Exterior of Carnegie Library in the 20s

History of WPL

Learn about the history of Waterloo Public Library from our start as a Mechanics’ Institute all the way to the library system we are today.

An Introduction to Libraries in Ontario

During the 18th century, due to the improvements made in printing methods, books had become more readily available. The first recorded library in Ontario was that of Newark (now Niagara-on-the-Lake) which was established in June 1800. It was a subscription library with an annual fee of $4.00 which, at that time, was a lot of money.

By the 1830’s, what were known as Mechanics’ Institutes were being formed in places such as Kingston and Toronto. These became broader in mandate than the earlier subscription libraries, and “were intended to provide their members – ‘mechanics and workingmen’ – with lectures, classes, reading rooms, and lending libraries.”


Old Waterloo Public Library due date card from the 1980s

History of WPL

In 1876, the Waterloo Public Library started with a simple table of books in the Town Hall and a dream to grow. The first dedicated library building was erected with the help of a Carnegie grant in 1905. Over 140 years later, WPL is still growing with four locations and more resources than ever.

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