FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. – The Fort St. John Library opened its doors to residents on March 26th, 1951, over a year after its official incorporation into the Public Libraries Act of British Columbia.
A committee led by resident Marguerite Davies, sponsored by the Fort St. John Parent-Teacher Association and encouraged by the Royal Canadian Legion was formed to set up the library in the community in March of 1950.
The library received its first grant from the Village of Fort St. John, which was then matched by the Public Libraries Commission in Victoria.
At the time of its opening, the library was serving the community of 1600 residents out of an 8ft by 10ft cloakroom at the Elks Hall.
It had an inventory of 639 books, 500 of which were collected by Cadets canvassing the community for book donations. Hours were 7:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday nights and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The library joined the Peace River Library Cooperative, later known as the Peace River Associated Libraries, in October 1952, which allowed the exchange of books between libraries in FSJ, Tom’s Lake, Dawson Creek, and Pouce Coupe.
To serve rural communities and deliver books to the libraries and schools, the PRAL ran a van service from the 1950s to the 1980s.
In his book titled “Book Guy: A Librarian in the Peace”, Howard Overend describes selecting books for this service.
“I used to push a book truck up and down the aisles between the green metal stacks in the Peace River Branch, choosing titles to be packed into plywood boxes,” Overend said.
“I would take [the van] to each library, where at a scheduled time, usually in the evening, local people would come to look through the boxes and choose their quota of fiction, non-fiction, and children’s books.”
Residents of the Peace recalled these memories fondly, commenting on a social media post from the North Peace Museum.
“One of the many fond memories of Attachie School was the library van,” one commenter wrote.
“Remember how fun it was when the [van] came to North Pine!” another said.
In December of 1955, the library moved from the cloakroom to a 16 by 20-foot skid adjacent to the Elks Hall. It was then given a space in the new provincial government building in 1957.
In 1975, the library celebrated its 25th anniversary and Peace River Associated Libraries grew to include FSJ, Fort Nelson, Dawson Creek, Chetwynd, Hudson’s Hope, Pouce Coupe, and Cassiar, which allowed for a wider selection of books.
In 1981, the Friends of the Library group was formed to assist the library in improving, promoting and expanding services, one year after a regional referendum to construct a library/theatre complex failed.
The library moved again in 1984 to an Overwaitea complex on 100th street before moving to its current location at the North Peace Cultural Centre in 1992.
Today, the library continues to support the community, offering many services such as computer literacy programs, summer reading clubs, and activities for children and teens.
It will celebrate its 75th anniversary in March, 2025.
With files from North Peace Museum and The Northerner.