The John M.Cuelenaere library may be named after a man, but it was the dedication of three women that led to the formation of a regional library in P.A.
It was these women that were the subject of a talk at the library on Wednesday by Barb Gustafson as part of the library’s “focus on learning” series.
“It was all just a convergence of forces of three women who happened to be together in Prince Albert at the same time,” Gustafson said, joking that her presentation should really be called “A history of libraries from a feminist perspective.” “And it was through their activism that the library came to be.”
The three women in particular were Marion Sherman, Betty Davis, and Marion Gilroy. All three women were highly educated, boasting university degrees, a rarity for women at the time.
While Prince Albert has had a library since 1913, it wasn’t until the 1940s when Sherman, Davis and Gilroy met and the idea of a taxpayer-based municipal library began to take hold. At the time the library had largely been supported by local organizations such as the school board and the University Women’s Club.
The push for a better library was made by Sherman, who noted upon her arrival to Prince Albert in 1942 that she found it to be “A small, attractive city, sadly lacking good streets, sidewalks and health, welfare, recreation and library facilities, to name a few.”
Sherman sought to change these things, and quickly got involved with her community. She would later be elected to city council, and still holds the record for longest sitting councilor.
Davis also saw the need for a better library, finding that the library was undersupplied with books, and noting that a simple scribbler served as the library catalogue. Using her husband’s influence as the editor of the Prince Albert Daily Herald, Davis was able to pen several editorials advocating for a regional library in the city.
A turning point came when Gilroy visited Prince Albert. As the newly appointed supervisor of regional libraries in Saskatchewan, Gilroy helped use her influence with the government to lobby for a regional library in the city.
Through a series of meetings with surrounding rural municipalities, public consultations, and with the help of book-loving mayor John Cuelenaere, the ladies got their wish. On April 5, 1950, the first meeting of the Prince Albert Regional Library Board took place.
The efforts of these women gave the library a funding increase that allowed it to make many improvements throughout the years, including the construction of its present building on 12th Street.
Gustafson says that she appreciates the efforts the women made to improve the library, which made a difference in her life. Gustafson developed her love of reading at the library in Prince Albert, and went on to become a member of the library board herself.
“I think without the library, certainly it might have changed the whole path of my life,” Gustafson said. “Having access to books wasn’t going to happen on a farm, it wasn’t going to happen in a small rural school. Having access to the library in the city and learning from that, it just built my interests, so I think it did really have an influence on my life.”