Week two

Mills Library

Inside Mills Library

When McMaster moved from its original location in Toronto, the library materials were housed in various locations across campus. Without a building to call its own, the library was inadequate for the academic needs of students and faculty.

A bequest in the 1940s from Canadian-born American entrepreneur David Bloss Mills and his wife Ella changed that.

Born in 1858 in St. Catharine’s, David Mills often heard about the University from his father, though he did not attend Mac.

David emigrated to the US in his early 20s and became a travelling pharmaceutical salesperson. He resigned his position after 20 years to become a partner in a gear factory. Though the venture left him penniless, he went on to invent a device that became very important in the exploding industry of factory automobile production – the spark plug. He formed a manufacturing company and his spark plugs were put into all Buicks.

Mills Library from courtyard

David Mills and his wife Ella made a conscious decision regarding their increasing fortune. They decided to live modestly and use their wealth to help others. Thoughtful philanthropists, they personally and carefully considered requests for funds. Upon Ella’s death David created the Davella Mills Foundation to continue this work.

David’s death in 1944 brought the size of the foundation to over $10 million dollars. Among many places around the world, he included McMaster University as one of the beneficiaries of the foundation. By then McMaster had moved to Hamilton and the need for a library was at the top of then-President Gilmour’s wish list. The Davella Mills trustees agreed, and funds were provided to build the library in the Mills’ name.

Although construction materials were challenging to obtain due to the war efforts, a modern and thoughtful building was designed and constructed.

An equal challenge for the University was to centralize the disparate resources across campus in an orderly way. M Day (Moving Day) was scheduled for March 12, 1951 and lasted ten days. The logistics of moving all of the library materials from the many campus locations was a challenge for the Chief and Assistant Librarians.


  • 3,218 cartons contained 73,000 volumes had to be carefully packed and catalogued into 3,218 boxes
  • An army of library staff, professional movers and students had to ensure that the volumes were packed and in the same order as they’d be shelved.
  • They had to calculate the precise number of inches the books would require on the destination shelves

Today, McMaster has four libraries on its main campus and a collection of more than 1.9 million books and 86,000 journals.

Did you know that we all have access to these incredible collections? Take a peek here into Mills Library’s Digital Archives. It’s a whole new world, one you can (virtually) get lost in.

Outside Mills Library

Stay Connected

905-525-9140 | 1280 Main Street West | Hamilton, Ontario L8S4L8