Uxbridge Mechanics Institute and Library
by Alan McGillivray


The Mechanics Institutes were organized to provide a library, educational classes and weekly lectures for "middle classes, working men and intelligent mechanics". The first such institute in Upper Canada (Ontario) was set up in York (Toronto) in 1851 by Joseph Bates. In the next couple of decades, these institutes became numerous in the province and provided a chance for a broader life for tradesman and laborers until near the end of the 1800's. The officers were chosen from the community, and were usually business or professional men.

In Uxbridge, the founding meeting of the M.I. was held on January 7, 1859, in the Temperance Hall. This hall was a frame building, located at the north-east corner of Albert and Spruce Streets. Joseph Gould chaired this first meeting. On a motion by Rev. William Leland, seconded by Joseph Dickie, the new organization was named "The Uxbridge Mechanics Institute and Library Association".

The officers were: Joseph Gould, President, M.P. for the riding of Ontario, local miller, merchant and entrepreneur: Rev. William Leland, Vice-President, Minister of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Quaker Hill; Dr. John Nation, Vice-President, Medical doctor; Joseph dickie, Secretary, appraiser, conveyancer, commissioner, and Clerk of the Division court; John P. Plank, Treasurer, proprietor of Plank’s Hotel; David Walks, wagon maker; William Hamilton, merchant; William smith, Reeve; Anson Todd button, lumberman; James Galloway, farmer, Scott township; J.W.C. Brown, conveyancer; and Anthony Thompson, builder. William Leland also held Presbyterian services in the Temperance Hall.

Henry Duncan Hetherington was hired as the first librarian for the M.I. He and his wife, Jessie Johnston Todd, had arrived from Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, Scotland, where their first child was born in 1856. He operated an Apothecaries Hall, selling drugs, chemicals and wallpaper, near the present Music Hall site on Main Street.

At the first meeting, it was decided that the officers would report in two weeks on a declaration and code of by-laws. Membership in the Institute was to be a dollar per year for ordinary members and four dollars for corporate members. Females were to be considered as ordinary members. The library was to be open every Wednesday evening from 7:30 to 9:00. Fixed time periods for book loans were written on the front fly leaf. Members living more than one mile from the library were allowed double time to read a book. The fine for overdue books was five cents per week. A blank book was provided in which members were encouraged to suggest new purchases.

At a meeting held on March 14, 1859, the secretary was directed to petition the Governor General and Legislative Assembly for aid. William Hamilton and Joseph Dickie were appointed to rent a room in the Temperance Hall. Messrs. Hamilton, Dickie and Hetherington were instructed to prepare the shelves and receive the books.

The rental for the library room in the hall was to be $20 per year if no government aid was received, or $30 if a grant was provided. $138.57 was spent on books and $6.00 on shelves. New members on June 6 were Henry Madill of Scott, James Gray, Dr. Hillary and William Ruth. The librarian was instructed to buy three chairs, three candlesticks, and a pair of snuffers. Andrew Smith was appointed assistant librarian. He was the son of Uxbridge's first successful merchant John Smith. At a meeting on October 3, Messrs. Button and Hetherington were directed to buy a stove and pipes suitable for the library room. William Smith was to purchase a half cord of dry wood. The first of the winter lectures was delivered on October 24 by Rev. William Chlano. Many others were contacted about giving lectures including D’Arcy McGee Esq. Local names on the lecture list were A.S. Walks, J.W.C. Brown and Rev. Leland. The secretary was to buy 500 blank bills to advertise the lectures.

Among the topics covered during the 1859-1860 lecture season were: The Unity of the Human Races, Modern Spirits, Arctic Regions, Women-Proper Position in Society, Formation of Character, and Ireland/Irishmen. Family tickets to members in the fall of 1860 cost 50 cents. Non members were charged 12 cents each, or $1.00 for a family. The M.I. and Library flourished until October of 1862 when Mr. Hetherington died suddenly, two weeks after his youngest son was born. His grave here is not marked.

