Lister Block

The Lister Reborn: Have we Learned a Lesson?

By Matt Jelly
Published April 13, 2012

The Lister Block is now open to the public. Tourism Hamilton's new office is buzzing with people, and it will be open during tonight's Art Crawl.

The Lister Restored (Image Credit: Matt Jelly)
The Lister Restored (Image Credit: Matt Jelly)

As just one of many people who fought to make sure this building wasn't demolished, I'm overjoyed that the Lister Block has been restored. We've shown that heritage restoration can work, and indeed become a unique local asset, when we actually give it some thought, effort and investment.

As a City Councillor, Bill Kelly and his council colleagues voted to demolish the Lister Block in 2006. Today, Bill did a live broadcast for CHML 900 AM, singing the Lister's praises.

Tim McCabe, currently the GM of Planning and Economic Development, advised Council to demolish the Lister Block. Today, he spoke about the value of this investment, flanked by two Ticat cheerleaders, followed by a chant of "Oskee-wee-wee", for whatever reason.

Kathy Drewitt, Executive Director of the Downtown BIA, led a petition in favour of demolition. Today, the BIA is very proud of the newest addition to the downtown core.

Joe Mancinelli, Vice President of LIUNA, fought tooth and nail to convince council, local media and the general public that the Lister would be impossible to renovate, and would need to come down. In 2004 Mr. Mancinelli claimed that the Lister wouldn't survive another winter. Today, Mr. Mancinelli considers the Lister as one of LIUNA's proudest local achievements.

On June 14, 2006, Mayor Di Ianni, Councillors Bruckler, Collins, Jackson, Kelly, Merulla, Morelli, Mitchell, Pearson, Samson and Whitehead voted to demolish the Lister Block. Councillors Bratina, Braden, McCarthy and McHattie voted against.

The Provincial Minister of Culture of the time, Caroline Di Cocco stepped in and informed Council they would be expected to convene a working group to explore all the options first before making this irreversible mistake. Thankfully this process was successful.

Lister Building in 2006 (RTH file photo)
Lister Building in 2006 (RTH file photo)

I don't point this out to say, "I told you so", but rather in the hope that we learn from this experience that any building can be feasibly restored with the right attention, investment, and creativity.

I do hope the Lister Block is not used as an excuse not to save anything else. This isn't about one building, it's about doing what is right by our history and by our environment, every time we consider the option for any demolition.

It does seem that our civic leaders have no trouble in preserving and adapting their own revisionist histories - now let's do the same for our built heritage. Before we knock down any building in this city, let's make sure we have all of the information, and all of the options are fully explored before we give up.

There are many people who should be thanked for their dedication to this building, when all others claimed it was too far gone to save: Diane Dent, Michelle Stark, Kieran Dickson, Graham Crawford, Grant and Brenda Head, Bill Curran, Alissa Denham, Councillor Brian McHattie, Brian Henley, Tony Butler and more than 30 delegates who stepped up to tell City Council this building needed to be preserved. That's just a short list.

For those who say, again and again, "Oh, well we can't save every building," I believe we now have a very prominent example of just one case where that statement was dead wrong.

Enjoy the new Lister Block, but let's not rest on our laurels for too long. Let's make sure we make the right decision more than just this once.

In the next few months, we'll very likely see the demolition of All Saints Church and the Education Centre. The Connaught still sits vacant and without a heritage designation.

We still have a lot of work to do, and I hope our civic leaders have learned an important lesson from the Lister Block.

Lister Block 1924, Restored 2011 (RTH file photo)
Lister Block 1924, Restored 2011 (RTH file photo)

This was first published on Matt's personal website.

Jelly is a local artist, graphic designer and map maker living in Downtown Hamilton, Ontario in the Central Neighbourhood. Matt is an advocate for built heritage, toxic waste eradication and the revitalization of downtown Hamilton. www.mattjelly.com

26 Comments

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By Fred STreet (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2012 at 15:11:36

"Let's not rest on our laurels for too long."

Indeed. We need to improve response time.

The Lister was dormant for 10-11 years before there was serious action on the file (and another six since then), and it took the threat of a wrecking ball to make it happen. That's not the best way of being proactive, and certainly not a strategy without substantial risk.

I'll leave aside consideration of the limitations of massive public investment being a game-changing precondition to architectural preservation, as is so often the case (though not with City Hall or, perhaps, the B of E).

That said, it has been nice and not a little surreal to see the block returning to life. So for today, let's enjoy a lucky Friday the 13th and lavish a little more love on Lady Lister.

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2012 at 15:16:15

Very well written Matt. Thank you and the many others, who have given us something to be proud of in our downtown and our city in general. How about a photo tonight of people wrapped around it holding hands? A symbol of what we have saved and created together buy standing together.

It's almost hard to believe the before and after shots are the same building.

