Garden Island Mechanical Institute

Collection Type: 
  • Rare Books
  • Canadiana
Special Collection: 

Mechanics’ Institutes, in some ways a precursor to the modern public library, were common across Ontario municipalities through the mid to late nineteenth century. First appearing in Scotland in the 1820s, mechanics’ institutes began as voluntary associations of working men with an interest in pursuing adult education. Members of mechanics’ institutes would typically pay a regular fee to access a lending library and educational programming like evening classes or lectures.

Garden Island, a former company town located northwest of Wolfe Island, had its own mechanics’ institute. In its prime, it was well-used. In 1880, the Garden Island Mechanics’ Institute had a collection of over 1500 items that had been issued nearly 2500 times, and ran 10 evening classes in a variety of subjects. Its membership count was comparable to that of the Kingston Mechanics’ Institute – Kingston had 153 members, and Garden Island had 115 – despite Kingston’s much larger population. As such, it can be inferred that visiting the mechanics’ institute was a popular pastime among Garden Island residents.

Like many of its peer institutions, the Garden Island Mechanics’ Institute went on to become a public library in 1895. The library would remain in operation until 1933, at which point it dissolved. Its dissolution can be attributed to Garden Island’s dwindling population, which disqualified the library from receiving government grants.

In 1937, the library’s holdings were donated to Queen’s University Library, the Kingston Public Library, and Kingston area schools. Items donated to Queen’s can be found through an Omni search. Many items in the collection bear bookplates from either the Garden Island Mechanics’ Institute or Garden Island Public Library.

To learn more about the Garden Island community, browse the Calvin Company fonds in the Queen’s Archives.

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