September 2013 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Guest Blog: Digging up Canada's first National Library

Guest Blog by C. Bailey

The discovery, on 23 and 26 August, of the remains of roughly twelve books from an archaeological dig at Pointe-à-Callière in the Old Port of Montréal may be all that remains of the library of nearly 24,000 original source documents and books held in the library of the first Parliament building of Canada, which was burned to the ground in 1849 after a riot.

Assembly_burning.jpgThe current dig has been in progress since 2011, according to the project website, though this is the first discovery of any kind of paper in the layers. CBC News reports that the books have been taken to the Canadian Conservation Institute for refrigeration treatment, which according to the institute may make the remains accessible.   

Canada's first parliamentary meeting place was active from 1844 until 1849; during the fire some 200 documents and a painting of Queen Victoria were saved, however the rest were lost completely. The building was burned by members of the city's English community after the parliament sitting at the time made the decision to offer restitutions to those who lost property during the Patriote rebellion of the 1830s.

If the books can be made readable, they could offer a unique perspective on the early history of Canada and particularly that of the province of Québec. At the moment, the photos available show the books to most closely resemble a pile of charred rubbish. However, time will tell. 

Caitlin Bailey works with, collects, and writes about rare books and ephemera. Follow her blog at Curious? Adventures with rare books or on Twitter @cdot_b

Image: The Burning of the House of Assembly at Montreal, 25 April 1849. The Illustrated London News, 19 May 1849. - Courtesy National Archives Canada, C2726.