OLD NEWS: This week in Saanich history – March 2-8

The News’ weekly historical feature looks at a 1989 fire that destroyed the Nellie McClung library in Saanich

Staff from the Greater Victoria Public Library were frantically moving books into a temporary space on Garnet Road this week in 1990, in preparation for the opening of ‘Little Nell’.

The Nellie McClung branch of the GVPL was destroyed by fire on Dec. 3, 1989, leaving a noticeable hole in the community. So the library set up a small, makeshift location a few blocks away – with no chairs, tables, study space or newspapers section – to fill that void until a replacement could be built.

“I think people in the neighbourhood will be very glad to see their local library back,” then-GVPL chief librarian Lee Teal said in the March 7, 1990 issue of the Saanich/Gordon Head News. The temporary branch held about 30,000 books, roughly the same amount that is housed at the newly opened Emily Carr branch.

The cause of the fire, which destroyed 45,000 books, was never determined.

“They considered many different things but there wasn’t anything to substantiate the cause or what actually caused the fire. It’s not usual, given the amount of damage that had been sustained in the fire,” said Assistant Chief Rich Pala, who last week retrieved the fire investigation report, filed in January 1990. “They’ve identified the area of origin being in the circulation desk area, but they don’t have the point of origin. Without that, you can’t conclusively state what the heat source was.”

The Nellie McClung library, as it is known today, reopened in August 1991.

Alyssa Polinsky, director of communications and community development for GVPL, says in December 2013 the current Nellie McClung branch was identified as being a top upgrade priority.

“It’s got a growing number of users, it’s one of our busiest branches, the space that we have there isn’t configured for that many people or the way people use the library anymore,” she said.

Despite being nearly a quarter-century old, it’s suffering from similar issues that plagued the former Emily Carr branch, which was 41 when it was replaced in January.

Polinsky says the current Nellie McClung branch isn’t equipped with enough space for computers, meeting areas or power outlets where library users can plug in their laptops and portable electronics.

The District of Saanich owns the building and provides the space for the GVPL to use.

editor@saanichnews.com

••••••

In other news this week…

• 1992 – A $10-million expansion of Claremont secondary school gets the OK from the Ministry of Education. The school was originally built to hold 600 students, but enrolment had ballooned to more than 800 in the 1991-92 school year – and required nine portables to accommodate those bodies. Today the school houses 1,210 students – with zero portables, and principal Bruce Frith says there is currently no need to expand.

• 1999 – Victoria Salsa owner Mark Wagstaff proposes an idea to build a new 6,000-seat arena for the hockey team at Saanich’s public works yard. While Mayor Frank Leonard said the door was open for discussion, the idea didn’t fit in with Saanich’s recreation guidelines. In 2006 the Salsa were renamed the Grizzlies. The team now plays out of 100.3 The Q Centre in Colwood.

2002 – Saanich council agrees to kick in $1.82-million over 10 years to help replace Victoria’s Memorial Arena. Victoria would, in exchange, provide space for the Greater Victoria Sports Hall of Fame and PacificSport, both of which were based out of Saanich Commonwealth Place at the time.

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