Maskwacis celebrates new chapter with grand opening of first public library

The community of Maskwacis celebrates the grand opening of its first ever public library on Friday. A pop-up library had been operating out of the Howard Buffalo Memorial Centre since Febrary.

‘Everyone that seems to utilize it has nothing but good things to say about it’

Library manager Shirley Cire checks in material at the Maskwacis Public Library. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

A trip to the local library has finally become a possibility for 15,000 people living in Maskwacis.

The library, in the Howard Buffalo Memorial Centre, will celebrate its grand opening Friday afternoon, although it has been open since June.

Before then, residents of Maskwacis who wanted to borrow books and other materials, had to rely on a mobile library.

Maskwacis, about 90 kilometres south of Edmonton, includes the Samson Cree Nation, Ermineskin Cree Nation, Louis Bull Tribe and Montana First Nation.

'I would have lineups'

Shirley Cire, the library's manager, started the mobile service in February out of the lobby of the memorial centre.

"I would have lineups," she said. "Sometimes I'd have 10 to 12 bins, then we'd put them into the van and then from there drive from Lacombe to Maskwacis, come here, unload the bins, set up tables, set the books out, and then just sit and wait for people to come."

At the time, Cire started negotiating with the band office for a more permanent space. 

"There was a lot of red tape," she said. "Luckily we received a grant from Public Library Services Branch, Municipal Affairs, out of Edmonton and from there we were able to build relationships and then come and create this library space."

There are over 800 books and DVDs at the Maskwacis Public Library. (Min Dhariwal/CBC)

It cost $30,000 to buy more than 800 books and some furniture for the space.

The Samson Cree Nation offered up a space in the Howard Buffalo Memorial Centre without charge.

"I think it's important that we have that," said Cire. 

"People want that. They want to be able to come here and have access to that kind of material, they want to read about history and be able to keep up with it."

Brad Buffalo is proud to finally have a Maskwacis public library card.

He no longer has to make the trek to nearby Ponoka or Lacombe to visit a library.

Buffalo, who works with youth in the community, said the addition of the library is one of many things changing the image of Maskwacis. 

"It shows that the community is healing," he said.

'Makes the community proud'

"The creation of a library shows that people are willing to learn, so I come here every week, [Cire] has a real good collection here," he said. 

The library is in an ideal location, said Jim Johnson, a co-ordinator for Samson Youth and Sports Development. 

Johnson said the memorial centre is a social hub for the community. Adding the library took a lot of planning and collaboration, he said.

The Maskwacis Public Library is located inside the Howard Buffalo Memorial Centre. (Manuel Carrillos/CBC )

"It's definitely something the community needs," said Johnson, adding that books and internet connections haven't been easily accessible in the community. 

"It feels like it makes the community proud," he said. "You know, they talk about it, and everyone that seems to utilize it has nothing but good things to say about it."