From the establishment of the Jesuits in New France in the 17th century until the Quiet Revolution in the 1960s, collèges classiques were the only avenues to higher education and university in what is now Québec. The college founded by the priest Charles-François Painchaud in 1827 in Saint-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, a parish 100km downriver from Québec City, was the first such institution east of the capital. Wary of the competition from other parishes who had similar projects, Painchaud quickly raised the necessary funds by public subscription and built the college in under two years. In 1829, the college opened its doors in a new four-story stone building erected by local stonemason Antoine Gagnon and carpenter François Richard.
A room on the second floor housed the college library. To support its education, the college began receiving shipments of books from a professor at the Québec Seminary, Jean Holmes, who embarked on a trip to the United States and Europe in 1836 to study the advances of pedagogy and procure books and materials for the schools of Lower Canada. Over 840 volumes on chemistry, astronomy, architecture, linguistics, literature, philosophy, law, geography, drawing and theology are thus shipped to Saint-Anne-de-la-Pocatière, establishing the college library. The collection also grew from bequests from priests, who gifted their personal collections to the college upon their death, including Painchaud himself, who passed away in 1838. By 1875, the collection included 10,000 volumes, making it the largest in the region.
From an initial cohort of 20, the number of students quickly soared to over a hundred within the first decade and a thousand by the end of the century. The rapid growth prompted several extensions, united in 1881 by local architect and college alumnus David Ouellet who added mansard roofs to the original wings and united them behind a new stone facade with a central dome. The library moved to a large room immediately underneath the dome. High bookshelves with a narrow balcony lined the walls, while the middle of the room was occupied by artifacts from the college museum and a model of the town.
The extension of the college buildings continued in the 20th century, with the addition of another wing by Ouellet in 1901, followed by two others in 1913-18 in collaboration with his associate Pierre Lévesque. Disaster struck on December 15, 1920, when a fire devastated most of the college, including its library. 40,000 documents vanished in the blaze. Undeterred, the college immediately began working on its reconstruction. Architect Pierre Lévesque proposed a complete rebuild of the edifice following the original ground plan. The new building was completed in 1923, and in 1926 a central lantern was added, recalling Ouellet’s dome.
The college walls were back up, but the library was not rebuilt. Instead, books were scattered throughout classrooms and professors’ offices. This solution was however unsatisfactory and when a new wing was planned in the late 1950s, then headmaster Marius Paré requested that a proper library be at the heart of the new build. Designed by Paul Béland, another college alumnus, and completed in 1963, the new wing included a new pool and gymnasium, laboratories, student accommodation, and a library.
Béland evidently took these requirements to heart and delivered a true gem of a library. Organized around a reading room with 100 work stations it is generously lit by large windows on the north-east. A mezzanine runs along the three other sides of the room. When it opened, shelves with a total capacity of 140,000 volumes were arranged on the mezzanine and underneath it. Today, books are relegated to the mezzanine, where they can be locked for the night, leaving the reading room open to students for longer hours. Modern library ideals were not confined to architecture: starting in 1965, the college held yearly summer schools in library science and published specialized literature on classification until the 1980s.
Following the reforms of the Québec education system during the Quiet Revolution, a newly established Cégep took over the college’s higher education role in 1969, while Collège Sainte-Anne remained active as a private secondary school. In 1977, a separate library was established for the Collège pupils and located under the dome of the main building. Even though computers have since replaced some of the bookshelves, Béland’s library is still serving the students, faculty and staff of Cégep de la Pocatière to this day. In 1990, the library was named in honour of François Hertel, the nom-de-plume of college alumnus Rodolphe Dubé.
The images shown here date from my visit in April 2022.
- Gallichan, G. (2012). Les premiers sentiers du savoir: Aux origines de la bibliothèque du Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière (1827-1900). Documentation et bibliothèques, 58(2), 53–61.
- Boucher, R. (1963). La bibliothèque du Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière: Une bibliothèque fonctionnelle. Bulletin de l’Association Canadienne des Bibliothécaires de Langue Française, 9(3), 150–153.
- Dion, N. (2017). Bibliothèques de collèges classiques: Nicolet, Saint-Hyacinthe et Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière. In C. Corbo, S. Montreuil, & I. Crevier (Eds.), Bibliothèques québécoises remarquables (pp. 51–61). Bibliothèque et Archives nationales Québec : Del Busso.
- Lebon, W. (1948). Histoire du Collège de Sainte-Anne-de-la-Pocatière: Le premier demi-siècle 1827-1877. Charrier & Dugal.
- Fonds Paul Béland, architecte. (n.d.). [Fonds d’archives]. Archives nationales à Québec.
- Béland, Paul—Répertoire du patrimoine culturel du Québec. (n.d.). Retrieved January 15, 2023.
- Kuntz, P. (2007). Les bibliothèques de La Pocatière et les programmes d’immersion. Documentation et bibliothèques, 53(3), 167–173.
- Galarneau, C. (2003). HOLMES, JOHN (rebaptized Jean) (1799-1852). In Dictionary of Canadian Biography (Vol. 8). University of Toronto/Université Laval.
Library detail pages are primarily a place for me to collect information I gather on the libraries I visit, and are frequently updated. None of this should be considered authoritative, I am not an architect, nor a historian. If you notice something incorrect, please let me know!