Mrs. Hetherington took her four sons back to Scotland. She died there in 1877, and her third son in 1883. The other three sons married, and came to settle in the U.S. In 1984, a great-grand daughter to Mr. Hetherington, Mrs. Robert Mowery of Columbus, Ohio, visited Uxbridge. She is the proud holder of photos of Mr. Hetherington, his wife and family. Following Mr. Hetherington's death, a committee was appointed to take stock of the books, and they were moved to Mr. Dickie’s office, which was on the hill on the south side of Brock Street. At the annual meeting on Jan 9, 1863, Joseph Dickey was mentioned as both secretary and librarian. Joseph Gould was still president. At a meeting held on April 10, they decided to pay the balance of the librarian’s salary to Mrs. Hetherington. About this time, the M.I. and Library ceased to operate. There is no record of further meetings being held until the early 1870's.


In December of 1872, a meeting was called to begin steps to reopen the Institute and make additions to the library. The previous library had contained about 143 books when it closed, and the remainder of them were located in Mr. Dicky’s office. This revival of the Institute was under the leadership of Dr. Joseph Bascom, and Mr. W. Dale of the high school. A year earlier, the railway had been built into Uxbridge, and things were booming. Also, Uxbridge had just reached village status. J.W.Caldwell Brown, lawyer, Dennis Jennings, public school teacher, and Dr. Bascom were directed to seek new members. On Christmas eve, Dr. Bascom presented twelve names of new corporate members and thirty two names of ordinary members.

An annual meeting was held in the high school in January of 1873. Joseph Gould was elected president, and Dr. Bascom secretary-treasurer. James Walks was hired as librarian. However, he and his father, David Walks, were in the process of settling in Uxbridge Twp. (Leal area) of North Dakota. It has not been determined who followed him as librarian. In April, it was moved that all money in the treasury be used to buy new books. That fall, the mechanic’s Institute of Ontario was offering prizes for the establishment of night classes. The Institute soon had the names of thirty-two interested people, and they started setting up classes. The M.I. probably met in the high school in 1873. The records noted that there were problems getting rooms for the library and reading room. At the annual meeting in 1874, George Wheeler was elected president. He was a local miller, a former county warden, and was later elected reeve, and M.P. The Institute managed to rent space for the library and hall above Week’s Drug Store (now The Tiger’s Eye). The council chambers were also located there. Some lectures were organized and social, musical and a literary night was held in the Ontario Hall to raise funds. A.D. Weeks was the librarian in 1875.

Suitable rooms were again being discussed in September of 1876 . Dennis Jennings, public school teacher, was the librarian that year. The M.I. decided to rearrange the library to receive the maximum grant, and a series of entertainments was arranged to bring in more money. By October, they had raised enough funds to qualify them for the maximum grant. In march of 1877, Mr. Cann was hired to teach classes in mechanical drawing and commercial for 25 nights for $125. Half of the money was to be raised from fees.

The M.I. moved at least a couple of times during these years. In 1878, the rooms were above the Robert A. Douglas Bakery which was the next store on the west side of Week’s Drug Store. They must have returned to Mr. Week’s building for in September of 1880 he gave notice that he needed the rooms being occupied by the M.I. There were offers of two other rooms, one from Mr. Crosby for $125 per year, and one for $150 per year in a new brick double store which Mr. McGuire was erecting. In February, an agreement was reached with Mr. McGuire. The M.I. rented the new building at a cost of $325 per year for 5 years. This building was on the south side of Brock Street about where Pro Hardware and Homan’s Shoes’ are located. The M.I. sublet the west store and living quarters to Mr. William B. Russel, the librarian for $150 per year. Mr. Russell, a local carriage painter, was to pay half the cost of lighting and heating.

By-laws, rules and regulations were updated at this time. Memberships were to be one dollar as before. Use of the library, reading room and amusement room was two dollars per year. A family ticket for four dollars would allow family members over fourteen years of age to use the facilities. It was decided that the public would be allowed free use of the reading room on a trial basis.

Isaac J. Gould chaired the annual meeting in May of 1881. Receipts for the previous year had been $991.74, an amount which equaled expenditures. It was noted that there were to be changes in government grants to the Institutes. Directors elected were I.J. Gould, reeve: Rev. Edward Cockburn of Chalmer Presbyterian Church: John O’Neil, station master: Dr. Joseph Bascom; Dennis Jennings, public school teacher; Dr. William D. Black; William Hamilton; Rev. John Davidson of St. Paul’s Anglican church; A.T. Button, merchant; Michel Vicars, planning mill owner; A.D. Weeks, druggist; James Walker, builder; Dr. Nation, and R.P. Harman, harness manufacturer. Mr. Jennings was elected president.

