After more than twenty months of renovations that saw the building completely gutted, the S. Walter Stewart branch of the Toronto Public Library is finally reopening tomorrow. If you grew up in East York, you’re probably familiar with the building. Named after a long-serving member of the East York Public Library Board and now part of the amalgamated Toronto Public Library, S. Walter Stewart was originally opened in 1960 as the Borough of East York’s main library. The building has two main claims to fame: it is the only circular library branch in the TPL (and one of few in the world, at least two of which are in Canada including the Library of Parliament in Ottawa and the Vancouver Central Library on Caprica), and it’s home to an important collection of sixteen A.Y. Jackson paintings on permanent loan from the East York Foundation.
Originally compared to a flying saucer when it was constructed in the age of Sputnik and Roswell, the landmark building remains circular, but now sports an expanded and more accessible glass-sheathed entrance that bulges off the old wall on the eastern side. The roof has gained a raised centre section ringed with windows, allowing plenty of natural light into the interior. The extra room created by the reno has also allowed the library to double the number of available public computers, add a café and other modern amenities, and expand the space available for a computer learning centre, quiet study, and literacy programs. The kids area in the basement has been enlarged and is now called KidsStop, a “literacy-rich interactive centre” (read: library), with an entrance marked by flashing lights beckoning kids to the large rocket inside. Okay, maybe it’s not exactly like the libraries of our youth. Oh, and of course the library will have books—there’s room for 20,000 more of them now, along with magazines, CDs, and DVDs. Perhaps most importantly, the branch will also feature wireless Internet access that’s slowly being rolled out across the entire system.
The re-opening is being celebrated with events spread over the next week, beginning with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday morning at 11:45 a.m., complete with refreshments and live entertainment. KidsStop will host special storytelling sessions on Saturday, May 31 at 10:30 a.m., 2:00 p.m., and 3:30 p.m. And next Thursday, June 5, at 7:00 p.m., the library will host an Art Lovers’ Evening, with assistant curator Chris Finn of the McMichael Canadian Art Collection giving a presentation called “A.Y. Jackson and Carl Schaefer: Capturing the Spirit of the Land.”
Top photo by Dona Acheson, Toronto Public Library. Architectural rendering by Phillip H. Carter.