A Timeline of Huron’s Rare Book Collection

Compiled by Jennifer Robinson, Director, Library and Learning Services

1864: Original campus is located on a property known as ‘Rough Park’ which “…occupied the block bounded by Grosvenor, St. George, and St. James Streets and the Thames River.” (Talman)

Huron College opened December 2, 1863, with lectures beginning January 9, 1864.

An early reference was made to the Library/Librarian in a London Free Press article dated February 13, 1864 with donors thanked for their contributions to the Library collection. History also notes “The Librarian was required to keep a catalogue of all the books in the College, to take charge of them, and to report from time to time to the Council.” (Talman)

Principal Wickes (1866-1868) – Appointed a librarian and sub-librarian and arranged to have books listed and placed in order on the shelves. Council authorized him and Professor Halpin to draw up a badly-needed set of rules. Edward Wilson, later missionary and builder of Indian Schools in Algoma, was the first librarian and George Wye was his assistant.

1867: Rules for Library presented at Council, July 5, 1867.

1871: Cronyn: willed 300 books to the College, which were “duly selected” by Helmuth and Brock. In 1873 they once again instructed the librarian to arrange and catalogue the books, and even covered the library floor with matting to add to the comfort of the students.

1881: October, students and library were settled in the new University building. The Helmuth College building, standing between Wellington and Waterloo streets, north of St. James Street.

1885: College (and Library) returns to its original home (Rough Park).

1885-1920 little is recorded about the Library, but the budget is minimal and the collection seems to be built mostly by donations. Donations take the form of cash and actual books from the personal libraries of individuals known to the College. 

1930: The Committee on Historical Records (Diocese of Huron) was established in 1930, effectively creating an Archives.

1944: Secretary-Treasurer of Diocese given responsibility for church records and designated ‘Archivist’.

1951: Huron moves to its present site on Western Road. Library is located in the current Administration Wing (Advancement offices).

1956: First available annual report for Library. Estimates the entire Library collection to be 12,400 volumes

Reports on Atkinson Foundation Grant which allowed the Library to purchase new theological books as well as pay for “…the rebinding of selected rare volumes in danger of loss through deterioration.”

“Among the rebound treasures of the library are the four volume Wyclif Bible of the late fourteenth century, handsomely done in black morocco, two medieval Testaments, a seventeenth century folio-size Prayer Book in full calf, nine absolutely irreplaceable journals, minutes, and records of the Church Missionary Society in Canada, and fifteen volumes dealing with Canadian Church history in the period 1840-1870.

1958: Sod turned for new Library

Leslie William Silcox Library dedicated in December. Consisted of main reading room to accommodate 125 students, a mezzanine for theology and stacking for 100,000 volumes.

Physical count of books is undertaken, collection pegged at 14,816 volumes.

1959: Notes are made regarding an acquisitions policy for the collection, this being required due to the “…radical and continuing enlargement of our curriculum…”

Research strengths are identified:

  • McManaway collection of Spenser editions (donated by Church of St. John the Evangelist)
  • English historical divinity
  • Latin fathers in Corpus Christianorum
  • Old Testament studies

1961: Reclassification of old library about 95% complete. (“In 1955 Huron went into its own peculiar system devised by three faculty members.”)

1963: “The Silcox Memorial Library remains a delightful and well-designed building, conducive to quiet study…The shelving for the second floor of stacks will be needed for the Fall of 1964 or soon thereafter. Our few rare books can then be able to be properly stored in a caged area of the shelves, instead of somewhat precariously in the microfilm room as at present.”

1964: Report on book losses included. Identify 554 books missing from shelves. Control consists of 1 student on desk, September to May. No control of any kind during summer.

1965: Huron now restricts use of books and reading rooms to persons taking one or more courses at Huron, to faculty and to those who possess a guest borrower’s card.

1968: Actual book count taken in June identifies 63,782 accessioned volumes.

First “fully professional” librarian appointment made in this year – Miss Judith Grace, B.A., B.L.S.

1969-73: no reports filed

1972: Plans for expansion.

1974: Library expansion open and dedicated in December.

