by Lori Treloar
Early records indicate that the Women’s Institute ran a library at Shawnigan Lake for a short time in 1919 but there is also evidence that a local library was in existence prior to that. The Shawnigan Lake Library Association, mentioned in the 1925 cash books for the Shawnigan Lake Athletic Association, ran the library in the basement of the original hall. Apparently, the library housed a well-stocked permanent collection and received a regular influx from the Provincial and Victoria libraries. It is interesting to note that the 1929 annual report shows over 3500 visits to the library with a circulation of over 5000 books.
The library and its collection were destroyed in the village fire of 1930. Within a week of the fire, the library re-opened in a temporary location with shelves full of donated books. In the fall of 1930, the library moved again to a building on the corner of Dundas and Shawnigan-Mill Bay Road. Although built to house the library, the Association did not own the premises. In the spring of 1932, the Library association used their $500 fire insurance money to buy a site, directly across the street, at 1755 Shawnigan–Mill Bay Road. The formal opening of the 500 sq. ft. Shawnigan Lake Library was held on May 10, 1932 with speeches from several locals and dignitaries. In 1933, the library reported a turnover of 500 books per month.
A local plebiscite, in 1935, for the Union Library scheme was turned down. However, 10 years later the ratepayers voted to join the Vancouver Island Union Library (now the Regional Library). The Regional Library paid a nominal rent to the Shawnigan Lake Library Association. This covered utility services and maintenance. As Shawnigan was unincorporated, there were no civic funds available for the library. The Centennial Committees of 1967 and 1971 donated the proceeds of the sale of the local history, Green Branches and Fallen Leaves to the library. This allowed the library trustees to install a furnace and make other improvements that would not have been possible otherwise.
In 1976, the Shawnigan Lake library building was turned over to the Vancouver Island Regional Library (VIRL) and the local association was dissolved. The Trustees felt that their decision ensured that the property would always be used for a library. Sadly, this was not the case. In 1985, the busy, little library had a circulation of over 34,000 but in 1987, the VIRL determined that a new library was needed to serve the increasing population in the South Cowichan area. In September 1989, the South Cowichan Branch opened in Mill Bay making the Shawnigan Lake Branch redundant. Mill Bay residents were understandably delighted…but, after more than 70 years of library service, Shawnigan Lake residents were not.