able to function competently, requires more than education: he requires books.” (Cameron Harvey – The Law Society of Manitoba 1877-1977)
Without question, the Old Law Courts building makes a statement. An imposing stone edifice, it evokes strength, rationality, solemnity. We have the feeling of being small within it. With its hidden alcoves and rooms that feel tucked away, the building embodies the at times abstruse nature of the law for those who are not familiar with its intricacies.
The Great Library though, is a soaring room. Designed to house all legal information, it suggests the expansive nature of jurisprudence and the vastness of legal knowledge. It was designed with practicality in mind, in that it could house all of the library’s legal textbooks and reporting series. But it was also designed to encourage study, to impress on visitors the gravity of a learned legal mind.
When I first met with Director of Legal Resources, Karen Sawatzky, at the Manitoba Law Library to discuss a co-op position as part of my Master of Library and Information Science program at Western, the building was the first thing that struck me. Despite being raised in Winnipeg, I had only set foot in the Old Law Courts building when I was very young, and never the Great Library. Seeing it for the first time, I was of course taken by its impressive beauty. The sky blue and gilt ceiling, the classical columns that line the room, the stately furniture. The room has personality.
Halfway into my semester at the Library, Karen shared with me some old paper documents from the library – old budget documents, minutes from meetings, and year-end reports. One of the reports, from 1987, talked about the reopening of the library after the major renovations to the Old Law Courts Building (in conjunction with the opening of the New Law Courts Building on York). Staff had been working in temporary offices and were relieved to be coming back to the Great Library. One of the final tasks in the renovation was covering the Library’s original metal shelving (still there to this day) using an electrostatic coating process that was described as “tortuously slow” in the report. Funny how time passes so slowly and so quickly.
Reading those old library documents made me think of all of the changes that have happened to the Great Library (and the Law Courts complex) over the years. Not long after staff moved back into the building, a technological revolution started with the introduction of a computer room in 1989. In 1990, the focus of special projects in the library was computerization, with the Manitoba Unreported Judgments project ensuring that each judgment rendered from 1978 onward was re-analyzed, coded, and entered into an online database. The end of the 20th century ushered in massive changes to the world, and the Great Library was swept up in the march of progress. But as Karen pointed out to me on that first visit I made to the Library, the printed word has not yet been made obsolete.
The library, too, continues to have new life breathed into it. The Old Law Courts Building has undergone many renaissances during its relatively short life, and the Great Library has played an important part in that.
In the next two installments of this three part series, I’ll take you on a tour of the history of the Manitoba Law Library and the Old Law Courts Building, and end with a conversation I had with facilities manager Martin Jandavs, about the renovations in the 1980s. I hope you’ll join me.
Last month I had the pleasure of getting a tour of the Legislative Library of Manitoba from Member’s Services Librarian, Mirabelle Boily-Bernal. The Legislative Library is the oldest library in Manitoba, whose mandate is to serve the citizens of Manitoba by preserving the published history of our province, support the conduct of public affairs and foster the development of a well-informed society by providing access to specialized information resources.
The Legislative Library has two locations – a Reading Room located in Room 260 of the Legislative Building of Manitoba, and the other located in the Manitoba Archives Building at 200 Vaughan Street. I visited the Vaughan Street location, just around the corner from the Law Courts Building.
Aside from being a fascinating and beautiful historical building (the Library’s foyer space in the Archives Building was the original site of the Winnipeg Art Gallery), it is also an incredible resource for historical Manitoba Government documents. While the Manitoba Law Library has our own collection of government documents to support our members, the Legislative Library’s collection offers an excellent supplementary resource.
One of the resources our members might be interested in is the library’s Hansard collection (also known as Debates and Proceedings). Hansard is a written record of debates in the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba (see our guide to searching Hansard here). Before being published by the provincial government in 1958, the debates were summarized in local newspapers and collected by librarians in “Hansard Scrapbooks”. The library has a collection of legislative reporting in early Manitoba newspapers dating back to the 1st Parliament, 4th session, 1873-1874!
The library also houses municipal government documents, including the City of Winnipeg by-laws and City Council Minutes.
For those of us who long for the days of old school library technology, I’m happy to report that microfilm is alive and well at the Legislative Library. The library has an extensive collection of Manitoba newspapers on microfilm (dating back to 1859) that continue to be well used given the delicate nature of newsprint.
Our members might also be interested in the Digital Collection of Manitoba Government Publications, a digital collection of published Manitoba government documents dating back to the early 2000s. The collection includes reports of Inquiry Commissions and Task Forces, Departmental Studies, Annual Reports, and Financial Publications. Much of this collection has been converted using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) software, meaning that many documents have searchable text.
The Digital Collection is currently undergoing maintenance but copies can be retrieved by contacting the Legislative Library at 204-945-4330 or email@example.com.
Finally, I had the opportunity to see the library’s rare book collection, which is housed in a climate controlled room that helps to preserve the books. The rare book collection includes 350 volumes (including law books) that were part of the Red River Library that served the Selkirk Settlers, as well as a bible belonging to Chief Peguis!
The Legislative Library of Manitoba’s two locations (the Library and the Reading Room) are open to Members and staff of the Legislative Assembly, to government employees, and to the public.
The Manitoba Law Library would like to acknowledge with gratitude that we are situated on Treaty One Territory, the traditional lands of the Anishinaabe, Cree and Dakota peoples, and the homeland of the Métis Nation.
Printing and Photocopying
If you need to use the library’s printing and photocopying services you will need to create an account. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.