Library History

Below you will find a history of libraries in Cape Breton, now spanning many decades, and the growth and changes alongside the communities they serve.


The “Act to Provide for the Support of Regional Libraries” is passed on April 17th in the Provincial Legislature.

In Nora Bateson’s “Library Survey of Nova Scotia” three public libraries are identified in Cape Breton: Sydney Public Library, Baddeck Public Library and the People’s Library, Reserve Mines. The report identifies Cape Breton as a special area for service.


Glace Bay begins efforts to establish a Public Library.

New Waterford opens their Public Library.
Father J.J. Tompkins advocates that New Waterford, Glace Bay, and Sydney work together to establish a Public Library.

The Town of Dominion, New Waterford Credit Union Limited and the Town of Glace Bay resolve to endorse Cape Breton Regional Library.

Approximately 20 organizations in industrial Cape Breton voice support for establishing a Regional Library System for Cape Breton.


During this decade a lot of work was carried out to develop the CBRL system. The latter part of the 1950’s saw the popularity of television increase dramatically and those in the library field held their collective breath, wondering what impact this new technology would have on the reading habits of the population.

Miss Ruby Wallace arrives from Ontario to become Chief Librarian for the newly established Regional System. On August 31 the Cape Breton Regional Library Headquarters and Sydney Branch Library are officially opened. In the same year library branches are opened in Dominion, Glace Bay, Louisbourg, New Waterford, North Sydney and the Cape Breton County Bookmobile.

Regional Library Branches are opened in Donkin, Florence, and Reserve Mines.
The total book collection for the region is 21,994. Total circulation for the year is 186,900. Membership is 18,779. Total population of the municipalities served is 111,468.

Book stock increases to 49,148 with a total of 234,814 circulation in nine branches and the bookmobile. In the words of Regional Librarian Ruby Wallace, “Library service in Cape Breton County has become part of the life of the people.”

The Baddeck Library and the new Victoria County Bookmobile become part of the Cape Breton Regional Library System when Victoria County is added to the municipalities served.

Fire destroys the Court House which houses the Sydney Public Library and the Headquarters of the CBRL. Upwards of 80,000 books are destroyed including the prized Almon and McLennan collections and many other valuable books.


Over the next ten years the circulation of books and materials would fluctuate, with increases shown some years, decreases in others, but generally as book stock increased more residents took advantage of the facilities; not only to borrow but to do research for school and college courses.

The Region celebrates its tenth anniversary.
The James McConnell Memorial Library, the new Sydney branch, is officially opened on May 30.
Circulation for the year is 334,718.

Regional Librarian Ruby Wallace serves as President of the Canadian Library Association.

Main-A-Dieu Public Library begins operations in May.
The 1970’s heralded a decade of rapid change in the library region. Book stock increased, additional professional staff were hired, and plans were underway for improved facilities to serve the public. The Library was beset by inflation and an effort to maintain the standard of service built up over the years was oft-times a struggle.

Miss Mary Fraser becomes Regional Librarian. Her keen interest in local history and her encyclopedic knowledge of these events will help to establish and grow the Nova Scotia Collection at the McConnell Library over the coming years. The collection will come to be used by many people, both scholars and amateur history buffs to increase their knowledge and understanding of our most colourful area.

The Martha Hollett Memorial Library opens in Sydney Mines.

Book stock reaches 145,416, with a region wide circulation of 324,352.


Rapid changes and technological progress continued into the 1980’s. There was demand for more varied services and improved facilities in which to provide these services. Planning began for the leap into the world of computers, and it was soon found that they were indispensable to library operations. There was strong emphasis on the development of library programs throughout this decade.

A statement of Intellectual Freedom is approved for the Region.

Miss Mary Fraser retires after a long and distinguished career with the Cape Breton Regional Library. Mr. Ian MacIntosh becomes the Regional Librarian. He will lead the region through many changes over the coming years.

Bookmobile service is added to schools in Cape Breton County due to funding cutbacks.

A twinning agreement with the Highland Regional Library, Inverness, Scotland, is signed.

The New Waterford Library is moved to the Urban Centre and its hours of service are doubled.

The Wilfred Oram Centennial Library opens in North Sydney.
Ground is broken for the expansion of the James McConnell Memorial Library.

An expansion to the James McConnell Memorial Library includes a new children’s wing on the upper level and Regional Library office space on the lower level is completed. The Cape Breton County bookmobile will also use this site as its base.
Active membership is 28,739 and book stock reaches 167,010.
A new funding formula for Nova Scotia Regional Libraries is instituted. The Cape Breton Regional Library is a major beneficiary under this new fiscal system.
The Region is issued a tax exemption number allowing us to issue receipts for taxation purposes to donors.
Inter-Library loans to other regions in Canada total 1,214 for the year.

The region purchases its first computer.

The region commences lending videocassettes.
A comprehensive employee benefits package is started. The Great West Life Assurance Company is the firm selected to offer this benefit.
An Occupational Health and Safety Committee is formed.


