The National Assembly Library was founded in 1802 and is the oldest library in Canada, and the fourth oldest in North America.
The TVA Nouvelles team obtained privileged access to this unique and important institution for the province.
The primary mission of the library is to provide documentation to MNAs and political staff.
It must be said that the history of the library is not easy.
During the Patriot uprising in 1738-1739, the library’s collection ended up in Ontario at the Parliament House in Kingston. She then found herself in Montreal for 10 years, from 1844 to 1854, before returning to Quebec in 1867.
Two fires also threatened the institution, and moreover almost reduced it to nothing.
“They built this building between 1910 and 1915, the library has been in this space for more than 100 years,” explains Martin Pelletier, librarian at the National Assembly library.
The library holds one or two copies of all the reports published by the departments and agencies since 1867. It is therefore a very important collection of more than two million documents, also containing newspapers, reviews, books and microfilms.
The place also has a vault where the rarest and most precious books are kept. Temperature and humidity are controlled to help preserve many artifacts. In addition, the vault is equipped with a gas-based fire extinguishing system to prevent water from damaging the contents.
The vault notably contains the Chauveau collection, that of the first Premier of Quebec, considered the flagship of the library, and classified as a heritage asset. The 7000 volumes of the collection were acquired in 1892 for the sum of $8000, a fortune at the time.
The oldest document in the library dates from 1473, and should be handled with care. Gloves are required. This is an excerpt from the Summa Theologica of Saint-Thomas-D’Aquin written in Latin.
Another valuable document found in the library is an atlas published in Brussels between 1572 and 1574. It is an inventory of all known cities in the world at the time, accompanied by hand-drawn illustrations.
This book was sold to the library in 1918 by a collector from Outaouais. The Public Library in New York and the Library of Congress in Washington had made her offers for her work, but the collector wanted her to stay in Quebec.
The documents in the vault are, however, prohibited for consultation.
“We are going to allow consultation to a few researchers, but really, we need a justification,” says Martin Pelletier.
The library also wants to showcase, and not just its rare books.
The collection has more than 7,000 artifacts telling the political history of Quebec.
“We have three linear kilometers of boxes of documents,” says Marise Falardeau, head of the Archives and Digitization Service.
This collection includes photos of great political figures, such as the visits of King George V to the Assembly or Winston Churchill who met Adélard Godbout, and even Maurice Duplessis during his visit to Quebec in August 1943 to lay the foundations for the landing of Normandy. ̧
A funerary mask, a soap kit, glasses, diaries and even a walking stick are also among the objects found in the collection.
It is important to note that the library of the National Assembly is open to the public, specifies Martin Pelletier. “I like to point that out,” he explains.
“We serve parliament, yes, we serve people appointed by parliament, the press gallery are priority clients for us, but the library is open to the public. People can come here, work, consult books”, continues the librarian.
He is also of the opinion that the collection is not put forward enough.
The new pavilion will display more artifacts and further promote the province’s history.
“Keep to lock in a room without light, it is useless. We have this duty to remember, but we also have to distribute it, we have to highlight it, it has to be useful. Keeping, if it is not useful, it is useless, ”says Martin Pelletier.