History of the Cochrane Library


The mission of CHAPS is to identify, preserve, protect, and educate the public about historically significant properties and buildings in Cochrane, Alberta. The focus of this history is of the founding and early years of the library and is not meant to be a complete history.

Institutions like the Library are particularly valuable since they were founded by volunteers with little support from any level of government. Four women visualized and implemented the first Cochrane Library. Vola McPherson, Nan Boothby, Amy Callaway and Grace Oldfield who saw the need for the hamlet of Cochrane to have a Library and took the steps to obtain books, space and staff to provide that service to residents. Over time many people volunteered and continued to grow the Library supporting the needs of the community.

We should not lose the memory or the spirit of these visionary pioneers.


The Cochrane Home and School Association on October 3rd, 1950 decided to sponsor a library in Cochrane. Vola McPherson was the first librarian and retired in 1952. Nan Boothby took over. “She felt that Cochrane needed a library and she focussed on getting kids involved with books,” says Brenda Hughes, a librarian in 2000. “Her thing was to get Kids to become life-long readers.”  

The Cochrane Home and School Association on October 3rd, 1950 decided to sponsor a library in Cochrane. Vola McPherson was the first librarian and retired in 1952. Nan Boothby took over. “She felt that Cochrane needed a library and she focussed on getting kids involved with books,” says Brenda Hughes, a librarian in 2000. “Her thing was to get Kids to become life-long readers.”

The following is a quote from a History of the Library by E. B. Boothby, one of Nan Boothby’s sons. 

“Education in Cochrane was furnished by the Cochrane school district.. Following the depression years and World War 2, cash and collection of taxes was a tough role and books and educational references expensive. The school authority had difficulty in collecting enough money to pay the teachers, janitor and keep the building warm

A Home and School Association was formed. Mrs. MacPherson served a period as president as did Nan Boothby.. There was not a book for reading or reference in the school or a test tube in the science room for use by the students. The association and the student parents decided that something should move forward to improve the situation. For books, a community drive could take place for book donations and shelves to stock a library in the school. The community drive for book donations began. 

At the same period, roads in the area had improved. The adjoining school district wanted to close the Horse Creek, Bearpaw, Glendale schools and build a new school. Discussions took place to merge the Cochrane school district with them and have the new school in the town of Cochrane. Ratepayers of the Cochrane school district approved the merger. On the new school term, there were now bookshelves stocked with books supplied by the school district, leaving no action required by the home and school association. 

Many of the student parents, including Nan Boothby and Mrs. MacPherson, decided that a community facility stocked with reading and reference material and located in a public environment would be nice for the student body and a wonderful place for adults to obtain fresh titles to borrow and return. 

The town of Cochrane had recently purchased a privately owned recreational building that had been used as a town hall. The upstairs was rented for dances and public events. An unused room existed in the basement. The town authorized the use of this room for a library but advised that not a cent of public funding was available to improve the facility or finance any library function

Now funding had to be put in place. Nan Boothby, Mrs. Wallace, Mrs. Callaway thought that funding could be put in place to modernize the room and build shelving by providing snacks at baseball games and light catering undertakings. The group would be called w.w.w. in short for willing, working, women. They would be joined by other volunteers in the community.. The room was quickly sanitized, and funding starting to fund modernization of the room. Mrs. Ed Davies would visit Nan Boothby and they would spend hours repairing books donated by the community. These old editions could now be moved to the new location and the doors opened. Discussion took place as to a name, but no decision was made and the doors opened without a sign and was known as the library. an organization name was structured to enable banking and required usage. “



Library entrance was on North Side

The library has been in several locations. The first was in a broom closet in the basement of the Community Hall.   The second location, also in the basement of the old Community Hall in a room that formerly was used to store coal.  

In 1975, the third location became the basement of the town hall which was warmer but not much bigger.   Then a move to a much larger location in the former St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The library was renamed the Nan Boothby Memorial in honour of the women that worked hand in hand to build the library in its first 12 years.  

Odd things were reported at that location. The site was a former cemetery. Human remains were later found by the University of Calgary and moved to the cemetery.    

The current location is on Railway Street.


