Winnipeg's Carnegie Library called one of Canada's most endangered historic sites

As the future of Winnipeg’s Carnegie Library building hangs in limbo, the more than a century old former home of the city’s archives has been named among the most endangered historic sites in Canada.

City of Winnipeg hasn't decided what to do with former city archives building

The National Trust for Canada has put Winnipeg’s former Carnegie Library building at 380 William Ave. on its 2018 Top 10 Endangered Places List. (Justin Fraser/CBC)

A Winnipeg library that is more than a century old and houses the city's archives has been named among the most endangered historic sites in Canada at a time when the future of the building hangs in limbo.

The National Trust for Canada has put Winnipeg's former Carnegie Library building at 380 William Ave. — which has sat empty since 2013 — on its 2018 Top 10 Endangered Places List.

"It's the oldest library in Winnipeg and it's a high profile one with beautiful materials," said Chris Wiebe, manager of heritage policy and government relations at National Trust for Canada, a not-for-profit organization that advocates for the renewal of historic sites across the country.

"It's not a negative list by any means, I think it's a way of shining a spotlight on properties that have the potential to be turned around."

The Carnegie Library was officially opened in 1905 after the city received a $75,000 donation from Andrew Carnegie, and is the first of three city libraries to be built with help from the American philanthropist, including the Cornish Library and St. John's Library.

While it was replaced by the Centennial Library (now the Millennium Library) in 1977, the Carnegie continued to serve as a library branch until it became the home of the City of Winnipeg Archives in 1995, according to records from the Manitoba Historical Society

But while the building was undergoing major renovations in 2013, a heavy rainstorm damaged the roof and washed away plans to turn it into a state-of-the-art archival facility.

The city moved the archives out and it's been vacant ever since.

'Recipe for an endangered building'

That's "a recipe for an endangered building," says Cindy Tugwell, who nominated the building for the National Trust list.

"To sit vacant and mothballed, we don't know what work has been done — has all the mould been removed? So in our eyes it could be a sitting duck for demolition by neglect," said Tugwell, executive director of Heritage Winnipeg.

"We have no clear understanding of what the city wants to do as owners and what their future intentions are for the building."

The city's archival collection and departmental records are now being held in storage on an interim basis out of two locations – the Corporate Records Centre at 311 Ross Ave. and leased space at 50 Myrtle St., according to a city spokesperson.

Both Wiebe — who used to live in Winnipeg and visited the Carnegie Library while he was in school — and Tugwell hope to see the archives returned to Carnegie Library.

"It was one of the most dynamic and most used libraries in Western Canada for many decades in the middle of the 20th century," said Wiebe.

"Continuing that public use and access would be the ideal solution — it was a public space — it has that value to people in the area and around Winnipeg."

Heritage protection, for now

A city spokesperson said the city is "currently evaluating strategic alternatives for the future use of the Carnegie Library," but added bringing back the archives remains an option.

In the meantime, the repair work has been put on hold until that use has been determined, said the spokesperson, who also didn't rule out the possibility the city could sell the building in the future.

If that's the route the city chooses, Tugwell hopes the decision is made soon. While she would rather see the archives return, Tugwell says she has heard from developers interested in making a deal.

While the building is protected with heritage status, that protection falls with the walls, says Tugwell. 

"What worries me is, if it sits a couple more years like that it will be too far gone for anybody to purchase it and reuse it," she said. "Unfortunately it's not protected if it's falling apart.

"These buildings are too valuable to let sit for years on end vacant."

She's hopeful the attention brought by the National Trust's list will encourage the city to make a decision on what to do with the building.

"We'll never see the likes of these buildings again, the way that they're built, the type of architecture and the type of materials and the sturdiness of theses buildings that were built over a century ago to last the test of time," she said.

"We'll never see these buildings again — once we destroy them, they're gone."