1. Halifax Central Library
The boxy building is only four years old, having opened in 2014, but points to the city’s history. Literally. It’s fifth floor dramatically juts out from the building, drawing a line between the Halifax Citadel and Halifax Harbour. The cantilever houses an urban “living room” with stunning views of the city.
2. Morrin Centre, Quebec City
The Morrin Centre is built over a military barracks and set inside a prison-turned Presbyterian college. It’s now run by the Literary and Historical Society of Quebec, Canada’s oldest literary society (which once hosted a reading by Charles Dickens) and its library houses books that date back to the 16th century.
3. Port Credit Branch Library, Mississauga, Ont.
When the branch was first designed in the early 1960s, it was meant to have windows looking toward the nearby Credit River. Budget cuts resulted in a solid concrete wall, instead. But a 2013 renovation, which helped win a Governor General’s Medal for designers RDHA, rectified the error, resulting in a far more picturesque experience.
4. John M. Harper Library, Waterloo, Ont.
The gleaming, modern library is cool for two reasons: The pops of pink that punctuate the roof and the adjoining gym, which is perfect for when Tolstoy gets tedious and you just want to run some laps.
5. Vaughan Civic Centre Resources Library, Ont.
There’s no fear of being hushed at Vaughan’s newest library: noise is expected, even encouraged. Opened in 2016, it has options for those who prefer more active forms of learning, including a recording booth and virtual reality station.
6. Vancouver Public Library
Vancouver’s largest library was designed by architect Moshe Safdie, whose most famous building is Montreal’s Habitat 67. The building, which looks like a modern-day Colosseum, is Safdie’s tribute to the ancient world, when the notion of libraries was first formed.
7. Surrey Civic Centre Library, B.C.
The swooping lines of Surrey’s Civic Centre Library aren’t just the product of an architect’s imagination. The building was co-designed with Surrey residents, using an idea exchange set up by the design team (Bing Thom Architects) on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr. The program appropriately reflects the needs of the diverse community, including a gaming room, mediation lounge and a space for teens.
8. Scarborough Civic Centre Library
When it opened in 2015, the Scarborough Civic Centre Library became the City of Toronto’s 100th branch. It stands out among the crowd. Designed by the award-winning LGA Architectural Partners, it sits within a rapidly densifying, highly diverse neighbourhood, so has flexibility at its core. There are basically no walls, just tree-like columns that everything can be re-arranged around depending on need — even the book stacks, which are perched on wheels.
9. Library of Parliament, Ottawa
It’s hard to know where to look inside the parliamentary library, set up to help inform MPs and their staff. The intricately carved wooden stacks, beautifully inlaid floor and soaring domed roof all echo the Victorian age when it was built. It was a time when architecture was as sumptuous as a grandly decorated wedding cake.
10. Grande Bibliothèque, Montreal
Montreal’s Grande Bibliothèque receives more than two million visitors a year, making it one of North America’s most popular public places for learning. Part of the appeal is the reading room of Quebec’s Collection Nationale. Designed by Vancouver’s Patkau Architects, its wood lining is a reference to a book by Quebec literary legend Anne Hébert, Les Chambres de bois, and provides a warm, rich space to read.
11. Millennium Library, Winnipeg
Before a 2005 update, Winnipeg’s central library was a 1970s concrete behemoth. The redesign, by Vancouver’s Patkau Architects, replaced the blank, bunker-like façade with glass. Now, a terraced reading room cascades through the library’s four floors, with giant windows overlooking a neighbouring, but until recently obscured, park.
12. Bata Library, Trent University, Peterborough, Ont.
Legendary Canadian architect Ron Thom designed the Bata Library with the surrounding nature in mind. The light-filled building overlooks the Otonabee River, and is made from a rough-hewn concrete that Thom thought would complement surrounding stone outcroppings.
13. Orillia Public Library
In books, illustrations offer an extra flourish to stories told in words. The Orillia Public Library mimics this aesthetic with patterns inspired by foliage lining the glass exterior and creating intricate shadows when the sun pours in.