The Legislative Library occupies its own wing of the Parliament Buildings, an addition to the original building that was completed in 1915.
The first Legislative Library was founded in 1863 to serve the colonial Legislative Assembly of the Crown Colony of Vancouver Island. The early collection included material related to the history of British Columbia, which later became the British Columbia Archives. By 1893, R.E.Gosnell had been appointed the first permanent librarian.
The one room used for the library in the Parliament Buildings was totally inadequate for an institution intended to serve the Legislative Assembly and all British Columbians and to house the many valuable historical documents and artifacts of the library.
His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, Governor-General of Canada laid the foundation stone for the library wing in 1912, a time of relative prosperity in B.C. It was praised as the first “modern” building designed specifically to house a library in any of the provinces of Canada.
The library continues to provide reference and research services to the Members of the Legislative Assembly, their research staff, the officers of the House and legislative support staff. It no longer houses the British Columbia Archives, that moved to its own building in 1970.
The Legislative Library maintains a core collection of materials on political science, parliamentary procedure, law, public administration, economics and Canadian history. It also serves as the official depository library for British Columbia government publications and has extensive holdings of Canadian federal and provincial publications.
The library is located adjacent to the Speaker’s corridor, just behind the legislative Chamber, on the second floor of the Parliament Buildings. As one proceeds down the hallway, the library rotunda and reference desk become increasingly visible, and there is growing anticipation about the splendour to be revealed. The library rotunda is three storeys high, with gallery openings on the second floor. It is finished in Italian Carrara marble and punctuated with eight giant columns, a perfect complement to the classic architectural features of the rest of the building. The walls are panelled in marble and the rotunda’s impressive eight columns are made from scagliola, an Italian neo-classical revival of stone and plaster intended to imitate marble. One architectural critic humorously noted that the impression upon entering the library was “not that you’ve come to study, but that you have drowned in a Roman bathhouse.” However, most visitors agree that the rotunda reflects the dramatic splendour and decadence of the late imperial age. One striking feature of the rotunda is the eight large heraldic beasts that peer down over librarians and library users.
The two reading rooms adjacent to the library rotunda are panelled in mahogany and decorated with elaborate wood carvings. The Members’ Reading Room features a fine example of hand-carved limewood in the style of 17th century English sculptor Grinling Gibbons. They were carved for the library by H.H. Martyn & Co., of Cheltenham, England, also known as the “Cheltenham School.” The vast library collection is spread out over seven floors, accessed by the staff using stairways, a dumbwaiter and the second-oldest working elevator in Victoria. The oldest is reportedly at the former law courts building in Bastion Square, now the Maritime Museum of British Columbia.
The east, west and south wing additions to the Parliament Buildings were completed in 1915. Like the original 1898 buildings, the additions were designed by F.M. Rattenbury. His first plans for the library’s south wing called for an impressive chateau-style design, but this was thought to be too grandiose and earned the disapproval of the Legislative Librarian, E.O.S. Scholefield. Although the final plans were a compromise, the library wing still emerged as the most ornate portion of the buildings. The addition of the three wings cost almost $1.2 million, considerably more than the $928,000 cost of the original buildings in 1898. However, little opposition was raised about the addition costs since the province was enjoying an economic boom at that time.
Among the library’s interesting features are the portico entrance and the sculptures of historical and mythological figures adorning the outer walls. The portico entrance features the original gates from the pre-1915 south entrance to the Parliament Buildings. Rattenbury never intended this library entrance to be used. It was added primarily for architectural effect. Scholefield himself chose the historical and mythical figures represented in the sculptures adorning the exterior of the Library.
Visitors first notice the fourteen tall statutes 2.74 metres (9 feet), that grace the exterior walls. Each one is connected in some way to British Columbia’s early history. The female figures represent the arts of painting, music, sculpture and architecture. Six literary medallions depict Shakespeare, Homer, Dante, Socrates, Milton and Sophocles. Two craftsmen, Charles Marega and Bernard Carrier, sculpted these classical statues from the same Haddington Island stone used in the construction of the buildings.
The Exterior Statues:
Beginning on the east side and moving westward, the figures include:
Chief Maquinna, the Nootka chief who welcomed the first white explorers who landed on Vancouver Island in 1778.
Captain George Vancouver, the explorer who is credited with first circumnavigating Vancouver
Sir Matthew Baillie Begbie, the first Chief Justice of British Columbia.
Dr. John McLoughlin, a Chief Factor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Dr. J.S. Helmcken, an early Victoria surgeon and politician who helped negotiate British Columbia’s terms of Confederation.
Captain James Cook, the British naval Captain who discovered and named Nootka Sound in 1778.
Sir James Douglas, the founder of Fort Victoria and Governor of the Colonies of Vancouver Island and British Columbia.
Sir Frances Drake, the 16th-century explorer and the first Englishman in the North Pacific, in 1579.
Sir Alexander Mackenzie, the North West Company explorer who, in 1793, was the first white man to traverse the continent north of Mexico.
Simon Fraser, the early fur trader and explorer who followed the Fraser River to its mouth in 1808.
Lord Lytton, the British Colonial Secretary who created the mainland colony of British Columbia in 1858.
Sir Anthony Musgrave, British Columbia’s first colonial Governor, who expedited the province’s entry into Confederation in 1871.
David Thompson, an early 19th-century fur trader and explorer who charted British Columbia’s
Colonel R.C. Moody, a Commander of the Royal Engineers who surveyed many of the province’s