An article written early in 1881 said that the Uxbridge Institute was excelled by few others. They had received $3,000 in government grants since reopening. The membership in 1880 was 174, and there were 2,323 volumes in the library. The Minister of Education gave the Uxbridge Institute a very good report, which was a credit to those who headed the organization. At the same time, the minister felt generally that the government was giving too much financial assistance to the M.I.’s. It made members careless, apathetic and unwilling to work. He said there was a great demand for novels which excited unfavorable comment from those opposed to this class of reading. Too many novels showed evidence of depraved literary tastes. The Uxbridge group continued to raise money, and in July an excursion to Toronto brought in forty dollars. By fall, arrangements were being made for the move to the new site, and a grand opening was planned for December 6. The charge for admission was to be 25 cents and ladies were to provide refreshments. The board agreed that the caretaker could rent the hall for one dollar for up to two hours, and 50 cents for each additional hour for any meeting not of an immoral tendency.

Meanwhile, there was an extensive lecture series in 1881 including topics such as Geology, Pitman’s System of Phonetic Shorthand, Astronomy, The Turks in Europe, Chemistry, Aerial currents, Volcanoes, Chorine, Botanical Science, and People We Meet. Some of the lecturers were local gentlemen. A profit of $51 was made from the opening social, and the M.I. moved ahead with its busy program. Commander Cheyne was hired for $100 to give a series of lectures. Members paying five dollars per year were allowed to exchange books at the library at their pleasure. The facilities in the new building included a public hall, library, smoking room, reading room, club room and residence for the librarian, Mr. Russel.

In January of 1882, a committee was organized to examine the books for their suitability before they were catalogued. Mr. Russel was hired to teach a drawing class, and Mr. Hemphill to teach bookkeeping and penmanship. James Walker was elected President. At the annual meeting, a notice from the Minister of Education stating that night classes should be for 9 weeks of three nights per week did not go over well with the local group. They thought it was too tight a schedule for them to handle. A piano was purchased for $160. Debates were being held as well as lectures, and even checker tournaments were taking place. There were several entertainments including one by the Young Peoples of the Presbyterian Church, and another by the ladies of the Anglican church. The reading room was open every day and evening, and the library contained 3,000 books. The Free Libraries Act of 1882 was helping to update the library facilities of the M.I.’s in the province.

At the annual meeting in May of 1883, Mrs. Stickney and Mrs. Bascom were commended for preparing a catalogue which was said to be more interesting than most dictionaries. (These catalogues were used until the card system was started.) By this time, the library contained nearly 4,000 books. An orchestra played several pieces during the evening, a song was given by Mr. Campbell, and a recitation by Miss Nation. The Institute continued to be very active, but they soon got behind with the rent, and the printing of catalogues added to the deficit. The night classes were well attended, but lectures and entertainments drew fewer numbers. They thought a solution might have been to have less men do the lectures.

By October of 1884, Mr. McGuire was making some changes in his building, and Mr. Russel was going to have to pay more rent. An agreement was made with the council for use of the Market Hall, lighted and warmed, for all Institute meetings, lectures concerts and entertainments, provided that they did not interfere with regular business. The Market Hall was located at the north-east corner of Brock and Toronto Streets. From their own hall, the Institute moved over 125 chairs, some planks, and three chandeliers. The Institute continued to use the market Hall until it moved into the new Joseph Gould Institute late in 1887.


In April of 1886, Joseph Gould announced that he would build for the town a new Mechanic’s Institute building on some land which he owned at the corner of Pond and Toronto Streets. Pond Street ran south where Davie Pharmacy is located. At a council meeting held on April 13, 1886, there was a motion that thanks be tendered to Mr. Gould for his generous proposal in the matter of erecting this building for the use of the town’s people together with the assurance of the council that they would assist him as far as possible in his laudable purpose by granting him the necessary facilities for erecting the same on the site proposed by him, and that the clerk forward a copy of the resolution to him.