Again from E.B. Boothby

“Use of the facility gradually grew, and would be influenced by five factors

First: The government of Alberta introduced a matching grant to libraries which now meant that an increased flow of new reading an reference material could be obtained

Second: Local service groups began providing cash donations which enabled funding for new editions

Third: The town would improve the fire equipment and convert the town office to a fire hall. This meant that the nicely furnished library would be needed for the office of the town secretary. The library could move to the empty coal room if desired, but there would be no financial support to renovate the room. The library volunteers and Nan Boothby understood well that the location took a lot of work to renovate but the location had an outside north entrance.. With some lights installed and renovation, the balance of the community building could be sealed off, and the doors of the library opened for evening use. Students and youth could now come and research. Adults could now pick up reading material at this alternate time. I was always highly impressed with the spirit of Mrs. Beatty, Mrs. Lathwell, Mrs. Callaway and others who joined Nan Boothby in this new location. Only a single teenager would come on many evenings. The ladies knew in their hearts that this person was now occupied in a positive manner and would go forward and take his or her place in society in a positive manner. The time was well spent

Fourth: An election was called in Canada. At Cochrane, John Boothby, Nans husband, was called upon to assist Carl Nickle in his campaign for election to Parliament. Carl was owner and editor of the Nickel Oil bulletin. On the afternoon prior to the public meeting, John would take Mr. Nickle to the library. I long remember the astonishment of Mr. Nickle when he viewed the library and discovered that it was operated by volunteers and without public funding. Mr. Nickle was aware of the Alberta matching grants for libraries.. A couple of months later, the library received a letter. The donation allowed the library to go shopping for new editions and apply to the province for the maximum grant

Fifth: There are those in the community who have much,, many with some and those with little. There are those in their teens who have much energy, many with some and those with interest not held by the majority. There are adults with sound minds, active minds and those who need to keep their mind active with an activity that is of interest and available. None will be drawn to a library because of the name, but will come to a service whatever the name and will tell their friends when the atmosphere at the facility is most positive. 

Nan Boothby died in 1962

The Cochrane Art Club began about the same time as the library. One of their members painted a likeness of Nan Boothby and presented it to the library to honour Nan Boothby. Nan was actually the first librarian. 

In due time, the town would construct a new building. This would now contain the library. The library portion was named the Nan Boothby Memorial Library. The name carried forward when the next new building was constructed.” 

Carl Nickle was a politician from 1951 – 1957 

I believe Nan was actually the second Librarian after Vola MacPherson.

In 1980 the library became a municipal library.  

Fee’s in 1950 were set at $1.00 per year for adults. Children attending school $.50 and if not attending school $1.00.   

The newsletter Nan Boothby Memorial Library History and Development (Appendix) contains a listing of the first Library Board and library staff from 1950 through the 35th anniversary in 1985. 

Stories from the early Years

Gordon Davies recalls that his mother and Nan Boothby used to travel to Calgary by bus to obtain books.  Books were often in need of repair so covers were replaced and the books put into circulation.

There have been many long-serving volunteers since the library’s inception including Emily Lathwell (33 Years), Margaret Beattie (32 years), Catherine Hansen (25 years) and Dorothy Steves (21 years). Some of their service dates back to the mid-’50s.

The Hansen family moved to Cochrane in the early 1950s. Linda Steeves (Hansen) and Fay Lewis (Hansen) shared their memories of the impact of the Library. 

“The Cochrane Library was located in the basement of the Community Hall and became an important part of our first summer in Cochrane. I, (Linda) would go to the Library at 2 pm (opening time) and take the two books I was allowed to borrow home. 

I would read the books, have supper and go back to the Library in the evening to get 2 more books. These books had to last until the next opening of the Library!.

The hours of the library at this time were:

Monday 2 PM – 5 PM, 7 PM – 9 PM

Wednesday 2 PM – 5 PM, 7 PM – 9 PM

Saturday 2 PM – 5 PM, 7 PM – 9 PM

All of us used the Library for recreational reading and research for school projects.

Our mother, Catherine Hansen became an active member of the Library Board.

Catherine’s family is proud of their mother’s commitment to the library and the commitment to community work she had. “ 

Final Thoughts

“Gordon Davies, a CHAPS member who remembers visiting Nan and her library in the basement as a kid said volunteers are the cornerstone to many services in town and their efforts shouldn’t be forgotten once it’s taken over municipally.

It’s a shame that people who are recent residents of Cochrane don’t understand (the history). I think that’s too bad because I think that part of Cochrane is really important. I think there are other organizations and groups that will face the same thing.” Davies said.”  Cochrane Today article by Amy Tucker Jan 10, 2019

1 thought on “History of the Cochrane Library”

  1. Amy (Mrs.) Callaway was particularly interested in children’s books and encouraging children to read. Amy built a children’s bookcase for the first
    collection of children’s books for the basement of the Cochrane Community
    Hall. The bookcase was donated to the Cochrane Museum by Rochelle Callaway (grandaughter).


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