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Boyne Regional Library issues Elizabeth McIvor challenge

Emily Distefano

Boyne Regional Library board member Edith Smith, board chair Neil Strachan and fellow, former Elizabeth McIvor pupil Marilyn Clearwater joined head librarian Sandra Yeo (with her grandson Jack) to announce the start of the Elizabeth McIvor Challenge in support of the library’s expansion-renovation project this week. Can you help them match McIvor’s original $127,000? (EMILY DISTEFANO)

Boyne Regional Library board member Edith Smith, board chair Neil Strachan and fellow, former Elizabeth McIvor pupil Marilyn Clearwater joined head librarian Sandra Yeo (with her grandson Jack) to announce the start of the Elizabeth McIvor Challenge in support of the library’s expansion-renovation project this week. Can you help them match McIvor’s original $127,000? (EMILY DISTEFANO)

Seventeen years ago, when a former school teacher from Carman passed away, she left a bequest of $127,000 to the Boyne Regional Library.

Now, the library board is hoping to inspire the people whose lives she impacted to match her generosity through the Miss Elizabeth McIvor Challenge.

Originally from Carman, Miss McIvor started teaching at age 1920 in a one-room schoolhouse. In 1945 she returned to the town where she grew up and where she would live the rest of her days. She taught grade 3 from that year until 1974, educating - at a rough estimate - around 900 students in her time at Carman’s elementary school.

Now, the library is reaching out to anyone who knew Miss McIvor and asking them to donate to the Boyne Regional Library’s expansion-renovation project in her name.

“It’s not just for former students and colleagues, but friends, neighbours, anyone who remembers her,” said Edith Smith, a Boyne Regional Library board member. “She did a lot of community work as well, not just in school.”

“We hope it will resonate with some people,” added Board Chair Neil Strachan.

The Boyne Regonal Library has been working to build a new addition to the current building for years, citing a need for more space and better accessibility. Right now, anyone who needs to use a ramp to access the library has to use the back door instead of the main entrance. And while over 600 children signed up for the 2017 Summer Reading Program, there just isn’t enough room to provide in-house programming for those kids.

Smith noted that the services the library provides span all age groups and income levels.

“Their outreach across generations here is wonderful,” said Smith. “It’s such a meeting place for so many people in town...and we want to make people more aware of all the services the library provides, because they do so much that goes unheralded.”

Carman’s library is already one of the most-used facilities in the province, as compared to the statistics from Manitoba’s other rural libraries, and the board and staff think the demand is actually greater than their ability to meet it right now.

Head Librarian Sandra Yeo said they would like to do much more than they’re able to.

“There are so many programming ideas that we have, we just don’t have the space,” said Yeo.

Last fall, award-winning Winnipeg architect Wins Bridgman created an official design schematic for the space. His vision - which people can view on display at the library - has re-energized the committee.

The design preserves much of the building’s heritage, makes the Christmas tree a focal point of the exterior of the building, and provides a highly functional, modern addition to expand the library’s reading and meeting spaces, book shelf capacity and more.

“This is going to be a really new, nice physical presence upgrading the centre of town,” said Smith. “It’s not just the fact that it’s going to be used so well - it’s going to make a really nice addition to the town itself.”

The board is hoping to gain momentum with this challenge, making 2018 the year of the Boyne Regional Library and raising enough funds to start construction in 2019.

The library has raised around $500,000 so far. Strachan said their goal is to raise around $1.5 million in total.

In recognition of Miss McIvor’s contribution to the literacy and to the community at large, the library plans to name their new children’s section after her when it is built.

A portion of McIvor’s bequest was used shortly after it was received, in order to finish up some circa-2001 renovations in the library. Her donation is also responsible for purchasing the land next to the library, right at the corner of 1st Street SW and 1st Avenue SW, where the expansion is expected to be built. (Some may remember that piece of land being home to the Rusty Spur years ago.)

A large portion of the money still remains, and the library board has decided to add it to expansion-renovation’s fundraising pot.

Strachan was impressed not just by the bequest, but that McIvor managed to squirrel away that much money on a teacher’s salary. She would have been earning less than $500 per year when she started; and as a woman, in those days her pay would have been less than a male teacher’s would have been.

“Back then they didn’t get paid very much,” said Strachan. “As a retired teacher myself, it’s amazing to me that she amassed that much money.”

While Miss McIvor didn’t leave an explanation with her bequest, it’s not much of a stretch to think she believed in the continuing importance of libraries.

The local library was first started by the Young Citizen’s Group in 1943, with a few donated books displayed in the window of the local drugstore.

From there it moved to an insurance office, and then the Memorial Hall basement. Miss McIvor wasn’t living in Carman when the idea originated, but when she started teaching in 1945 she also joined the Young Citizen’s Group and was active in the library’s development.

She also passed on a love of books and reading to her students.

Carman resident Marylin Clearwater has clear memories of Miss McIvor reading to her grade 3 class. In fact, it was the only reason she was excited to go back to school after eating lunch at home.

“I remember her in particular,” Clearwater said. “She would read a story to us when we got in...she would get a book going and read us a chapter. I could not wait to get back to find out what happened next. It wasn’t very long, but it was my favourite part of the day.”

Besides donating to the challenge fund, another way you can help is by spreading the word far and wide. The board is hoping to reach anyone and everyone whose life was affected by Miss McIvor, whether they are living in the area or have moved far away.

For more information you can contact Neil Strachan at 204-745-6283, Edith Smith at 204-745-2678 or the Boyne Regional Library at 204-745-3504.

You can also stop by the library to see the expansion-renovation design plans or to learn more about Miss Elizabeth McIvor.

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edistefano@postmedia.com