Experience the Renaissance: Le livre de la Renaissance at BAnQ

By Caitlin Bailey

The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec is currently showing the second half of its Le livre de la Renaissance cycle, the result of collaborations between BAnQ, McGill University and the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM). The exhibition showcases the central issues of Humanist thought as seen through the texts produced during the period and includes some fabulous pieces, such as an edition of Machiavelli’s The Prince from 1550.

I wandered into the exhibition as the result of a particularly rainy day during the Thanksgiving break. BAnQ does not advertise their exhibitions on the homepage of the website, though you can access a complete listing through the Activities page. Additionally, it is a bit difficult to locate the actual exhibition at first; I ended up in the basement with several other mystified patrons before I finally realized that 1st floor actually referred to the first floor of the separate archives area and not the first floor of the entire building.

Photo credit: Bernard Fougères for BAnQ

Once I found it however, the exhibition was excellent. Curator Brenda Dunn-Lardeau has chosen to use the texts as solid examples of the currents of Renaissance thought, as well as a view of the actual book of the period. As result, every book is accompanied by an explanatory panel that sets it in context, both within the larger historical environment and as an individual piece. I was fascinated to find a diagram illustrating Copernicus’ theory of heliocentrism next to one of the first biographies of Queen Elizabeth I of England.

Le livre de la Renaissance is quite a small exhibition, leaving you plenty of time and brainpower to attack the many others that BAnQ has to offer. I ended up on the first floor in  De la Belle Époque au prêt-à-porter,  an examination of women’s fashion from 1880 to the end of the 1920s. This exhibition is particularly interesting as the clothing is reproduced in three dimensional paper sculptures, as well as with documents from the extensive archive of the library. All in all, BAnQ is well worth the trip down Maisonneuve and, best of all, for us “starving” students, it’s free!

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Le livre de la Renaissance and De la Belle Époque au prêt-à-porter are now on at the Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec. 475 boulevard de Maisonneuve Est. Free admission.

A brief illustrated history of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre

By Jacob Siefring

This post presents a condensed history of the Atwater Library and Computer Centre. Sundry students from McGill’s School of Information Studies have gained library experience working there as volunteers, myself included. Historical information is taken from a fifty-page pamphlet published in the mid-1970s that is kept behind the circulation desk. This post was initially published on my personal blog, Bibliomanic.

Some background information about Mechanics’ Institutes is available from Wikipedia. During the 19th century in Great Britain and in North America, for enterprising young men who were often without means, Mechanics’ institutes were seen as a desirable alternative to the male drinking culture widely prevalent in saloons, taverns, and pubs. Starting around the end of the nineteenth century, institutes began to adapt to accommodate the wider population, including first women and then children, many eventually evolving (like the Atwater) over many decades into the public libraries we know today.

Atwater's arches 'then' and now, its skylight and atrium. Photos by Jacob Siefring.

The Atwater Library is the oldest lending library in Canada. The library was not always known by this name, nor was it always at 1200 Atwater Ave as it is today.

The Mechanics’ Institute of Montreal, later known as the Montreal Mechanics’ Institution, had its founding moment on November 21, 1828, when a meeting was held at the home of Reverend Henry Esson. Esson’s idea was to found an institute the aim and objects of which would be to see to the instruction of its members in the arts and in the various branches of science and useful knowledge. 

Books were marked as property of the Institute with a distinctive perforation. What's this method called, exactly? Does anyone know?

Slowly at first,  with the support of sugar magnate John Redpath and other enterprising members of the Montreal community, the institute gathered steam. In March of 1840 the members-elect approved the Constitution and by-laws and agreed upon the following scale of fees:

Life members: 5 £ in cash; or 7 £, 10 s. in books or apparatus

Annual subscriptions: 15 s.

Quarterly subscriptions: 3 s. 9 d.

Sons and apprentices of members: 1 s. 3 d. on a quarterly basis

Course offerings in reading, writing, arithmetic, French, and architectural, mechanical, and ornamental drawing were open to sons and apprentices of members. The institute’s motto was

To make a Man a Better Mechanic and the Mechanic a Better Man. 

Incorporation came in 1845. A short decade later, on May 21, 1854, the institute’s new building at the corner of Great St James St and St Peter St was opened.

Illustration of the former Montreal Mechanics' Institute

This building was known for its large lecture hall, known around Montréal as Mechanics’ Hall.

A drawing displayed in the stairwell of the library depicting a packed lecture hall at the library/institute's former location.

George DawsonJohn Henry Pepper, inventor of the Pepper’s ghost illusion, and many others spoke there in their time. Performer Emma Lajeunesse, later be known as Emma Albani, had her debut there at the young age of seven.

A new building was selected, purchased, and went into operation around 1920.

The Atwater Library and Computer Centre, located at 1200 Atwater Ave., in Westmount, Québec. Photograph by Jacob Siefring.

In 1962, The Institute changed its name and officially became the Atwater Library, as the name Mechanics’ Institute was ‘misleading to the present generation.’ Today the library is an active community hub and a vital resource for its members. If you’re in Montreal, stop by and have a look around. Or visit the library’s website — more on its history here.

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