“Huron College Library is fortunate in having a fine selection of Antiquarian and Rare Books. These Special Collections are of cultural and instructional importance to the College Community, and a programme to ensure the preservation of this material has been instituted. Rare and valuable volumes have been transferred from the open stacks to the “cage” and in the process have been treated with a chemical preparation which will aid in the temporary preservation of their bindings. Special acid free paper strips have been obtained and will be used to record the call number/author/title/ of material added or transferred to the collection. This procedure will eliminate the past practice of defacing finely-bound leather volumes by painting numbers onto their spines. A special stamp reading “Rare Books” has been obtained and the appropriate cards in the Card Catalogue and the Shelf List file have been stamped in order to direct the Library user to the location of Special Collection material. It is hoped that the new Rare Book Room will aid in the preservation of the Library’s unique antiquarian and rare books.”

From Acquisition Policy Statement:

“Because the Library’s priority is to provide materials related to the instructional programme of the College and to make available material required by students and faculty for course oriented research, and because funds for these objectives are limited, Rare Books and Special Collections must be considered as an area of passive acquisition.

It is recognized, however, that Rare Books and Special Collections have a definite place in an Undergraduate College Library, a place which will become more obvious and more convenient when the new Rare Books Room is completed. The Library has a moral, cultural, and instructional obligation to maintain, preserve and organize those materials already in the Library’s Rare Book Collection, and to transfer rare books and special material from the stack collection to a more secure environment in order to ensure their preservation for continued use.

The Library will actively encourage and accept gifts of rare material within the areas established by the acquisition policy and within the areas of collections already in existence. Additions to the Rare Books Collection may also be made from regular library funds when the need and/or the opportunity arises.

This is the first time rare books have been identified as a collection and their physical location noted. It would seem from the above that until this time, rare books were kept in the open stacks, although back in the late 1950’s reference was made to keeping valuable materials in “the vault’. Rare books being kept in open stacks is obviously problematic on a number of levels, particularly given preceding annual reports drafted by the Library identify book theft from the stacks as an ongoing issue. 

1975-76: Notable acquisitions and gifts listed, including:

“Rev. A Abraham presented the library with several rare Haida and Ojibway prayer books, and an extremely rare volume Haida Texts and Myths recorded by John R. Sawnton and published for the Smithsonian Institute.”

“The establishment of the Huron College Archives and the deposit of the Diocese of Huron Archives has enhanced the Library’s ability to provide information and service not only to its immediate academic community, but to the community at large. This important information and research source will require proper preservation, storage and retrieval procedures, and attention should be directed to this area.”

1977: First formal reference to the Diocesian Archives presented by Huron Executive Committee to Synod in May. An ad hoc Archives Committee established to oversee the newly established Archives and a PT Archivist is hired. Archival records transferred to lower room in the Silcox Library.

Library annual report provides a number for the rare books collection – 1553.

“The task of establishing record groups and series (for the Diocese Archives) has been planned and the provision of sufficient financial support is imperative to allow for the compilation of finding aids, the preservation and proper storage of documents, and the appointment of an archivist or archival assistant. This important social, historical and religious archive must be preserved and established in the proper archival manner to allow for its utilization by qualified researchers.”

1979: Diocese of Huron Archives became officially known as Verschoyle Phillip Cronyn Memorial Archives.

1980s: Primary focus on implementing automation (i.e. technology) into various aspects of Library work.

1980/81: Mr. Bill Mason of the School of Library and Information Science at UWO employed by the Library to assess the state and needs of Rare Books collection in the Library.

Findings from his report – Collection is 1900 volumes. 50% Theology, 30% Literature, 10% Canadiana, 10% other. “The volumes are generally in fair to good condition for books their age. However, a few items are in need of more thorough and serious attention…A thorough cleaning of volumes eventually kept is recommended.”

1994: VPCM Archives moved to basement under Chapel at HUC. Permanent home for historical records of the Anglican Church in SW Ontario.

Rare books from Huron College Library and archival records for Huron University College share this space.

2003: Renovation and addition to Silcox Library. Doubled public service and user space on main floor.