The mid 1990’s witnessed a steady increase in membership statistics, as well as increases in the circulation of materials. The most recent economic downturn, and the resulting out migration of young families, impacted the library, and by the year 1997 circulation statistics were declining. However, the actual number of people visiting the Library increased, attributed to the further development of library programmes.
New technologies had a huge impact on library services. Throughout this decade most library card catalogue records were converted to MARC format in preparation for the launch of the online catalogue. A newly designed barcoded library card was issued in advance of implementing online circulation.

The Glace Bay Library moves to a new location on Union Street.

Victoria North Regional Branch Library officially opens on March 5 in Ingonish.
NCompasS, the province-wide online catalogue become available in Headquarters in 1993. By the end of the 1990’s all Branch Libraries (with the exception of the Bookmobiles) are using the online catalogue system instead of the card catalogue to search library holdings. The Regional Headquarters is connected to the Internet for the first time.

The Region reaches its highest ever annual circulation of 490,634 items.
A bookdrop fire causes damage to the Nova Scotia Historical Collection in Sydney.

The Glace Bay Library sees further expansion of its facilities.
A new funding formula requires Library regions, for the first time, to raise at least 3% of their operating budget.
An Internet Acceptable Use Policy is instituted.

Cape Breton Regional Library offers free public access to the World Wide Web.

The automation process to create a computerized circulation system is begun. This was finalized in January of 2004.

The McLennans of Petersfield website is launched. Designed and created by Regional Library staff, the site traces the history of one of Cape Breton’s prominent 20th century families.

The first annual Library Card Month is held, resulting in 1359 new library card holders region wide.
A Memorandum of Understanding to increase cooperation is signed with the Cape Breton University Library.
The Library participates in the annual Celtic Colours Festival. This will become an annual tradition.


Technology continued to allow the Library to extend services to residents. Further development of the variety of prgrammes offered through Library Branches brought more people in to attend events.

Cape Breton Regional Library is 50 years proud. Open houses were held at all 13 Cape Breton Regional Library Branches. The motto for the 50th Anniversary is “Your Bridge to the Future”, representing the Regional Library’s continuing commitment to provide for the informational, recreational, and cultural needs of the community it serves.
The Gates Computer Lab is officially opened in the basement of the McConnell Library in December.
A joint online catalogue (Leugh Seo) of Gaelic language materials is developed in partnership with the University College of Cape Breton Library.
LibraryNet division of Industry Canada selects CBRL as one of six Canadian Libraries to receive their Best Practices 2000 designation for innovative use in creating new content for the Internet.
Weekly hours of services are increased at branches in Glace Bay, Ingonish, Florence and Reserve Mines.

Board Chairman Rod MacArthur receives the 2001 Library Boards Association of Nova Scotia Merit Award.
The online circulation system (Multilis) is introduced at the Glace Bay and Sydney libraries. Throughout the year North Sydney, Sydney Mines, Florence, Dominion, Reserve Mines and New Waterford begin using the new system.
The Cape Breton County Bookmobile begins using cellular technology to connect to the library database.
The Region hosts the 2001 Nova Scotia Library Association Conference at the North Star Inn, North Sydney.
Fire at the Florence Library (July 28) results in extensive damage and forces the temporary closure of the Branch. The fire was set by vandals.
Audiobook service is instituted at the McConnell Library, Sydney.
For the second year in a row the Library receives an Industry Canada LibraryNet Award for innovation in the use of Internet in Libraries.

The Florence Library reopens in new quarters on November 5. A new Cape Breton County Bookmobile enters into service in December.
A GED training programme operating out of the Gates Computer Lab in Sydney has so many applicants that a waiting list needs to be established.
A new website design is launched.
At McConnell Library, 2002/03 is the second busiest year ever in terms of book circulated.

After 22 years of service to the Region, Mr. Ian MacIntosh steps down from position of Regional Librarian, December 2003. He assumes the role of Deputy Regional Librarian/Collection Librarian.

Victoria County Bookmobile begins using online circulation in January, using a wireless Internet connection.
Ms. Faye MacDougall is appointed Regional Librarian, effective January.
Memorandum of Understanding between CBRL & the University College of Cape Breton is renewed for another five years, effective January 1, 2004.
The Main-a-Dieu Library is relocated to the Main-a-Dieu Coastal Discovery Centre.

The Library transitions to a new integrated Library system (SIRSI) in October. New features include a web-based library catalogue through which patrons can place holds and renew books from home.
A generous $22,000 donation by the New Waterford Rotary Club allows for significant renovation and expansion of the New Waterford Library. Additional support is received through CBRM and the Miner’s Memorial Society. Official opening is held July 21.
Wireless internet service is made available to seven branch locations.
McConnell Library hosts the 10th anniversary celebrations of the Community Access Programmes in January. Guest speaker is Paul Patterson, an original founder of the Cape Breton Freenet Society.
The Baddeck Public Library is featured in the Canadian Library Association publication, Feliciter, as part of a series on small libraries in Canada.

