2021 CAHP Awards – Conservation – Architecture – Award of Excellence

John Muir Branch – Windsor Public Library
(Windsor, ON)

Awarded to:

Christopher Borgal (GBCA Architects)

Jason Grossi (studio g+G inc., architect)

The John Muir Branch of the Windsor Public Library celebrates the rehabilitation of a 1921 firehall and rare surviving historic firehall stable with a contemporary addition connecting the two historic buildings. Located in the heart of Windsor’s historic Sandwich Town and named after a long-time community activist, the John Muir Branch showcases reclaimed materials and historic construction techniques as well as contemporary library technology.

After researching the history of the site in consultation with the local Heritage Committee, a master plan and design solution for the site was developed that combined both heritage structures with a contemporary link that could speak architecturally to the history of the site. The Master Plan determined that the firehall should be rehabilitated and restored to its appearance as of 1945, following its reconstruction after a fire in 1941. Historic restoration techniques were researched, tested, and implemented on site by local trades who were taught the requisite skills under the direction of the heritage architects, ensuring that local skills will be available for future heritage work in Windsor. Local masons were trained in lime mortar techniques, including mortar testing, matching, and mixing using ingredients sourced from the site, while St. Clair College woodworking students worked on historic windows including the use of shellac, linseed oil finishes, and traditional putty.

The impact of the John Muir Branch goes beyond its heritage significance. Plentiful natural light, comfortable seating, outdoor amenities, and plentiful study spaces attract university students, seniors, young families and teens. Area businesses have welcomed the new library both for the services it provides to the immediate community, and for the visitors it attracts from across the Windsor/Essex area. Library staff educate the public by providing tours of the careful heritage conservation work that took place which has allowed the history and stories of Sandwich Town to be kept alive.