Origins and Early Years
The Hon. Alexander Cameron Rutherford, first Premier of Alberta and also, as Minister of Education, the visionary founder of the University of Alberta, succeeded in securing passage of a University Act in May 1906, when critics believed it a low priority in a frontier province with a population of scarcely 300,000. The following year, Rutherford secured the purchase of a 258-acre parcel of land on the south bank of the North Saskatchewan River, and announced that it would be the site of Alberta’s provincial university. Rutherford revealed himself to be a crafty politician by these manoeuvres. He also proved to be a shrewd judge of character when he recruited Dr Henry Marshall Tory to become president of a university that had yet to be built.
On March 30, 1908, at its first meeting, the University Senate voted to create a Faculty of Arts and Science and admit students in September. The Senate allocated $5,000 for library books. President Tory then departed for the East to recruit staff, buy equipment for a science lab, and acquire books for the library. Classes began at the new University of Alberta on September 23, 1908, at the Duggan Street (now Queen Alexandra) School in Strathcona. Over the Christmas holidays the entire University was moved to the top floor of the newly completed Strathcona Collegiate Institute (now Old Scona High School), where one room became the library. A single wagon-load sufficed to transfer all of the University’s books and equipment to these new quarters, even though Premier Rutherford had solicited donations of books to supplement purchases. Both Tory and Professor William Hardy Alexander donated books, as did Premier Rutherford.
The Library’s earliest acquisitions were carefully recorded in accession registers, along with the prices paid. Pride of seniority goes to Edgar Allan Poe, followed by Washington Irving, George Eliot, Jean Froissart, Henry Fielding, Edward Gibbon, Thomas Babington Macaulay, Walter Scott, Shakespeare, and Robert Louis Stevenson. The first 200 volumes also included works by Jane Austen, Victor Hugo, Rudyard Kipling, Tobias Smollett, Henry Hallam, and John Stuart Mill. In addition, there were practical treatises in fields such as engineering, surveying, horticulture, and animal husbandry.
At a ceremony on September 29, 1909, ground was broken for the Arts Building, but it was not completed until 1915. So in 1911 Athabasca Hall provided a home for the Library, which then numbered 6,000 volumes. With completion of Assiniboia Hall in October 1912, the Library was moved yet again; the librarian occupied an office on the second floor, while the reading room and books were on the ground floor.
Student numbers swelled to 434 by fall term, 1914, and the Library’s collection had doubled to 12,000 volumes. The pressure for space was relieved when the new Arts Building was officially opened in October 1915. The Library moved into Room 110, an oak-paneled room with seating for 80 readers. Current periodicals were displayed in an alcove, and the book stacks were located below the reading room. Alas, this facility was filled to overflowing within ten years. Annual acquisitions averaged 1,000 volumes, so that by 1920–1921, the collection numbered 17,000 volumes, and by the spring of 1925 it had increased to 26,438 volumes.