A Cape Breton Regional Library Newsletter is introduced.
A revised website is launched in October.
DVD collections are now held by all Library Branches. Audiobook collections are held at a number of branches.

Friends of McConnell Library is formed in January. The group begins holding official meetings in September.
The Baddeck Public Library offers its first Toddler Time Programme in March.
The spirit of the twinning between Highland Regional Libraries, Scotland, and CBRL continues.
The removal of the old card catalogue at the Headquarters office signifies the end of an era. The Library auctions off four of the cabinets and donates two to the Beaton Institute.
The Library continues to face serious space issues at most Branches and Headquarters. At McConnell Library, which houses the Regional Storage Collection, the situation is particularly concerning.

The Victoria County Bookmobile celebrates 50 years of service.

More than 50,000 holds are placed on Library materials during the year, setting a new record.
A community committee established to work towards a new central Library is formed by Dr. Robert Morgan and Mr. Ronald Caplan.
The Library Region receives the CLA/OCLC Canada Award for Resource Sharing Achievement at the annual Canadian Library Association Conference.


The Cape Breton Regional Library celebrates 60 years of service. Special events include Patron Appreciation Days, a 60th Anniversary Puppet Show and a “Turning Leaves Festival”, held in October.
Downloadable eBook and eAudiobook service (Overdrive) become available in July.
A number of newspapers held in the CBRL collection are digitized as part of a province-wide Newspaper Digitization project. The project is official launched in April.
Book Clubs are popular at several Library Branches.
A new Victoria County Bookmobile, featuring a new design, is put into service in the Spring.

The Wilfred Oram Centennial Library is relocated to the new North Sydney Heritage and Culture Centre in January. The building arrangement is unique in that the North Sydney Historical Museum and Library share a floor with a recessed door that allows easy access to both facilities when they are open.
A province-wide initiative, Borrow Anywhere, Return Anywhere, is launched.
A part-time Programmes & Outreach Assistant is hired in February to expand to delivery of programmes throughout the Region.
Library staff member Chris Thomson receives the 2011 Walmart Adopt-a-Library Literacy Award.
McConnell Library staff members Bev McGee and Janet Gillis receive a “Caring at Work” Award given in recognition of their contributions to early childhood learning.
Ken Chisholm is appointed CBRL’s first Storyteller-in-Residence, effective July 1.
Items in the Melvin S. Huntington collection, held at the W.W. Lewis Memorial Library, are catalogued as part of the Nova Scotia Collection.
CBRL hosts the annual Nova Scotia Library Association/Library Boards Association of Nova Scotia Conference in September.
Board Chair Claire Detheridge is the recipient of the Library Boards Association of Nova Scotia Honorary Membership Award, recognizing outstanding leadership in the advancement of public library trusteeship and public service in Nova Scotia.
Cape Breton Regional Municipality contracts Trifos Design Consultants, in partnership with dmA Planning & Management Services, to carry out a Feasibility Study on the James McConnell Memorial Library. Results are presented early 2012.

AEDs are now available at seven Branch locations.
In partnership with Mi’kmaw Kina’matnewey a pilot partnership project, Library in the Classroom, is launched.
In partnership with Cape Breton University, a small popular reading collection provided by CBRL is made available at the CBU Library.
A province-wide partnership with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation is launched at the McConnell Library in September. Sets of books are placed in Library Regions across the Province.
Renovations to the W.W. Lewis Memorial Library take place in Summer/Fall.
The Donkin Library closes due to a building concern. The Board examines possible solutions and options.
The Victoria North Regional Public Library celebrates its 20th Anniversary in March.
Emphasis on the development of literacy and learning-based programmes continues. Many unique and popular programmes are offered across the Region. More than 17,800 people attend library programmes this year. Library membership is 25,466.

A new Cape Breton County Bookmobile was put into service in the Fall. The new design proves popular.
The W.W. Lewis Memorial Library, Louisbourg, celebrates 50 years of service at the present site.
The digital project Through Her Eyes, about the life of Katharine McLennan, is launched in partnership with the Beaton Institute, Fortress of Louisbourg Volunteer Association and Parks Canada, and receives the 2014 Phyllis Blakeley Award for Archival Excellence.
The Melvin S. Huntington Diaries digital project is launched at the Louisbourg Playhouse in October.

Ronald Labelle is appointed CBRL’s second Storyteller-in-Residence, effective July.

The building in which the New Waterford Library is housed receives extensive renovations and an interior refresh. At the official opening held in June the programme room is renamed the “Blair Brewer Community Room”.
A Sydney Public Library Feasibility Study is undertaken to determine the needs of a new central library facility.
23,107 people attend library programmes offered through Library Branches in 2015/16. Programme rooms across the region are booked a total of 506 times by community groups, an increase of 27% over the previous year.