History of the Friends of Victoria University Library

Beginnings

Our beginnings link to Professor F. David Hoeniger who operated the Alumni Secondhand Bookshop in an charming, quirky room on the ground floor of the E.J. Pratt Library. There is an interesting story behind our start as a group: some time in 1991, one of our members, Craig Ruhnke stopped by the book shop one day to drop off some donations and inquired whether Professor Hoeniger would like some help… and the rest is history!  He and his wife Nancy have been involved ever since. Our executive at first consisted of about eight to ten individuals and, our first book sale was held in 1992 in the basement of the Wymilwood Building, run by numerous volunteers, but initially planned by only a handful of organizers.

Membership

Anyone is welcome to join us! Our membership does not solely consist of Victoria College Alumni—volunteers come from all walks of life. Our oldest volunteer, Doctor Albert Bowron, a retired librarian, is almost ninety-three. Over the years, the membership has experienced significant growth, and many more book sale volunteers joined us, many with expert knowledge. For instance, one of our volunteers identified a copy of the first edition of Agatha Christie’s, Who Killed Roger Ackroyd, published in  1926 (it was originally bought at a sale at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church), which was sold for $10,000.

Our Role and Achievements

Friends play a vital role in the life of the library. We organize lectures and a variety of library centred-events, which encourage gatherings of friends at Vic. They also foster a sense of camaraderie, of getting together with a purpose. Proceeds from the book sale are the main source of revenue. We have also sponsored and number of initiatives since our inception in 1991:

  • 2011: funds provided toward the establishment of the reading garden in front of E.J. Pratt Library
  • 2001: renovation of the library (about $750,000)
  • ongoing: fundraising also benefits many of the special collections at the library (including Virginia Woolf and Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
  • ongoing: financial aid to students in forms of scholarships and bursaries.

Our Events

Every year, we organize a variety of events to enhance the life of Vic community. They are open to members and non-members alike:

  • Virginia Woolf Party
  • tour of Picasso ceramics at UC Art Centre
  • tours of special collections at the Toronto Reference Library, such as the Sherlock Holmes Collection
  • various exhibits at the E.J. Pratt Library (for instance, Norman Jewison Papers)
  • auction (organized by Ruth Bentley; items included a paper book signed by Margret Atwood as well as a dress that was belonged to Anne Murray, purchased by Ann Black, and a mantle piece from a demolished house on Charles Street West).

Interview with Nancy Ruhnke

Nancy Ruhnke (Vic 1973) is the chairperson, and along with F. David Hoeniger, was on the founding committee of the Friends of Victoria University Library. Nancy has been involved with Victoria College most of her life and in 2008, she received a Distinguished Alumni Award.

What are your responsibilities as the driving force behind the book sale?

As the chair of the Friends for the last fourteen years (with the exception of 2009), my primary responsibility is to oversee the book sale committee and their activities (arranging of volunteer shifts, collecting donations, co-ordinating signage as well as sorting and pricing of the donated items). I also serve on the Board of Regents.

What is your favourite aspect being part of the group since its inception?

The people and the friends we’ve made. They are very dedicated and this is what keeps me going.

Could you describe your time as a student at Victoria College? Do you have any particular memories of the library and of the Vic faculty?

I studied classics and ancient history. My favourite memory is of Professor Wallace McLoed, who taught a course on Homer. I was several months pregnant with my son and was increasingly finding it more difficult to climb up the stairs to the classroom on the third floor of Old Vic (there was no elevator there at that time). One day, after Smoking his pipe as usual, he said to me, “Class attendance is not the only avenue to grace, Mrs. Ruhnke!” (laughs)

What was the first book sale like?

It was held at Wymildwood Pub over two days in September of 1992. The interior of the pub was painted black at that time, including the windows! The preparation for the sale took place in a house at 110 Charles Street West, which is now demolished.

We made arrangements with a charitable organization and they agreed to pick the books that weren’t sold. But they didn’t show up and all the boxes had to be carried up the spiral staircase!

One pleasant memory I have is associated with the group of architects, who shared the space with us at 110. They would often invite us to have tea with them.

How has this event changed over the years?

It has grown tremendously! The chaos is now more organized and we know what to expect every year.

In 1996, there was an error made in the booking schedule for the chapel at Old Vic. There was a wedding scheduled to take place there right after the sale! We had to gather up the remaining books very quickly. I’m sure that we looked like the bride’s crazy relatives in some of the wedding photos!