Two Dozen Things We Love About This Place: The Union Club — a private, posh place to read (10)

As libraries go, it could well be the poshest in the province.

It’s private — no teeming masses yearning to read free — but the Union Club’s magnificent mahogany and chandeliered reading room and adjacent Past Presidents’ Library are the last word in deluxe digs for the printed page.

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Ensconced in Neo-Georgian splendour at Gordon and Humboldt streets, the club and its library of 1,500 volumes are celebrating 100 years on site — a far cry from its beginnings above a butcher shop in 1879, eight years after B.C.’s union with Canada. Needless to say, history and especially local history, rank among the most popular subjects for members — of which the club has room for 200 more.

Despite its sumptuous trappings, the library manages to evoke coziness with its capacious chairs and individual tables, just right for any tipple you might desire.


“I feel like I’m back in England” — specifically the Oxford and Cambridge Club on Pall Mall, explained entrepreneur Katie Richards.

The library’s contents range from a 1911 Kipling collection to Why Men Lie, the latest by Linden MacIntyre, to the autobiography of Jann Arden.

This being the Union Club, there’s a large Latin-English dictionary, a copy of Burke’s Peerage and a view of the Inner Harbour.

“You’ve got a blend of the old and new, which I think is wonderful,” said Penny Watson, a member of the club’s governing committee and a retired professional librarian. She’s been upgrading the library since 2009: “I couldn’t resist the professional challenge — I had no idea what a job this would be.”

Watson quickly withdrew dated fiction and dilapidated volumes and then surveyed the membership (1,600; about 70 per cent are local) for its preferences. Current fiction and books written by or about members, such as The Life of Frank Calder and the Nisga’a Land Claims Accord are top draws.

Gordon McIlroy, 88, takes the bus from Oak Bay most days and is currently immersed in How the Scots Invented the Modern World. “It’s a silent library, where you go to meditate and read,” he said, able to chat since he’s got the grand room to himself.

“It’s a little refuge from the hustle and bustle of modern-day life and technology,” Watson said. “I consider this room a treasure.” Computers are OK as long as they’re quiet.

The library adjoins the club’s reading room — at 32 by 90 feet more like a reading hall — lit by a dozen chandeliers, its walls dotted with heavily framed art.

For those keener on current events than bookish burrows, there are dozens of magazines, from Elle to Wine Spectator to Scottish Field and The Star — published by the Mercedes-Benz Club of America. Ditto for a dozen or so newspapers, from Barron’s to the Manchester Guardian, USA Today and of course, the Times Colonist. And here, it’s OK to talk.

Jo-Ann Prest comes several days a week to take in the peace, natural light and fresh air, even bringing her own copy of Architectural Digest. “It’s the most beautiful place and the members are very, very friendly,” she said.

Want to read here? Visit with a member or join the club. The initiation fee of $2,000 is reduced to $500 for those who also join the Chamber of Commerce during 2013. Monthly fees total about $150 and include access to a newly refurbished gym.

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