November 7, 2013

Haskell Free Library and Opera House a.k.a. Bibliothèque et salle d’opéra Haskell

CAROLYN’S COMPOSITIONS is now located at Carolyn’s Online Magazine.

After reading about Haskel Free Library I invite you to visit the new site.




Hugs for the staff of Haskell Library and Opera House


A. K. A.


Crossing the Canadian-USA Border Without a Passport



Where in the United States is there a library without any books?

Where in the United States is there a theater without a stage?

The tales we heard about these riddles:

You must go to Derby Line, Vermont. It’s the furthest north you can go in the state. There is a library there but be careful. You must enter the correct door. If you don’t, the Border Patrol will get you, since the library there is in two countries—Canada and the United States. A squiggly line, following the actual border, crosses through the library.

The Border Patrol gives you freedom to cross into Canada and back into the United States inside the library. But if you exit the wrong door, watch out.

The tale above, told to us by a guest at a motel, is partly true. There is a library located in Derby Line, Vermont—and in Stanstead, Quebec, straddling the Canadian/United States border. Although the tale is rife with error, the fact that a structure encompasses two countries sounded intriguing to my husband Monte and me.

We were traveling through New England in September, 2013, when we heard about the Haskell Free Library and Opera House. We decided to detour an extra 50 or so miles to visit this library.

We made it to Derby Line on October 3rd and found a road blocked by large flower vases. And signs instructing us NOT to step beyond these floral decorations without going through customs, because the street on the other side of the planters was in Canada.



The building was impressive. Welcome to the Haskell Library and Opera House.

IMG_8788EWe walked to the front door, which was in the United States. As we did so, we saw a woman and a child exit a car on the Canadian street. They walked toward us, passing the planters, and entered the library through the same door as we did. Why were they doing that?, we wondered, thinking there was a Canadian door they should be using.IMG_8786EWe entered the building. On the floor was a black line stretching diagonally across the building. Hmmm, we were told it would be a squiggly line. The line continued to our left, dividing a reading room into two sections. You could sit on one side of the line and have your feet on the other side.


Stepping over the line we realized we were now in Canada, in Bibliothèque et salle d’opéra Haskell. No passport. No questioning. Inside the structure there were no Border Patrollers.

To our right was a small but attractive desk where books were checked out. Yes, all the books, both in French and English, were on the Canadian side of the line. Ergo, a United States library with no books!

IMG_8835EWe walked further into Canada, into the book stacks. And we wondered Where is the door that Canadians enter and exit? We looked and couldn’t find it. Perhaps it was in the  basement.

IMG_8805EThat door didn’t exist. Canadians must park on Canusa Avenue, walk past the planters (as we saw the woman and child do), and enter the United States side of the library.

  • The building is, in fact, unique. Nowhere else in the world can one sit in an opera house that is literally split in two by an international border, where most of the audience sits in the U.S. to watch a show on a stage in Canada. Nowhere else can one find such an unusual library. The front door is in the U.S., the circulation desk and all of the books are in Canada, and the reading room is international.*

The library offers tours of the building so we signed up.

We learned that the library and opera house, designated as historical sites by Canadian, United States, and the Province of Quebec government, was a gift to the communities.

Martha Stewart Haskell identified herself as a Canadian, but she lived in the United States, across from the library. Carlos Haskell’s business was in Canada.

After Carlos’ death Martha and their son, Colonel Horace Stewart Haskell, built the library and opera house and dedicated it to Carlos:


  • The family’s aim was to provide the border communities with a centre for learning and cultural enrichment. The opera house, located on the second floor of the building, also had a practical purpose. According to the original charter, dated 1908, it was to be “forever managed and used for the support and maintenance” of the library, located downstairs.
    The cornerstone of the Haskell was laid on October 15, 1901 by members of Stanstead’s Golden Rule Lodge, assisted by prominent Masons from both sides of the border, including Col. Haskell himself.
  • After a number of delays, the building was completed in 1904 at an estimated cost of $50,000 – a princely sum for that time.*

Because Carlos dealt with lumber the library is rich in types of wood, different types of lumber used in each room. The entry is oak; reading room ; children’s room, cherry; and hall/stairway to the opera house, bird’s eye maple.

The tour enabled us to see the Opera House on the second floor, and the balcony on the third floor. Of course, we were a day too early to see the current production, the thriller Deathtrap by Ira Levin.

IMG_8838EI was allowed to exercise my trigger finger during the tour, so I was constantly catching up with the others.


One foot in Canada; his body in the United States

One foot in Canada; his body in the United States




I would have liked to remain and walk around the town, to locate the local diner and have a cup of coffee, but the time had come to begin our return to Pennsylvania.


Perhaps we will visit the unusual town of Derby Line again. Both Monte and I were pleased with our detour and would recommend it to others.




The Haskell Free Library and Opera House: A Century of History on the Canada-U.S. Border


(A NaBloPoMo post)


1 Comment »

  1. Very interesting. I would enjoy visiting this library. Thanks for sharing your pictures

    Comment by merry — November 7, 2013 @ 7:40 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

What is your opinion?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: