Our History

What follows is a history of the Boissevain and Morton Regional Library and the literacy services that preceded its founding in 1959.

The first section was originally published in 1981 as part of the Beckoning Hills Revisited history book. It was written by Anna Grace Diehl, the librarian at that time. The second section was added by Michelle Scott for the Beckoning Hills Dawn of the New Millenium history book.

The idea of having a public library for Boissevain was conceived early in our history. The January 18, 1894 issue of the Boissevain Globe reported that “a Reading Club, considered the first step toward a public reading room and a public library, was organized”.There was a very real interest in literacy, education and cultural development among the early pioneers, as evidenced by reports of readings clubs, music teachers and touring artists. Many churches maintained small libraries; some homes developed excellent book collections of their own. Book clubs, wherein members contributed one new book annually for the privilege of reading the other members’ books, were popular for many years. Books were prized birthday and Christmas gifts that were shared with friends and siblings until they were no longer intact.The Boissevain Women’s Institute played a leading roll in library development for Boissevain. From the time of their organization in 1915 they maintained a Rest Room. As soon as they acquired permanent quarters for their Rest Room they opened a library in it. At first the library consisted primarily of packages of books from the Travelling Library of the Manitoba Department of Education. Department of Education records indicate that the first Travelling Library boxes were shipped to rural centres in 1918, so we can assume that Boissevain was among the first communities to benefit from this service.Gradually, through purchases and gifts from members, the Women’s Institute developed a respectable collection of its own. For thirty years they provided library service to the community at a very minimal cost. As the population increased and the needs and demands became greater it became apparent that a better system was required. In 1956 the Women’s Institute began plans to sponsor a Regional Library for Boissevain. Two years later the dream was realized when Boissevain and Morton ratepayers approved a by-law to establish a regional library.Boissevain and Morton Regional Library was officially opened on September 1, 1959 with Miss Bernice Pettypiece as librarian. Mr. E. I. Dow, Mayor of the Town of Boissevain, and Mr. R.A. Patterson, Reeve of the RM of Morton, were the first two registered borrowers. These two men, together with Fred Musgrove, Mrs. James Ludgate, C.Y. Mackenzie, and Arthur Orriss, constituted the first board of trustees. Miss Pettypiece served as librarian until 1977, and Fred Musgrove as Chairman of the Board from its inception until 1975.The new library quickly established a reputation for quality service, which it has maintained through the years. It is known as the “library at the centre of things” because of its active participation in the cultural aspect of the community. While the library’s first priority is the collection and distribution of reading material, it is also involved in such things as arranging art exhibits, puppet theatres, craft festivals, writer’s workshops, and story hours for children.In 1976 the Library instituted the Boissevain Community Archives, and now a collection of photographs and written recordsof this history of the community are part of the library holdings. The archives collection ensures that historical data of the area will be preserved and available for students, historians and social scientists. A little of the past is preserved for the future.”No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books,” said Elizabeth Barret Browning. Boissevain and Morton Regional Library stands on the corner of Broadway and Main Street, offering friendship to all who enter.

by Anna Grace Diehl, Librarian (1981)

Boissevain and Morton Regional Library continues to expand on its reputation of being the best small library in Manitoba. In 1959, the first year the library was in operation 7569 items were circulated. Forty-five years later, in 2004, 39,000 items were circulated. This results in the sixth highest per capita circulation among 54 public libraries in the province!

Technology plays an important role in the operations of the Library. Mike Diehl in conjunction with Anna Grace Diehl developed, “Stacks”, a library automation program. “Stacks” was tested and developed in Boissevain and Morton Regional Library and continues to be the software currently used. Mike started his own company, “Hardcover Software”, and marketed the software to many other libraries in the province. Thanks to their efforts, Boissevain and Morton Regional Library was one of the first small public libraries in Manitoba to become automated in the early 1990s. Work also continued to fully automate the Boissevain Community Archives and as a result the Archives catalogue could be searched worldwide by accessing the Manitoba Public Library Service’s site. This automation resulted in an increase in the number of requests for information from researchers far beyond the local area.

The Library was active in the establishment of the Boissevain Public Access Computer (CAP) site in 1996. A committee comprised of library staff, Phyllis Hallett and Toby Maloney and interested community members, Les Diehl, Gerald May and Larry Winslow worked together to secure grants from Industry Canada. With the grant funding, the committee purchased the necessary hardware and software, subscribed to Rural Escape, an Internet Service Provider, and found space for the public site within the library. Library staff and CAP employees then worked at developing the first Boissevain Community Web Site. As a result of this work, the residents of Boissevain and district had their first affordable access to the Internet and the World Wide Web. And those residents who didn’t have their own computers could use the public site at the library for a nominal hourly cost.

The Joe McDonald North American Native Heritage Resource Centre was established in 1996 as the result of a bequeathment from Joe McDonald’s estate. Joe had an appreciation for the Native peoples’ awareness of nature, their culture and history and the “circle of life”. He wished to see this appreciation fostered through programming and a special collection housed in the Boissevain & Morton Regional Library. Events to honor the collection are planned each year and range from speakers to art displays. The books, which form part of the Library’s holdings, are often on loan to other institutions due to the uniqueness of the collection.

The Library often has projects or special events planned. An historical calendar was printed in 1981to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of Boissevain and the 100th anniversary of the arrival of the first settlers to the area. Author Grant MacEwan was the guest speaker during the 25th anniversary celebrations and Heritage Stew, a collection of stories and recipes, was published as part of the 40th anniversary activities.

One of the most popular continuing events is the preschool storytime. Once a week preschoolers, accompanied by a parent, join the library staff for an hour of stories and crafts. It is a very popular event as over 600 children visited the library as part of the program during 2004.

Main staff over the years have included:

Head Librarian : Bernice Pettypiece 1959-1977, Anna Grace Diehl 1977-1996, Phyllis Hallett 1996-1999, Michelle Scott 1999- pres

Archivist: Anna Grace Diehl 1976-1977, Phyllis Hallett 1977-1997, Toby Moloney 1997-1998, James Ritchie 1998- 2004

by Michelle Scott Librarian (2006)