About The Library

Interior | ODeary Library

The power of story.

The O’Deary Library is Toronto’s oldest privately-owned library. It was founded in 1851 by Devin and Mary O’Deary, who believed that story has the power to make the world a better place.

Mary was an avid reader and collector of books from a young age. Devin was a handsome young man with a sense of adventure along with the wonderful trait of being the sole heir to a vast shipping fortune. Mary fell head over heels and after the couple married, her book collection grew rapidly.

The daring young couple decided to move to the New World. It was said that their books were so heavy they nearly sank their ship. Luckily, the family owned a fleet and were able to provide a second ship.

Even in their new home in Toronto, their collection grew and grew. Mary loved to share her passion for story with others. She would hold readings in the sitting room each evening, reading several chapters aloud to her own daughters, the servants and the neighbours children. She also encouraged friends and neighbours to borrow books whenever they liked.

Two incidents lead Devin to the profound decision to build a self-standing library to house his wife’s collection.

In the first, the O’Deary patriarch emerged from his bedroom wearing nothing but long underwear only to be confronted with town gossip, Mrs. Goodfellow, who was searching for the year’s most popular new book, Moby Dick, which she was determined to read… until she mistook Devin O’Deary in his long johns for a ghost and ran screaming from the house.

The second incident that lead Devin to the conclusion that a library was necessary took place late at night. Mary had been reading Collin Wilkies’ Woman in White aloud after dinner and Devin was unable to sleep wondering what would happen next. He got out of bed and set out in the darkness to find the volume in the sitting room where his wife had laid it at the end of a chapter. The collection of books had long since outgrown the available shelf space and books were in piles everywhere. In the dark, Devin tripped over a pile of Dickens.

After recovering from a concussion, minor abrasions and a very swollen toe (which Mary insisted was the result of gout, not the fall), Devin ordered work to begin on what would become the O’Deary Library.

The beautiful wood and stone structure was opened on April 1, 1954. During the ribbon cutting ceremony, Mary said that the library was a wonderful opportunity to her cherished collection with everyone who loves story. “Story has the power to change a life, a heart, the world.”

The library remains in the O’Deary Family to this day.

In 1976, the library was passed from the late Liza and Aiden O’Deary to their three daughters Ava O’Deary, Asa O’Deary O’Shyte and Anna O’Deary O’Henry. After the deaths of her sisters, Ava remained the sole owner and continued the family’s tradition of making the books freely available to the community.