The following is excerpted from Book Fair: 50 Years of Community Through Books

The Rockcliffe Park Public School Book Fair began as a modest venture in 1961 and has grownover fifty years, to become one of the provincetop literary events. The first book fair was a one-day event held in a single classroom at Rockcliffe Park Public School to raise money for the Home and School Association. It was the idea of Admiral Horatio Nelson Laya Village resident and head of the school’s Parent Committee. “They collected fifty books that year…and sold them all,” recalled one volunteer.

With tharrival of two remarkable volunteers four years later, the book fair was completely transformed. This marked a turning point in the history of the event. It was 1965 and Joan Askwith and Jane Dobell, two determined women on a missionwanted to raise money for a nelibrary at Rockcliffe Park Public School, which their children attended, by selling new childrenbooks. The approach they took was unusual.

They would stock thshelves of the book fair with a wide selection of high-quality and hard-to-find childrenpaperbacks, ones rarely seen in Canada. What better way to promote literacy among school-age children and inspire a love of reading? From that initial dream grew an event that now attracts thousands, and for years provided one of the largest displays of children’s books anywhere in Canada.

With their combined expertise they set to work hand-select each book for the sale. Jane, a trustee and chair of the Ottawa Board of Education and noted collector of children’s books, and Joan, who would co-found The Bookery – a children’s bookstore that operated for many years on Sussex Drive – ordered books on consignment from publishing companies such as Penguin and Scholastic Books. Joan spent weeks in the storeroom of National News, perusing hundreds of titles of new books. They chose manfrom the United States and Great Britain. As Jane explained, “We were passionate about having the best and the most complete range of books available.”

They enlisted thhelp of a remarkable number of volunteers – neighbours, friends, fathers of the children, members of the Home and School Association, and the students themselves. The children of Grades 7 and 8 took an active role, advising on book selection and helping out with the event. Most important, the school principal, Harry C. Redfern, was agreeable to moving the Book Fair into Queen Juliana Hall, a combined gymnasium and auditorium built as an addition to the school in 1952. It provided a larger space to display the growing number of books.

Read the entire history: Book Fair: 50 Years of Community Through Books (PDF)