The history of the public library in Prince Albert can be traced back to the 1800s. A Penny Readings Society formed in 1879 and later transformed to become the Prince Albert Mechanics’ and Literary Institute in 1897. In 1909, the Mechanics’ Institute had secured a building and was located at 17 River Avenue East and boasted of a 1288 volume collection.
The Prince Albert Public Library took over the assets and collections of the Mechanics’ Institute in 1912 and, on September 10th, 1913, the City of Prince Albert passed By-law No. 44 which formally established the public library in the city. Also in 1913, the library moved locations and occupied 1311 Central Avenue on the second floor of the Knights of Columbus Block.
In 1914, the library was located upstairs within the Empress Theatre Block at 1120 1st Avenue West. By 1919, the library had moved again and resided on the second floor of City Hall, then located at 1010 Central Avenue. The library’s collection in 1919 was more than 3000 volumes; by 1927 the collection had grown into more than 5000 volumes.
In 1937, the library was moved to the ground floor of the Holmes Block on the corner of 8th Street and 1st Avenue East. The Holmes Block then belonged to the Prince Albert School Board and an agreement was reached between the City and the School Board which made the library’s move to the new location possible.
During 1949 and 1950, a campaign headed by Miss Marion Gilroy representing the Province of Saskatchewan led to the creation of the first Regional Library in the province. The North Central Saskatchewan Regional Library, which would eventually change its name to Wapiti Regional Library in 1965, came into existence with the City of Prince Albert as one of the constituting municipalities. The purpose of the Regional Library was to extend library service, share resources throughout the region, provide training opportunities for librarians, set standards and act as a granting agency. An agreement was made whereby the Public Library Board would provide space, heat, water and electricity for the Regional Library and the Regional Library would provide staff for both the Regional Library as well as the Prince Albert Public Library.
The Public Library and the newly formed Regional Library moved into the former Prince Albert Club building at 56 Twelfth Street West on May 2, 1951 after extensive remodeling and improvements were made to the space.
By the late 1950s, the cramped conditions of the library initiated discussions of opening a larger branch to house both the public library and the regional library. In 1967, former mayor of Prince Albert John M. Cuelenaere bequeathed one third of his estate towards a new library building. The new Prince Albert Public Library officially opened on January 17th, 1974 at 125 12 Street East and was renamed the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library. It was located next door to the Wapiti Regional Library, which had moved to their new location in 1962. The John M. Cuelenaere Public Library building includes 16,000 square feet of space, a 200 person auditorium, meeting rooms and an art gallery.
In 2010, John M. Cuelenaere Public Library joined the Saskatchewan Information and Library Services Consortium (SILS) equipping patrons with a shared Provincial catalogue and enabling them to access material from all over the province.
In 2011, the Library opened a branch within the Bernice Sayese Centre, giving residents of the West Side access to the library’s collection and programming.
In 2014, a new media format was added to the Library’s collection — Video Games! We held a Video Game launch party with Mario themed cupcakes and a Little Big Planet racing tournament!
On June 27th, 2016, the Prince Albert city council unanimously voted in favour of a motion for administration to proceed with the re-establishment of JMCPL as a municipal library by Jan. 1, 2017. As of April 10th, 2018 John M. Cuelenaere Public Library was officially re-established as a municipal library.
From the 1800s to the present day, the public library in Prince Albert has played an important role in the history of the community. John M. Cuelenaere Public Library will continue to adapt and change to meet the informational and recreational literacy needs of every member of our community well into the future.
* The Prince Albert Historical Society was a very much appreciated and essential resource in the compilation of this history*
Braithwaite, M. (1965). Like being a millionaire. Prince Albert: Wapiti Regional Library.
Clarke, T. (2016, June 28). Breaking up with Wapiti. The Prince Albert Daily Herald. http://www.paherald.sk.ca/News/Local/2016-06-28/article-4573780/Breaking-up-with-Wapiti/1
Gray, J. (2004). The story of Prince Albert Public Library (unpublished article). Prince Albert: J. Gray.
Henderson. (1909-1955). Prince Albert City Directory (Vols. 1- XXIV). Winnipeg: Henderson Directories Limited.
Kerr, D. (2005). A book in every hand. Regina: Coteau Books.
Saskatchewan Archives. File R-177.5, Department of Education records, V.13-Prince Albert.