- 1919-2000 (Creation)
Level of description
Extent and medium
Name of creator
Ruth Margaret Church was born in Montreal on 3 March 1919, the daughter of J. Percy and Margaret Spencer. In 1931 she was stricken with polio and was confined to the Children’s Memorial Hospital, followed by a long recuperation at home. She attended the High School for Girls in Montreal and Mount Royal High School for Girls in the Town of Mount Royal. She then attended Royal Victoria College at McGill University where she took her Bachelor of Arts, graduating in 1940. This was followed by a Bachelor of Library Science in 1941.
During World War II, Ms. Church served as a member of the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service (WRENS) from 2 September 1943 to 19 October 1945. She took basic training at HMCS Conestoga in Galt, Ontario, from 2-28 September 1943. She was then transferred to HMCS Shelburne in Shelburne, Nova Scotia, where she served as Base Librarian from 28 September 1943 to 18 July 1944. When she was appointed, there were no library facilities; construction on a one-room library began on 18 October 1943 and opened three weeks later on 8 November. Ruth built up the collection with donations from the Canadian Legion, the Royal Bank of Canada, and the Navy League of Canada.
On 29 June 1944, Ms. Church applied for overseas service. In August she shipped out to Liverpool on the Empress of Scotland and ended up in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, where she served as Base Librarian for HMCS Stadacona from 19 July 1944 to 31 May 1945. The library served sailors on the Newfoundland-Derry convoy. Early in June 1945, the WREN librarians and their books were shipped on the HMCS Penetang to Glasgow. Ms. Church served as Base Librarian for HMCS Niobe at Greenock from 1 July to 19 October, 1945, when she was demobilized with the rank of Petty Officer.
Prior to her demobilization, Ms. Church secured entry to the University of London Library School where she did post-graduate work in the field of specialized libraries from October 1945 to February 1946. While in London, she served as an intern at the library of the Daily Mail.
Ms. Church held three positions (other than her wartime service) as a professional librarian. From 1941 to 1943 she was Assistant Librarian at the head office of the Bank of Canada in Montreal. This library was a sophisticated resource centre. She was the first professional librarian to be hired at Canada House, where she served as Head Librarian from 1946 to 1950.
She constructed, almost from scratch, a library to serve the High Commission staff and members of the public who dropped in. She almost lost her job when she got married to Robert Spencer on 22 June 1948; yet, when she submitted her resignation in April 1950, she was asked to stay on for several weeks until her successor arrived from Ottawa.
Upon her and Robert’s return to Toronto, Mrs. Spencer served as librarian for the Canadian Institute of International Affairs form 1950 to 1953. This library was a small but important specialized collection on international relations generally and Canadian foreign policy in particular. She “retired” in August 1953 shortly before her first child, Charles, was born. Two other children followed: Valerie in 1955 and Katherine in 1957. While raising her family, Mrs. Spencer worked part-time at the CIIA and established and maintained the library at St. Clement’s School that her daughters attended.
Beginning in 1952, Mrs. Spencer accompanied her husband to the United Kingdom and Europe on vacation, on many of his research trips, and on his sabbaticals that were spent in Freiburg, Bresigau, Göttingen, and Berlin. While there, she learned German. She was an excellent hostess, cook, and gardener, made her own clothes, and read widely.
Mrs. Spencer was a polio survivor and later in life suffered from a number of health issues. In December of 1999 she was transferred from Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto to the Perley and Rideau Veterans Health Centre in Ottawa, where she died in 2000.