New John Muir library opens in west Windsor in tribute to prominent local leader

Monday, September 30, 2019

The Windsor Star/Jennifer La Grassa


Nearly a century ago, firehall No. 6 on Mill Street in Olde Sandwich Towne housed firefighters who would respond to emergencies in horse-drawn wagons.

Today, the space houses books, and will be used for intimate musical performances and author readings, among other social events.

More than 300 people crowded into the 98-year-old firehall and former horse stable, now known as John Muir Public Library, for its grand opening on Saturday. Attendees, including John Muir’s family, were in awe of Windsor’s newest public library branch that features wood detailing, a suspended walkway, shelves lined with books and firefighter paraphernalia — all of which ensured the historical past of the designated heritage sites was preserved.

“One of the things I often say when we’re around the board table is how important it is to have public space,” said Ward 3 Coun. Rino Bortolin, who also chairs the Windsor Public Library board. “I think it adds something special when we’re here celebrating the next chapter of what this public space will mean for my kids, their kids and generations to come.”

Though the $5.5 million project was $3 million over its initial budget and encountered a seven-month delay due to unforeseen construction challenges, Mayor Drew Dilkens told attendees that in the end they “created something spectacular for Sandwich town.”

The 7,400-square-foot stylish library is named after prominent Sandwich community member John Muir, who died in 2016 at 75 years old from lung cancer.

Born and raised in west Windsor, John was a former principal at General Brock Public School and an active citizen. John had a hand in many local projects, including the development of the Sandwich Health Centre in 1989 and the town’s sculptures of General Isaac Brock and Chief Tecumseh, which commemorate the War of 1812.

But above all else, “he was devoted to the idea of libraries,” John’s son Allan Muir told the crowd on Saturday. John had strongly advocated for a library branch in Sandwich that was eventually built in 1997.

“Libraries were such an important focal point of his life,” said Allan, who attended with other family and friends of John. “To know that kids are going to be reading, kids are going to be studying, people who want to find someplace to use computers or to find work, that they can come here… to the John Muir branch, he’d be really, really honoured by that.”

Dilkens recalled John’s disbelief and appreciation when he found out the new library would be named after him.

“John’s fingerprints are literally everywhere in Sandwich town,” Dilkens said. “And his name adorns this new library as a fitting tribute to a man who fought for a library branch in Sandwich that would serve generations to come.”

The upper floor of the stable has a photo of John beside a mirror that was given to the library from his wife, Carol. She said she hopes to add more items to the space that commemorate his life.

Many other features of the site have interesting ties to Windsor or Sandwich, public library officials told the Star in August, when the building was nearing completion.

Inside, to the right of the entrance, is a former hose-drying tower that has been converted into an observation tower, complete with an 11-foot glass cap that overlooks the city and glows at night.

On the first floor, a golden firefighter hat, boots and jacket that belonged to local fireman Robert Price can also be found. His daughter Nancy said she has many fond memories of the times she spent at the old firehall with her father, who died in 1991.

“I feel that it’s (the library) an excellent use of a historic building,” Nancy said. “We need to do more of that in Windsor. Things get tossed aside and the kids today…they don’t know their history.”

Connecting the firehall to the stable is a new glass, steel and wood structure with a suspended walkway that joins the upper floors of the two buildings. The floor of the walkway was created by old wood that had been found in the stable when renovations began and is thought to have been salvaged from a 1941 fire that occurred in the firehall.

To cap it all off, the stone patio outside the front of library is made of granite that was previously used in the on- and off-ramps of the Ambassador Bridge, according to architect Jason Grossi.

At Saturday’s opening Grossi watched as people enjoyed the space that took months to build and exuded an immense amount of attention to detail.

“It was great to see it finally used for the first time and very much like I envisioned it,” Grossi said after the grand opening.

“This is really quite spectacular, especially for a library and for the people of Sandwich and the people of Windsor.”