Councillors appointed to confer with Mr. Gould were the mayor, Dr. Bascom, and Messrs. H.A. Crosby, R.P.M. Harman (reeve), and William H. Hamilton. Joseph Gould intended to supervise the construction, but that was not to be for he died on June 29, 1886. However, he had already "seen and approved of his architects plans". The name of the architect is still a mystery but it is likely that John T. Stokes of Sharon designed this building. Mr. Stokes had planned Joseph Gould’s Toronto Street home which was built in the late 1850's and the mansion House Hotel built by Mr. Gould in the early 1870's. Mr. Stokes was still very active in the 1880's as well. He also had the ability to design the stone foundations for this building which sits on the slope of a hill. These walls have not cracked over the 100 years, even with gravel trucks rolling by.

Mr. Gould directed in his will that his executors (sons Isaac, Charles and Joseph E. Gould) complete the Institute project according to plans and pay the costs out of his personal estate. He also directed them to make a gift of the building to the Corporation of the Town of Uxbridge. Joseph Stopps was contracted to do the masonry work, and W. Walker to do the woodwork. The bricks were made from clay taken from the Gould farm on Mill Street and the lumber was cut at James Leask’s saw mill at Leaksdale. In July of 1886, Isaac Gould M.P. came to the M.I. meeting with a copy of his father’s will and there was a discussion about the feasibility of going ahead with construction that year. It was decided that they should wait until the spring of 1887.

The M.I. continued to meet, and in January of 1887 a committee was appointed to arrange for a series of entertainments. It was also decided to try to raise money by direct appeal to people with a subscription list. By April, the librarian Mr. Russel, was working hard to bring in subscriptions. Also Mr. Stopps asked to have the sidewalk removed so he could begin work. The annual meeting was held in May in the Market Hall. The M.I. was still in debt $160 for the piano and $569.99 for rent. An advisory building committee consisting of the president James Walker, the secretary Dr. Bascom, and Henry Kellinton, James Reid, T.W. Chapple and James Watt was set up. Other board members were Isaac Gould, Rev.E. Cockburn, Rev. J. Davidson, and W.B. Stewart. As fall arrived, arrangements were made to have the Minister of Education open the new building. There was ongoing discussion about a furnace. They finally agreed to have the Pease Furnace Co. install a furnace and pipes for $162. In November, George Long was paid for building a wall along the side of the new M.I. The second floor of the new building had quarters for the librarian and Mr. Russel was hired for another year.

The official opening took place on December 9, 1887. The evening began with a meal in the basement of the new building. Those in charge of tables were: Mrs. I.J. Gould, Mrs. Joseph E. Gould, Mrs. Charles Gould, Mrs. Jonathan Gould, Mrs. H.J. Gould, Mrs. H.A. Crosby, Mrs. Watt, Mrs. Cockburn, Mrs. Dr. Bascom, Mrs. R. Ross, Mrs. J.M. Whitlaw, Mrs. F. Kellar, Mrs. E.H. Hillborn, Mrs. F.T. Stewart, Mrs. D. Campbell, Mrs. W.B. Russell and Mrs. Hail. Everyone then moved to the Ontario Hall on Main Street where speeches were given. It was noted that Joseph Gould had been president of the M.I. for sixteen consecutive years and thanks were given for his generous donation of the building. The main address was given by the Hon. George W. Ross, Minister of Education. The M.I. had come under this ministry in 1880. He said the building was the first donation of its kind in the province, and the library was the best in the province for the size of the town. Before the meeting adjourned, $308 was collected against the old library debt. The assembly then moved back to the M.I. where the deed and an insurance policy for $2,500. were handed over to the reeve. A musical program followed. This building cost $4,200 and now contained over 5,000 books. The clock for the library tower was bought from the Seth Thomas Clock Co., Thomaston, Conn. and was bought through Phillip Taylor of Whitby at a cost of $315. The original wooden mechanism can be seen in the library. The clock was wound by a large crank.

A couple of years before 1887 a bell tower and hose house had been built to the south of the M.I. site by contractor E. Anderson. A bell costing $235.73 was bought in June of 1887. For years the clock in the library tower was connected by two cables to this 1500 lb. white metal bell. The cables and pulleys were anchored by a box of rocks which were just below the clock. In July of 1889 the council agreed to assume $500 of the debt of $760 owed by the M.I. Most of this debt was paid by 1890. In February a committee went over the library with Mr. Russel and found it to be in good order. Only one volume was missing. A water tank was to be installed for the librarian’s use as there was no running water in the building. The librarian was directed to close the amusement rooms it had become a "resort for disorderly boys".

