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Central Library FAQ

How did the people of Vancouver decide to build the Central Library at Library Square?
How much did the Central Library at Library Square cost?
How were the architects selected?
What other projects have the architects designed?
Does the Central Library have a rooftop garden?
Who were Alice MacKay, Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye?
Does the library provide wireless service?
Fast Facts about the Central Library

How did the people of Vancouver decide to build the Central Library at Library Square?

In November, 1990 a referendum ballot addressed two questions to Vancouverites: was there a need for a new Central Library and for a new branch in the Renfrew/Collingwood community?

Response: Sixty-nine percent of the population favourably supported the building program.

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How much did the Central Library at Library Square cost?

  • The cost of the library, retail, daycare, and parkade: $106.8 million.
  • The cost of the Federal Tower: $50 million.
  • The cost of the move from 750 Burrard to Library Square: $300,000.

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How were the architects selected?

The architects for Library Square were selected on the basis of a two-stage open competition. From 28 expressions of interest submissions comprising 50 local, national, and international architects, 10 consortia were shortlisted to be interviewed. From this list, the following three teams were selected in December 1991 to participate in an anonymous competition:

  • Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects with James K.M. Cheng Architects and Musson Cattell Mackey Partnership.
  • Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer Associates with Waisman Dewar Grout Carter Inc.
  • Moshe Safdie & Associates with Downs/Archambault and Partners.

Each team received $100,000 to produce an "Expression of Vision" of Library Square. On August 14th, 1992 the winning submission of Moshe Safdie & Associates' Downs/Archambault Partners was announced by Vancouver City Council.

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What other projects have the architects designed?

Safdie has designed Habitat in Montreal, the National Gallery of Canada, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts addition, Quebec City's Museum of Civilization, the Ottawa City Hall and most recently the Ford Centre for the Performing Arts (across Homer Street from the Central Library).

Downs/Archambault has designed Canada Place, Kwantlen College in Langley, International Village in Vancouver, the YWCA Hotel in Vancouver, additions to Langara College and the Britannia Community Services Centre among other projects.

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Does the Central Library have a rooftop garden?

Yes. Our green roof was designed by Cornelia Oberlander, and is planted with ornamental grasses (blue and green fescue bunch grass) and kinnickinnick in a pattern that replicates the flow of the Fraser River. The final construction budget for the building did not include a public rooftop garden and, as such, the roof is not accessible to staff or the public at this time.

"The benefits of green roofs are multiple. They increase biomass and bird habitat in our cities, help to reduce airborne pollutants, improve the micro-climate, store and delay stormwater runoff, provide opportunities for urban agriculture and therapeutic gardening, reduce heating and cooling requirements for buildings, and aid in the reduction of the urban heat island effect."

Irwin, John "Green Roofs: A Sustainable Option for Greening Our Cities" Sitelines (April 2002): 6-7.

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Who were Alice MacKay, Alma VanDusen and Peter Kaye?

The meeting rooms of the Vancouver Foundation Conference Centre at Library Square are named after three people important in the history of the Vancouver Foundation.

Alice G. MacKay

"Founder" of the Vancouver Foundation. The history of the Foundation has all the elements of a good legend. There is an unlikely hero - a little known woman by the name of Alice G. MacKay who had saved $1,000 from her secretarial job and whose wish was to do something special for Vancouver particularly for homeless women trapped in a cycle of poverty. There is a benevolent power - in the form of industrial/philanthropist W. J. VanDusen who makes her wish come true. And there is an element of magic - in the transformation of $1000 into $610 million. By 1943, he had overseen the establishment and incorporation of the Vancouver Foundation. However, at the time of Alice MacKay's death in 1944, the Vancouver Foundation was little more than a legal entity with virtually no capital and was therefore a community foundation in name only.

Alma VanDusen

Alma Heal was born in Mitchell, Ontario in 1888, and grew up on the family farm with her four siblings. While a student at the Conservatory of Music in Toronto, Alma met Whitford Julian VanDusen, who was studying electrical engineering at the University of Toronto. They were married in Edmonton on September 25, 1912 and moved to Victoria in 1913, where their daughter Phae was born. After the war, they settled in Vancouver. Alma was very artistic and enjoyed music, painting and gardening. She grew magnificent orchids and also loved to garden and paint outdoors at their farm in Langley with its many animals and beautiful gardens.

With her husband, Alma established several funds at the Vancouver Foundation. Much of the VanDusen's giving was carried out anonymously. One such gift took place in 1970 when they quietly donated $1 million to rescue the old Shaugnessy Golf Course from a real estate development. This donation, together with government funding, permitted 52 acres to be purchased as a garden for the City of Vancouver. The anonymous donors were eventually identified, and the property became the VanDusen Botanical Gardens.

Alma VanDusen died in 1969. A memorial garden exists for her within the VanDusen Gardens.

G. Peter Kaye

Gilbert Peter Kaye was born in Huddersfield, Yorkshire, England in 1910. He graduated from the Institute of Chartered Accountants in 1933, and came to Vancouver as an official with the Yorkshire & Pacific Securities Company Ltd., of which he later became President.

Peter Kaye joined the Vancouver Foundation in 1959 as its first full-time Executive Director, a position he held until his retirement in 1977. The following year, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors, to succeed W.J. VanDusen. He retired as Chairman in 1987, and in recognition of his 27 years of distinguished service, the Board of Directors voted unanimously to appoint him as the Vancouver Foundation's first Honourary Chairman.

In addition to his personal interests in gardening and fishing, Peter Kaye was an active member of many community organizations. Characteristically, just prior to his death in 1987, he made provisions for the establishment of an endowment fund, the G. Peter and Barbara E. Kaye Fund, as an example and encouragement to others. He designated his income to organizations with which he had special ties, including the Boy Scouts Development Fund, The Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association, Shawnigan Lake School Foundation, St. Francis-in-the-Woods Anglican Church Endowment Fund and the Vancouver School of Theology Fund.

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Does the library provide wireless services?

Yes. Wireless is available at all VPL branches, and throughout the Central Library. You can connect to VPL's wireless network using any wireless-equipped laptop during library open hours.

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Fast Facts about the Central Library

  • In 1991, 350 West Georgia was selected as the site of the Central Library.
  • Excavation began at the Library Square site in January 1993.
  • It took 26 months to complete the project.
  • The Central Library opened officially on May 26, 1995.
  • The structure is a rectangle within an ellipse.
  • The library building has 9 floors, 7 of which are occupied by the library. Levels 8 and 9 will be leased by the Provincial Government for 20 years. This allows for further expansion of the library.
  • The library building is 37,000 square meters (398,000 square feet) of which 32,500 square meters (349,100 square feet) are occupied by the library.
  • Books and materials are moved through the building by vertical and horizontal conveyors provided by Translogic.
  • 51 kilometers of cable were laid in the library, including a vertical fibre-optic backbone.
  • There are 35 concrete columns per floor.
  • The seating capacity of the library is 1,200.
  • There are 700+ parking stalls; bicycle racks are available around Library Square.
  • The total number of truckloads of material moved from the old Central Library to the current Central Library: 600.
  • The first book to arrive at the library: the World Bibliography of Bibliographies.

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All VPL branches provide:

  • Wheelchair access
  • Internet access
  • WiFi access

Find your nearest VPL branch

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james.bond@vpl.ca