Go to page content

Heart of campus

Milestone anniversary for the Queen Elizabeth II Library

Campus and Community

By Kristine Power

On May 28, 1982,  a crowd of local and national dignitaries gathered in the lobby of the Queen Elizabeth II Library to celebrate its official opening.

Thirty-five years have passed, but an address by Dr. Leslie Harris, then president of Memorial University, still rings true: “. . . that magnificent building, itself the product of public generosity, together with the collections it houses, will be treated by this university as the treasure that it is, and will, insofar as we can make it so, be used in all such was as both to promote learning and scholarship, and to advance the interest of the entire community of Newfoundland and Labrador.”

The lobby was filled to capacity that day. After the address, the crowd moved up to the balcony of the third floor to watch Dr. Harris present Richard Ellis, then acting university librarian, with the symbolic key to the library.

The newly constructed Queen Elizabeth II Library.
The newly constructed Queen Elizabeth II Library.
Photo: QEII Library

Monumental move

For those who worked in the Henrietta Harvey Library, the move to the new building marked a pivotal beginning both in physical space and preparation for the subsequent waves of rapid technology that continue today.

Below are some photos and personal memories of that move and a few stories that reflect what a monumental symbol of creativity and scholarship the library remains today.

1/ Turning of the sod

Queen Elizabeth II turns the sod in 1978 to mark construction of the new library building to be named in her honour on the Elizabeth Avenue campus. The building would officially open four years later.

Photo: Marketing and Communications, Memorial University

2/ Under construction

"It is arguable, when the Elizabeth Avenue campus of Memorial University was opened in 1961 with much fanfare, the Library Building, named after Henrietta Harvey, was already too small . . . By 1975, some 250,000 volumes were moved off campus to a storage facility in an industrial building on O'Leary Avenue," said Richard Ellis, librarian emeritus.

Photo: Marketing and Communications, Memorial University

3/ Reading room windows

The library is not built backwards, contrary to urban myth. The reading room faces north to capture its studio light. The architect of the building, Charles Cullum, went on to design other prominent buildings in St. John's, such as the Johnson GEO Centre.

Photo: Marketing and Communications, Memorial University

4/ Moving the collection

Household Movers, a local moving company, created "book trucks" that held six full shelves of books by welding pieces of shelving to support a custom frame with heavy casters. The shelves were then lifted from the supports and hung on the trucks, but nothing ever goes according to plan. "We gave the movers explicit instructions on how to take the books off the shelf and onto the huge book trucks so that you could unload them in the new building in order on the shelves," explained Jill Charlebois, retired QEII Library employee with the cataloquing and metadata division. "Guess what: they did it wrong and we had to fix almost the whole collection. They got to the right shelf but backwards."

Photo: Marketing and Communications, Memorial University

5/ Filling the stacks

"The opening was prolonged," described Joan Ritcey, division head, Centre for Newfoundland Studies. "The first week of opening was on Feb. 15 — the day the Ocean Ranger went down. As we started to hear about the tragedy, we were still hoping there would be survivors. It was a strange day, the library’s power was out in the morning because of the bad weather, so the lobby, offices and stacks were dark. The faculty and students were in a daze and everyone was very quiet. Library personnel were hit by the news that the husbands of three library staff members had died."

Photo: Marketing and Communications, Memorial University

The QEII in ’82

  • A $750,000 Student Union Building Fund helped support the construction
  • 90,000 locally made bricks, and 30 miles of electrical conduit were used
  • 200,000 square feet of floor space
  • 26 miles of shelving
  • The QEII Library was five times the size of the former Henrietta Harvey Library
  • The QEII Library went from seating for 700 spaces in the old library to 2,000
  • There were 1,456 chairs and 1,163,000 printed books at the time of its opening
Photo taken from the Cap and Gown, Centre for Newfoundland Studies, 1982.
An image from the Cap and Gown, Centre for Newfoundland Studies, 1982.
Photo: Bill White

To receive news from Memorial in your inbox, subscribe to Gazette Now.

Latest News

Trans Dudes with Lady Cancer

Documentary screening, panel discussion on transgender individuals and cancer

Linguistic legacy

Canada Research Chair to continue work supporting Indigenous language revival

Creative spark

Literary festival will showcase local writers in celebratory setting

Indigenous insights

The Rooms and Anthropology department host speaker series

Skill building

Research office offering Memorial community free access to IBM digital program

Open for business

Tackling sustainability at Hatcher House thrift shop on April 20