Comment edited by lawrence on 2012-04-13 15:16:46

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By hamilton resident (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2012 at 15:40:35

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By bikehounds (anonymous) | Posted April 14, 2012 at 09:11:43 in reply to Comment 75920

I didn`t read this as a political jab at all. It seems to me that the day that the Lister is highest in peoples' minds is the perfect time to stop and consider what would have happened if we'd torn this building down, and to consider the repercussiones of allowing that alternate fate to happen to our other buildings in the future...

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2012 at 15:54:32 in reply to Comment 75920

Today is the perfect day for such reflection as people stand in front and within, in awe. Today is a day to take mental and physical snapshots so that we all might look at this as an example when we are faced with similar proposals to demolish our heritage.

Nothing wrong with reflecting in our celebrations.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2012 at 15:49:00

"We can't save everything" is their way of saying "we gave you the Lister, now shut up and go away".

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2012-04-13 15:56:06

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By hamilton resident (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2012 at 16:08:16

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By lawrence (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2012 at 16:42:06 in reply to Comment 75924

Nothing within me believes that there is any intention with this piece, for personal plugs or pats on backs.

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By ROCKOFAGES (anonymous) | Posted April 17, 2012 at 08:38:40 in reply to Comment 75928

So you saved the life of an 80+ year old building, but have done nothing to improve the lives of Hamilton's elderly. What are we learning dear city and what has this taught us? We adore our History & Heritage yet ignore the seniors who brought us.

We are the social activists, we cherish our old brick and stone. We do not care for the old folks among us, we'd much rather leave them alone. The older the structure the higher we praise, we care not for the elders from which we were raised.

It's time to think about people? I am simply amazed.

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2012 at 16:20:23 in reply to Comment 75924

Um. Ditto? Maybe I'm mistaken but I believe I was merely expressing an opinion too. My political points aren't just cheap, they're free.

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By -Hammer- (registered) | Posted April 13, 2012 at 17:24:04

To play devil's advocate on this one, if every building renewal project got a $7 million dollar grant from the province, I'm sure you'd see a LOT more renewal cases occurring in Hamilton. Not to say I that I think the Lister Block didn't deserve it (although I do wish they could have found a way to make the three corner window dressings the same material/color as the rest of the building). I'm just saying, it's not something that a developer or a city can always count on happening.

Anyways, I do appreciate Mr. Jelly setting the record straight on just who was for demo and who now has done a positional 180 on the subject. As a side note, how the heck does the Connaught, the hotel that used to host the NHL board of governors meeting and where the Hamilton Tiger's rivals stayed and location that was integral to the development of radio broadcasting in Canada and a former home of the oldest radio station in English Canada not have a heritage designation?

I'll openly admit, I'm against giving a building a heritage designation just because it's old, but there is real history, interesting architecture to go with the building in this case.

Comment edited by -Hammer- on 2012-04-13 17:26:18

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted April 13, 2012 at 17:34:17 in reply to Comment 75929

I'd completely agree that it should not be the City's job to fund heritage restorations in every case- I'd settle for them properly maintaining and renovating the buildings they already own. I think it's at least worth pointing out that Council's original idea was for us to pay the same exorbitant lease rates for a replica of the Lister. Make no mistake, this was a sweetheart deal for LIUNA.

The City's role should have been in proper by-law enforcement on the building starting in the 80's and 90's, to ensure that it didn't decay to the point that it was so costly to restore. The City's role should be in preventing demolition by neglect, and for designating important pieces of historic architecture, at least to indicate that certain buildings should be restored, rather than left to rot.

I also have wondered whether we should simply take a renovated Lister and put it on the open market, and either make a profit, or recoup costs- to show that heritage preservation doesn't always just have to be a nice thing to do, but a profitable investment too. But I suppose what's done is done.

I will also say, I don't intend to deflate any of the positivity- everyone should feel good that we saved the Lister Block. Even Larry, Bill and Joe. Etc. etc.

I just feel that we should take that positive energy and devote it to a more permanent local culture of architectural preservation and adaptive reuse. The point is that it can be done, and that in most cases, it's worth doing.

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By Torquay (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2012 at 18:13:07

One lesson: Choose the right hostage and you get a kingly ransom.

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By Anononon (anonymous) | Posted April 13, 2012 at 20:03:24

Hamilton: where our "leaders" are hypocrites. Osskee we we!

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By MattJelly (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2012 at 12:33:42

Kathy Drewitt of the Downtown BIA was kind enough to send me an email last night in response to this article: http://mattjelly.wordpress.com/2012/04/1...

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By highwater (registered) | Posted April 14, 2012 at 17:34:37 in reply to Comment 75944

According to Graham Crawford, Tim McCabe has to his credit, admitted he was wrong to support the demolition of the Lister.

If demolition proponents are concerned about their reputations, they'd be much better off simply swallowing their pride and following McCabe's lead, rather than trying to rewrite history, especially when that history is so well-documented.

