Community makes the library

By Bessie Sullivan

Published July 28 2016

We knew when it was built that it was special. How could it not be when it took so much collaboration to make it happen? The old Wilberforce library branch could not be made accessible so the Municipality of Highlands East wanted a new branch. The Haliburton County Public Library wanted a new branch because the old one according to provincial guidelines was too small.

Enter Fleming College which could build an interesting building using students in their Sustainable Building Design and Construction Program at an affordable cost to the municipality. Pat Marcotte who owns HavenCraft Designs in Bancroft was an instructor with the program and designed the building.

An enthusiastic group of fundraisers called the Library Launchers began planning almost right away to raise funds for shelving and furniture of the branch. This was in the fall of 2012. The building was built the funds were raised and the library branch opened in the spring of 2014. Fast forward to this month and the building has won a library architecture award. Many of the award jury comments revolved around the notion of community and how the drive of several organizations with limited resources has resulted in a well-loved community hub.

I came to this community in 2009 for a job. I believed that it would be a stepping stone for me; I’d stay for a few years get some experience and move onto a bigger library system. That was my thinking before I arrived. I figured I’d have trouble making friends knowing it was a close knit community and people were already set in their relationships. I didn’t know how my children or husband would adjust. Now more than seven years later I and they are deeply entrenched. We have all made wonderful friends here. I feel like the Wilberforce branch represents everything good about Haliburton County and everything I have grown to love.

Recently my father-in-law died and neither my husband nor I said much about it other than to our workplaces and closest friends. Through the community grapevine we were inundated with offers of support. My father-in-law isn’t even local he lived in Cornwall. We had a friend offer to come feed our cats while we were away.

Another friend knowing that our son was in the Highland Summer Festival’s production of Oliver and had to come back right after the funeral for a dress rehearsal volunteered to meet us halfway so the rest of the family could stay in Cornwall. Besides these things we were sent or hand delivered many cards of condolences and messages of support. The whole experience made us feel valued and cared for by our community. This is not the first crisis that the people of Haliburton have gotten me through and probably not the last.

The Wilberforce branch was one of five out of 14 submissions to win an award. It was honoured along with two branches of the Toronto Public Library Centennial College and Ryerson University. It was clear that our project stood out as it was the smallest the cheapest and the only one not in a city. It won because it exemplified the three criteria of the award: societal advancement technical advancement and environmental advancement.

That our library was able to triumph amongst such stiff competition is a testament of the unique nature of the people of Haliburton County who habitually come together and create something out of nothing in the most impressive ways.