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Once a crumbling eyesore from another time, the architecturally stunning Lister Block lives to see its second century

July 2022

The Lister Block in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, is a stunning Classical Renaissance-style building that was given a new lease on life a decade ago, after sitting abandoned and deteriorating for the previous decade.

Built in 1923 by Pigott Construction Company, the six-storey building features a double storey base with a façade of white terracotta, with fluted pilasters, medallions and cartouches, and projecting cornices. The next four floors are a brown brick façade, topped again with white terracotta, with fluted pilasters, medallions and cartouches, and projecting cornices.

The ground-level spaces were for retail operations, with storefront access through either street-side doors or interior doors in the L-shaped arcade, or both. The upper floors devoted to office space.

The first floor boasted marble floors and arched ceilings. The street level retail shops featured vast bay windows, while the middle storeys showcased wood double-hung windows

The current building replaced a four-storey retail/office building, built by Joseph Lister in 1853 and known as Lister Chamber, that was destroyed by a massive fire. J. Edmund Lister, son of Joseph, supervised the construction of an opulent new building, now known as Lister Block.

Standing on the north-east corner of the intersection of James Street North and King William Street, the Lister Block would prove to be one of Hamilton’s most successful commercial establishments, prospering through the 1950s. By the 1970s, the massive growth of the suburbs for living and shopping, with their large malls and large, free parking lots, the downtown core was in a major decline, including the aging Lister Block. The decline continued throughout the next two decades.

By 1995, the few remaining tenants were evicted from the largely-vacant building, which had become a deteriorating eyesore. The windows and doors were boarded-up and many argued that it should be demolished so that the property could be redeveloped.

Even after LiUNA, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, bought the Lister Block in 1999, its future was still unknown, even though Hamilton city council had designated it as a heritage site building in 1995. All that changed in 2010, when LiUNA and Hi-Rise Group commenced a $25 million restoration of the building.

Completed in 2011, the re-born Lister Block was officially re-opened, although work continued on some of the upper floors into the following year.

While most of the main floor Arcade spaces are vacant today, the upper floor office suites are are buzzing with activity. The City of Hamilton, who now own the 99-year-old building, are actively trying to lease the large, now-vacant restaurant space at the corner of James & King William to a new restauranteur.

Sources: Lister Block at Historical Hamilton, The legacy of the Lister Block | TheSpec.com, Architectural Spotlight: The Lister Block | Rebuild Hamilton, Lister’s legacy | TheSpec.com, Lister Block – National Trust for Canada (nationaltrustcanada.ca), The Lister Block – The High Rise Group (thehi-risegroup.ca), What’s so Special About the Lister Block? – addy (addyinvest.com), property-for-sale-info-sheet-listerblock-restaurant.pdf (hamilton.ca).

About the author

Bruce Forsyth

Bruce Forsyth served in the Royal Canadian Navy Reserve for 13 years (1987-2000). He served with units in Toronto, Hamilton & Windsor and worked or trained at CFB Esquimalt, CFB Halifax, CFB Petawawa, CFB Kingston, CFB Toronto, Camp Borden, The Burwash Training Area and LFCA Training Centre Meaford.

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