In 1890, Sarah D. (Hughes) Willis, and George Willis, took charge of the library. Evening classes continued to be held by the M.I. in the winter. A garden party was held in 1891 to raise money. In March of 1892 the M.I. lost a valuable supporter, Dr. Bascom secretary-treasurer, who was leaving the community. Mr. Keller was appointed in his place, and D.H. Bascom became a director. In the fall of 1892 the Board of Health was asking about "slops" being thrown out from the M.I. kitchen, also a railing was needed on the back stairs. In May of 1893 the directors expressed their appreciation for the work being done by the librarian, Mrs. Willis. They thought she should be paid something, and a committee was appointed to talk to the council about this. Mrs. Willis was officially appointed librarian in June of 1893. Her husband had died in May.

In January of 1894 profit from an annual New Years Eve entertainment, $23.32, was given to Mrs. Willis. Dr. Bascom, who by then lived in Toronto, had not forgotten the M.I. and he offered to select and purchase books for the library. Mrs. Dale was granted temporary use of the basement for a missionary Sunday School. At the annual meeting in May of 1894 it was noted that the librarian was still not being paid. The committee also wanted pay from the town for looking after the clock, as well as a general grant for the M.I.

In May of 1895 it was moved that the name be changed to "Uxbridge Public Library" as required by a new act. The librarian asked for and was granted two weeks holidays. Many public libraries in the province grew out of the libraries of the Mechanic’s Institutes.


In the fall of 1895 council was asked to supply storm windows for the building by Mrs. Willis. In July of 1896 the council gave a grant to the library to build a balcony. There was a discussion about the installation of electric lights but the board felt that they were too expensive at that time. As the government grants were decreasing each year, the board discussed approaching the municipality about taking over the institution and creating a free library. No decision was taken on this.

In January of 1898 Dr. May, Superintendent of Public libraries addressed a public meeting on the growth of Mechanic’s Institutes and Public and Free Libraries. The Uxbridge library ranked 20th in the province, cities included. A motion was passed to make Uxbridge a free Library and to appoint a Board of Management. I.J. Gould was chairman of the new board, and Mr. Nutting secretary. The librarian was directed to open the library on the free system on March 1, 1898. A decision was made in July to install electric lights.

In March of 1899 the town treasurer William Hamilton became treasurer of the library board. It was noted at the annual meeting that the library membership had doubled since March. Up to this time one did not have access to the library shelves. One asked for the book they wanted. As some good books were not being asked for it was agreed to try placing an number of books in a showcase convenient to the wicket so that patrons would be aware of them and they would then be put into circulation. This was already being tried in some Ontario libraries and a few larger libraries were actually allowing the public access to the shelves without a serious loss of books.

In February of 1902 the librarian suggested that the Temple of Fame be reproduced to raise money for renovation the building. This brought in $80. In October of 1902 the library inspector said that everything was in good order except for a few dilapidated books which were to be rebound or destroyed. He said it was the best equipped library of its size in the province. He was concerned that the weight of the books was causing the floor to settle and more support was needed. By 1904 the reading room was receiving 4 daily papers, 15 weeklies and 14 magazines. In 1907, 946 prople borrowed books. Mrs. Sarah Willis the librarian died on July 28, 1907. Mrs. R.F. Willis filled in until May of 1908 when Marshall L. Nutting the secretary-treasurer became librarian. A new card cabinet and cards were bought in the spring of 1910. The ministry would provide an expert to catalogue the books at government expense. Mr. Nutting died on April, 1911 and Mrs Nutting carried on as librarian. In the fall of 1912, The Hypatia Club was approached about raising money. They agreed to try to raise $100. A Temple of Fame program brought in $235.37 for the library. A statue presented to the board by Dr. Nation was to be repainted. This was a Grecian statue of a girl carved by the late Walter Nation from one piece of a tree, including a wreath of flowers worn on the arm.

In July of 1913 the library received some renovations and was repainted. The goddess "Minerva" was removed from her place by the entrance. In August of 1920 J.E. Littlejohn took over as librarian from Mrs. Nutting. In the fall of 1921 an old wooden building at the south end of the library was replaced by a more substantial one for $435.64. Dr. Joseph Bascom died in July of 1929 and left $2,000 to the library. The money was to be invested and the interest used to buy books and magazines.

In the spring of 1931 a request from the John Peel chapter of the I.O.D.E. for permission to place a war memorial on the library lawn was granted. In July of 1938 a letter was received from Isabel Mustard stating that in memory of John and Mary (Pirt) Mustard $2,000 had been deposited with the Toronto General Trust corporation with instruction to send $200. per year to the library to buy new books, magazines and papers. Mrs. Gilfillan became librarian at the beginning of 1939. There were plans to make the library shelves adjustable in 1940. Mrs. Gilfillan was succeeded by Mrs. A.W. (Pearle) St. John as librarian in August of 1942. In 1944, Mr. Bookham installed a new furnace with a stoker and a hot water heating system. In April of 1947 librarian Pearle St. John agreed to make a presentation to the trustees section of the Ontario Library Association at Guelph on the topic "A smaller library considers book selection". In September of that year Mr. Mowat, the Inspector of Public Libraries requested the use of the reading room for a short course for librarians.

At the end of 1948 a special meeting was held to discuss the proposal of Mr. Douglas Work who wanted to build a theater on property next to the library. In November of 1949 an assistant librarian was appointed for 3 hours per week. R.F. Willis competed 40 years of service when he retired form the board. By 1950 more shelf space was needed and Mrs. St. John suggested use of the reference room for this. In May of 1951 a bequest from the estate of Rosetta Alberta Harrison left $200 to be used for a separate children’s department. By the end of October 1952 work was completed making the former reference room into a children’s library. An archway joined it to the book room. The reference library was moved to the east wall of the reading room. A new, green floor was laid at this time. In the summer 1954 the town sold the bell tower land to Mr. Houck. In 1956 a painting of the library and bell tower by Arnold Hodgkins was purchased. Funds came from the Junior Farmers, the Art Group, the Kiwanis Club and the Quaker Hill Institute. In September of 1956 Mrs St. John, librarian and Mrs. Hickling, board member, entertained for lunch 22 members of a library short course who were touring the library. In February of 1959 was the 100th anniversary of the founding meeting, the library contained 8,779 books and there were 875 borrowers. The circulation was 16,743 and total assets were $36,654. There were no liabilities. An oil burner was installed in the furnace and two oil tanks were set up by Mr. Bookham.

Mrs. Agnes Arbuckle became librarian in September of 1963. The library became a member of the Central Ontario Regional Library Service (CORL) in 1966. This provided for interlibrary loans, including books, and other print materials, film, cassettes, large print books and talking books. In the spring of 1967 plans were made to turn the reading room into a children’s library and use the area housing the children’s books as a reading room. A table and chair were to be place in the entry with newspapers available for anyone to read. In January of 1972 a new children’s room was opened in the basement. This was a Kinsmen project. Two cisterns were removed from the south corners of the basement. A steel beam was added for support and the fireplace moved to the north wall. A vault door from the old post office was installed. The west basement wall was pyramidal being 6 feet thick at the bottom and sloping towards the ceiling. A window was built in one area of the new wall so part of this original wall can be seen. The I.O.D.E. provide a large display cabinet for the vestibule.

A Hoya plant was mentioned at the opening of the children’s room. Apparently it was the same one which had been mentioned in a Times Journal article 40 years before. On November 8, 1972 a plaque to mark the centennial of Uxbridge as a village was unveiled on the west, outside wall of the Library. Mrs. Margaret O’Regan was hired as librarian in September of 1974. Carpet was bought for the children’s room in June of 1976.

In 1981 the Uxbridge Public Library was declared an historic building. Exterior renovations took place in 1985. The bricks were cleaned, wooden shingles put on the roof and the paint restored to its original colour. This was done by Colonial Restoration of Newmarket. The Gould name had always been on the library board. The last direct descendant of Joseph Gould to be on the board was W.H. Gould. In 1986 work commenced on an addition to the library which more than doubles the usable library space. This beautiful building was planned to blend architecturally with the existing library but to provide patrons with an up to date service in comfortable modern surroundings. This addition was completed in 1987 which marks the centennial of the Joseph Gould Institute building.