In 1901, Dalhousie mathematics professor Charles MacDonald died in his sleep, having caught a cold that turned into pneumonia. Only 5 days earlier, MacDonald had still been teaching, no doubt with his characteristic precision, passion, humour, and enthusiasm. The historian P.B. Waite tells us that MacDonald was easily Dalhousie's most popular mathematics professor, not to mention a sought-after public speaker who gave Dalhousie a considerable local presence. He was, according to Waite, "racy, vigorous, and full of good sense."
MacDonald was also deeply committed to Dalhousie and its students. When he died, it was revealed that he had bequeathed the college $2,000, mostly to buy books of English literature. As MacDonald knew, one of Dalhousie's chief weaknesses was its library, which since 1890 had been reliant on private donations and gifts from alumni, professors, and citizens.
MacDonald's donation was the spark that led to the eventual erection of the Macdonald Memorial Library, although it would be many years before the building became a reality. By 1905, fundraising brought the Macdonald Memorial Library Fund to $33,000, but there was no space to build. Not until the purchase of the Murray homestead in 1911 (the Studley campus) did Dalhousie's spacious new campus make the library possible.
The Macdonald Memorial Library was designed by Toronto architect Frank Darling and Andrew R. Cobb of Halifax, the same team who designed the Chemistry Building and other early structures on the Studley campus. It was a small building that had to fit in a limited space west of the Chemistry Building and east of the family homestead at the crown of the hill.
On April 29, 1914, the cornerstone of this second Studley building was laid by a colleague of Charles MacDonald's, the Reverend Allan Pollock. At the ceremony, President A. Stanley Mackenzie said in his speech that MacDonald had himself been a foundation stone of Dalhousie. Construction proceeded under contractors Falconer & MacDonald, and was completed by the fall of 1915 at a total cost of $90,000. The building was moved into in the summer of 1916.
At first the library contained only offices and the large and airy reading room on the second floor. In 1921 a five-storey expansion added the much-needed stack area on the north side. The stacks' capacity for 125,000 volumes was insufficient to hold the entire collection, so the Chemistry, Physics and Geology departments housed their own libraries and the remainder of the books was stored in the library's attic.
On July 20, 1956, a special convocation was held to celebrate the opening of another addition on the building's west side. The O. E. Smith Wing was built of quartzite and ironstone in the same Georgian colonial style as the other original buildings. The new wing housed the Kipling Room, setting for the new collection of Rudyard Kipling's works given to Dalhousie by James McGregor Stewart, a graduate of the Law school and later Director of the Royal Bank of Canada.
By the 1960s complaints were frequent about the crowded
conditions - for books and study space - in the Macdonald Library. In the summer of 1963 a mezzanine was created in the Reading Room to increase the capacity by one third. At this time the stacks were 99 percent full! A third addition in 1965 joined the Macdonald Memorial Library to the Science Building, creating 40,000 square feet of new floor space (but for the Chemistry department).
It was acknowledged by this time that the library needed either a major extension or a brand new building; it got the latter when the Killam Library opened in 1971. The Macdonald Memorial Library then became the Macdonald Science Library until the science collection was moved to the Killam Library in 1989. In 1991, a one million dollar anonymous donation enabled Dalhousie to convert the stacks of the former library into offices for the Alumni, Development and External Relations offices, locations they still occupy today. As well, the old Reading Room was refurbished to be a meeting and special event room, now called University Hall.