Monday, September 2, 2013

Siege at the Carnegie

I snagged this photo from an entry on the SFU (Simon Fraser University) site. It was taken in 1902.
At the corner of Main and Hastings stands a fine old building known as Carnegie Centre. In 1901, the City of Vancouver approached American industrial magnate, Andrew Carnegie, for a grant to build a library. Carnegie agreed to put up $50,000 on the condition that the city supply the land and pay $5,000 a year in upkeep. The City of Vancouver agreed, choosing a plot of land that was beside City Hall at the time, and the Carnegie Library opened in 1903. 

In 1905, the Vancouver Museum occupied the top floor. In 1929, the library expanded into the now vacant city hall next door. (The City Hall building had been in that spot since 1889. In 1929, City Hall moved to the Holden Building on Hastings Street.)

I like this stylized image of the centre and City Hall. The building that once housed city hall is no longer there.

This is a photo of the city hall in the forefront and Carnegie Library in the back. It is from the Vancouver Public Library collection and Philip Timms took it in 1904.

In 1935, on May 28 to be exact, 250 young men stormed the Carnegie Library and politely asked the staff to leave. They then took residence on the third floor, waving and yelling to supporters on the ground. 

These young men were from the relief camps that were set up around the country in an effort by Prime Minister R. W. Bennett to do something to help the unemployed in the thirties. Single, unemployed young men would be shipped off to these camps set up in the middle of nowhere to do such things as digging ditches. Then the ditches would be filled back in and redug. 

I have to admit though that it wasn't that big of a siege. It lasted about eight hours and ended when the city promised a bit of cash for every man and promised not to press charges.
Another photo by Philip Timms. This one was taken in 1910.

This is a 1920 photo of the interior of Carnegie Library. It was taken by Leonard Frank.
A group of men reading papers in the Carnegie Library. It was taken in 1937.

A 1932 photo by Philip Timms that shows the foyer and circulation desk.

The takeover of the Carnegie Library may not have been that drastic but it is said to have led to the 'On To Ottawa' trek. In this protest, hundreds of strikers boarded railway freight cars headed for Ottawa. The men wanted to force the government to shut down the relief camps. However, the men with a mission were stopped by the RCMP in Regina.

Their message did reach the prime minister in Ottawa and the camps were shut down by the newly elected Liberal government later that year.

The library moved in the fifties and the Carnegie fell into a state of disrepair. But in the late seventies, early eighties, this sandstone building was rehabilitated by the city and has since become a meeting place for the disadvantaged people in the area.

Philip Timms took this photo of the spiral staircase in 1932. I have been in the Carnegie Centre and this staircase is still impressive. In fact, there is a scene in Missing Flowers where I describe the staircase and Carnegie Centre.

Another 1932 photo by Philip Timms. This shot shows the stained glass windows on one of the landings.

There are many people living on welfare and complaining that they don't have enough money to survive. I walk through this area and I see the people smoking cigarettes, smoking pot and some are drunk. They have money for that but not for the important things in life.

These people demonstrate outside of expensive restaurants in the area, protesting the gentrification of the area. They forget that it is businesses such as this and the patrons who supply the money to pay for the welfare and the social housing and the rehab clinics etc. I see that these poverty stricken people can still afford their vices and I think of when people who were poor in this country were really poor. I do have a few photos from 1935-1939 that illustrate my point.

These people didn't have welfare to fall back on. They had to make do with what they could. Kind of makes claims of poverty because a person can't afford all the television channels or a new car or a new cell phone seem really foolish, doesn't it?

Thanks to The Tyee for the information on the siege at Carnegie Public Library and to for information on the history of the Carnegie Centre. And, of course, thanks to the Vancouver Public library for some of the photos shown here. The 1935 to 1939 photos are compliments of a friend of my mother's.

Happy Labour Day and I hope you find the beauty around you.

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  1. When welfare was introduced it was so that those out of work could at least feed their families because there was very little work. Today that has turned into a multi-generational style of life. The only way to correct it is to take it away. A government program that encourages people to do nothing will create people who do nothing. Should be a time limit on how long you can use official funds before you don't get them anymore or get rid of it altogether.

    1. We have a few organizations here that are trying to get the government to raise the welfare payments. I think what should happen is that instead of raising the payments, invest in training people to get into the work force and maybe allow them to make more money while getting back on their feet. And more intensive rehab programs for those who are addicted but I agree with putting time limits on how long benefits last. And help the disabled more but the problem is also that drug addicts are listed as disabled. Thanks for commenting Lee.

  2. We put a time limit on welfare but it doesn't apply to illegals. We have tried to educate those on welfare and even established an incentive program for industries that hire our newly educated worker. It never fails they can't keep a job. We have people here who are lobbying for drug testing before any moneys are extended. Problem is then you create another type of problem thieves. The drug problem here is out of control and the attitude is "to bad so sad" they got themselves into let them get themselves out of it. Troubles are around the world. We need to find a program that works and all of us use it.

    1. I wish I had all the answers Lee. Then I would be a rich woman! LOL