The public library incinerated in Lac-Mégantic is aiming for a 2014 renaissance after receiving so many donations it politely pleaded that people stop sending books.
The institution and its treasured archives were consumed by flames in July after a runaway tanker train derailed, exploded and destroyed part of the Quebec town, killing 47 people.
Lac-Mégantic’s only library lost a one-of-a-kind trove, which included original local artwork, heirlooms donated by families, the oldest-known photos of the town and the negatives.
The blaze also swallowed nearly all of the library’s 45,000 books, sparing just the 1,000 or so titles out on loan at the time.
The only item recovered from the ashes was the library’s petty-cash box.
But thanks to a cascade of donations from across Canada, the United States and even Europe, the library’s 2,500 members could see the doors open at a new location, in another part of town, as early as this spring.
The rebuilding project is a key part of the recovery process in the community of 6,000 that is still struggling to cope with a disaster, said the library’s chairperson.
Diane Roy added that as the derailment obliterated part of the downtown core, many popular gathering spots like the library disappeared with it.
“Through the summer, there was no library – there was nothing in Lac-Mégantic,” Roy said in an interview at the new site, as a team of volunteers assembled shelves and labelled books.
“They hope that it will open soon, as soon as possible. Every day, they ask us when.”
A project to move the library to a larger building outside the downtown area started around six years ago. The board was planning to gradually move the 22-year-old institution to an old factory.
But except for the new building, the library had to restart from scratch when disaster struck on July 6.
Support, however, for the library’s revival flooded in – so much so that workers became overwhelmed.
Two months after the crash, the library issued a news release to say it was deeply touched by the outpouring of generosity, but asked the public to stop sending books.
“It’s now time to evaluate them, classify them, process them and make them accessible for the population,” said the September statement. “It will be a colossal job.”
At the time, the library said it had received more than 100,000 books, with most coming from donors across Quebec and eastern Ontario.
Today, the library’s directors estimate they’ve taken in some 200,000 documents, including books, comics and CDs. They stored 37 pallets worth of donated goods in one warehouse alone, Roy said.
The library expects to keep up to 15 per cent – or 30,000 – of the donated items and it has already sold many of the extra volumes, an initiative that raised $16,000.
Supporters, meanwhile, in places like British Columbia, Maine, Pennsylvania, France and Germany held fundraisers and sent cash gifts totalling $90,000.
Those contributions include a $5,000 cheque sent to the library by a Halifax woman shortly after the accident and $47,000 from the Quebec branch of the Lions Club.
Roy also hopes to build another archives with the help of new donations she says the library has been promised from the owners of private collections.
The library reconstruction team is mulling plans to display the only item recovered from the old Frontenac Street building: the mangled, oil-soaked petty-cash box.
The librarian recalled the day the box was returned to him. Daniel Lavoie said police brought him to the site of the old building a few weeks after the crash.
“There was nothing left,” Lavoie said.
“All that remained were the two columns that had supported the building and the petty-cash box.”
Inside the dented metal box, he found about $500 in rolls of coins and oily bills.
“It’s a relic,” Lavoie added.
The reopening date has yet to be determined, but one board member said he has a personal goal of seeing it happen on April 6.
“That will be nine months since (the disaster) happened,” Jacques Dostie said.
“So, that will be the rebirth of the library.”
The project has even helped some of those involved deal with the pain of losing a loved one.
The library’s treasurer, whose brother was killed in the disaster, said staying busy has helped him get through the grieving process.
“It’s a good moment to work with our friends,” Pierre Paquet said. “We need that.”