401 Main Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, V6A, Canada
Carnegie Free Library
Carnegie Public Library
Links and documents
1901/01/01 to 1903/01/01
Listed on the Canadian Register:
Statement of Significance
Description of Historic Place
The historic place is the masonry building at 401 Main Street, opened in 1903 as the Carnegie Library and converted in 1980 to become the Carnegie Centre. The building is located on the corner of Main and Hastings Streets, once Vancouver's principal downtown intersection and now the heart of the disadvantaged Downtown East Side.
The Carnegie Centre has heritage value for representing the movement towards access to universal education and cultural opportunity, seen in its construction as a Carnegie Free Library and its use as the Vancouver Museum; for its subsequent role as the social and cultural centre of Vancouver's disadvantaged Downtown East Side; as a witness to the changing place of Main and Hastings in Vancouver's evolution; for its outstanding architecture and detail; and for the value placed on heritage conservation in its rehabilitation.
Built in 1901-03 as the Carnegie Public Library on the site of the former municipal market, at what was then Vancouver's prime intersection, the building has heritage value as Vancouver's representative of the approximately 2,500 libraries throughout the English-speaking world (125 in Canada) built with a grant from the Carnegie Foundation, which had been established by American industrial magnate Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie wanted to extend cultural and educational opportunity to all people, particularly to poor immigrants. The "Carnegie Formula", by which Carnegie paid capital costs and municipalities were responsible for ongoing operation, was part of a broader belief that educational opportunities should be accessible to all.
Additional heritage value is seen in the top floor of the building's having accommodated the Vancouver Museum, beginning in 1905. The purpose of the Museum paralleled that of the Library; as the founding president, the Reverend L. Norman Tucker explained, its objective was "to cultivate a taste for the beauties and refinements of life ... [among] our toiling and struggling fellow citizens."
The Library expanded into the adjacent former City Hall in 1929, which had been located here since about 1889, as Main Street (then Westminster Avenue) and Hastings Street comprised the urban core of Vancouver. The Library (known as the Vancouver Public Library) moved downtown in 1957 and the Museum to Kitsilano Point in 1968, reflecting the gradual shift of both business and public services westward in the latter half of the twentieth century.
The historic place has additional heritage value for having been rehabilitated in 1978-80 by the City of Vancouver to become the Carnegie Centre, the community centre of the Downtown East Side, home to many socio-economically disadvantaged people. The inclusion of a branch library restored the educational value. This activity also reveals the values placed on the conservation of Vancouver's historic architecture.
The architecture of the Carnegie Centre also has considerable value as an example of bold Victorian eclectic design. Designed by the important New Westminster-based architect George William Grant, the commanding granite-faced building combines an Ionic corner portico and dome, Romanesque-inspired arched windows, and French mansard roofs in remarkably harmonious unity. The interior fittings are likewise high in quality. The rehabilitation (by the prominent architectural firm Downs Archambault) retained the values, while adapting the building to a new use, upgrading it to meet seismic and other safety codes, and adding a compatible annex at the south.
Source: City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
The character-defining elements of the Carnegie Centre include:
- The circular corner portico, with tall Ionic columns and surmounted by a dome and cupola
- The arched and flat-headed windows, and their decorative surrounds
- The continuous frieze
- The inscription "Carnegie Public Library" in the frieze
- The curved mansard roofs
- The dominance of the corner entrance over the Main-Hastings intersection
- The ongoing municipal community-serving uses
- The curved staircase within the portico
- The stained-glass windows, which include panels commemorating William Shakespeare, John Milton, Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Sir Thomas Moore
- The tiled floors
- The large, well-proportioned principal rooms
City of Vancouver
Vancouver Charter, s.593
1978/01/01 to 1980/01/01
Theme - Category and Type
- Building Social and Community Life
- Education and Social Well-Being
Function - Category and Type
Architect / Designer
Location of Supporting Documentation
City of Vancouver Heritage Conservation Program
Cross-Reference to Collection