More Than A Library
When the current librarian/custodian took responsibility for the Zoé Vallé Memorial Library in December of 1994, there were serious challenges that had to be met. The interior of the building was in need of restoration and redecorating and the Endowment Fund had been somewhat depleted due to years of low interest rates.
Being lovers of heritage and old buildings in particular, the current librarian/custodian and his wife decided to try and restore the Library building and grounds to reflect the spirit of Chester’s early libraries, which were essentially community libraries in someone’s home. As the Library was intended to be a memorial to Zoé and had come to include other commemorative elements, they saw it becoming just as much an informal museum as a library.
For the first few years, they paid for redecorating expenses with their own money because what little income there was from the Endowment Fund had to be used for operating expenses. They began a regular newsletter and established an annual fundraising campaign to try and keep investment capital from being diminished.
Room by room, they proceeded to repair, restore and redecorate in an effort to preserve a part of Chester’s heritage and, at the same time, create a beautiful and charming space where the community could come and find an interesting book or two. Following are some recent photographs and a few words about the public rooms.
The entrance hall was redecorated to be brighter and more inviting. Old green wall-to-wall carpet, that was glued to the floor, was removed and classic checkerboard tiles were added.
The librarian’s desk was moved out here from the Book Room to create more space there. A closet was added in the rear, beside the stairs, to hide coats that had been hung on simple hooks before.
The walls in the hall are becoming a display space for historical items about the Vallé family, as well as the heritage of the summer visitors and the local members of the community who played such a key role in the Library’s founding and its continued survival.
The Book Room
This room was the original library book room. Zoé’s memorial plaque is inset among the shelves in the upper left of the photo. The plaque reads: “This house belonged to Marie Zoé Vallé Lightfoot. Here she still welcomes you.”
Originally one of the two front parlours of the house, it may have been turned into a library during Zoé’s time there.
In the center background can be seen the passage to the Club Room that we reopened. In the cupboards there they found minute books and other Women’s Institute artifacts, as well as information on Zoé’s family tree and some of her personal books.
The Ondaatje Reading Room
The Ondaatje Reading Room began as a place to read magazines and keep the books for children. The room also holds the Garden Club books, books on art, travel, Canadiana as well as books on the sea and sailing. This was the first room to be restored. Old carpeting was removed and the floor was sanded and refinished. The lighting fixtures were replaced and the small washroom was restored for use after serving as a storage closet for years.
In August, 2002, the room was named after Sir Christopher Ondaatje in recognition of his generous support for the Library Endowment Fund. In 2010, Sir Christopher commissioned, for the room, new custom-made adjustable bookshelves that copied the ones in the Book Room and a painting by Malcolm Calloway based on a photo collage of Zoé and a Peninsula view from the early days of the summer visitors.
When the house was Zoé’s cottage, this room was likely the dining room. What is now a small washroom installed during the early days of the Women’s Institute was originally a passage to the original kitchen and probably contained a butler’s pantry.
The window on the east wall, where Sir Christopher’s commemorative plaque and story are displayed, has a wonderful view of the formal garden. There is also a display case that offers interpretation about various artifacts that were found in the Library and that had belonged to Zoé and members of her family.
The Club Room
This room was called the Club Room by the Chester Branch of the Women’s Institute of Nova Scotia, who met in it for fifty years. Above the fireplace can be seen the oil portrait of Zoé. The Hibben Memorial Collection, offering a quaint ‘snapshot’ of a thirties library, is housed behind the glass doors to the right of the fireplace.
One can sit here and read during library hours and the room also holds the collections of biographies and books on the sea and sailing.
The room was essentially unused from 1978 until restorations began with the current Librarian in 1995. The woodwork was repaired and repainted, walls were repaired and repapered and the floor was painted, as there was too much damage to sand.
The linoleum on the floor is originally from the Lordly house when it was owned by the McNutts, just before it was purchased by the Chester Municipal Heritage Society.
The only furniture original to the room are the bookcases in the rear corners and the bronze statue of Antiope, which probably belonged to Zoé. The rest of the furniture belongs to the current Librarian and his wife and is shared with the public in the interest of recreating the period when Zoé resided here.
The rear portion of the room was originally an outside verandah that was probably closed in later by Zoé in order to give her more room for entertaining.