Comment edited by highwater on 2012-04-14 17:38:18

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 16, 2012 at 14:16:41 in reply to Comment 75946

At the start of 2006, I still naively accepted the conventional wisdom that the Lister was falling apart. By March 2006, a detailed report on the condition of the building by the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario had changed my mind. After that report, based purely on the evidence, it was no longer tenable to argue that the building would not be a good candidate for restoration and adaptive reuse. Yet Council would surely have granted unqualified permission to demolish it that June, if not for the last-minute intervention of the Ontario Ministry of Culture and the long process that followed and ultimately led to the building's restoration.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted April 14, 2012 at 17:50:41

Nice job Matt.

I think one of the biggest factors in making it more feasible to do such restorations lie in (as you mentioned) ENFORCING PROPERTY STANDARDS and taking if necessary punitive action against property owners who let their buildings decay to the point where they fall down and are replaced by ANOTHER VRANICH PARKING LOT. The Tivoli (Sniderman), The Century, are buildings that come to mind that in no way should have been allowed to fall into such disrepair.

Having a business that does a lot of work on century buildings (mostly residential) I am aware of the challenges that can occur in trying to meld 100 plus year old technology and materials with new building methods, standards and codes. The key lay in proper maintenance. Unfortunately there are occassions when despite the will and funding, some buildings are beyond salvage. It's important we don't let them get to that point.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 14, 2012 at 18:26:22

I guess seeing the usual suspects at the Lister opening must have filled you with rage at the revisionist history and backslapping. The dust is still settling from federal.

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 15, 2012 at 08:06:14

I love what they've done with this building. I was a proponent of knocking it down and building a replica of the original one, but this building has changed my mind somewhat.

Still a bit hung up on the price tag (Both of restoration and of the inflated rate the city is paying for leasing the office space).

I read in the paper yesterday or Friday that they are hiring a consultant to help select and attract the 'right' kind of retailers for the ground floor. Sorry to sidetrack, but who exactly is paying for the consultant? Doesn't LIUNA own the building? If the city pays 1 cent for that I will be upset.

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By Shempatolla (registered) - website | Posted April 15, 2012 at 09:59:03 in reply to Comment 75950

A consultant? Are you kidding me? Umm let's see, downtown revitalization...... more dollar stores? Bingo halls? Variety stores with display cases full of crack pipes and rolling paper? I DON'T THINK SO!!!!

How hard was that? I didn't even bill them!

I would call them retards but that would be insulting to retarded people.

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 15, 2012 at 10:16:46

The opening of the restored Lister Block and the new CBC Hamilton offices will provide a tremendous boost to the momentum already happening on James Street North.

Thanks for providing relevant historical context to the Lister Block restoration project, Matt.

And “DowntowninHamilton” raises a good question about who is paying for the consultant to attract commercial tenants to the Lister Block. It is unclear as to whether the commercial space is being leased out directly by LIUNA or subleased out by the City of Hamilton. If LIUNA is leasing out the commercial space for its own benefit, then LIUNA should pay for the consultants. Hopefully someone from the city or the media can shed some light on this point.

In a somewhat similar vein on a different topic (the Pan Am stadium), a March 26, 2012 Stadium Subcommittee report to be discussed at the Hamilton GIC meeting on April 18, 2012 states that the Tiger-Cats have asked the city for a guarantee to reimburse the team to the tune of over $1 Million per game if the new stadium is not completed on time. (See Page 4 of the report): http://www.hamilton.ca/NR/rdonlyres/A7ED...

The Tiger-Cats caused a one year delay in the stadium planning process with its anti-west harbour stadium campaign throughout 2010 and, had the Tiger-Cats gone along with the original west harbour plan as they had done until March 2010, the team could have played at Ivor Wynne Stadium until the new stadium is ready. The Tiger-Cats’ request to the city for a guarantee for any delayed completion of the stadium is analogous to the tale about the child who kills his parents and then seeks sympathy for being an orphan. The Tiger-Cats should pay for the consequences of their own incompetent decisions.

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2012-04-15 11:41:01

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By DowntownInHamilton (registered) | Posted April 17, 2012 at 05:17:55 in reply to Comment 75952

Wow, that's incredible. I can't believe the Cats would do that. Actually, stopping now to think about it further, I totally can see that.

I'm so torn with what to make of Bob Young. On one hand, he has my gratitude for bailing the team out when needed most, but has totally betrayed that too in the posturing and whiny attitude (only build the stadium where _I_ want it, I want compensation for potential missed games, I want the city to pay for my team's stadium, putting a less than stellar product on the field the past several years).

Council better not approve that demand. If they do, that will probably sway me from going to any games this year. I've already decided not to renew the season tickets I had based on this immature, childish behaviour.

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2012 at 11:10:23 in reply to Comment 75952

City Hall better not give the ti-cats that guarantee...

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By actually they better (anonymous) | Posted April 16, 2012 at 16:50:37

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted April 19, 2012 at 08:33:40

Update-

The March 26, 2012 Pan Am Stadium Subcommittee was Item 8.13 at yesterday’s GIC meeting. This can be found at the 03:49:30 mark of the video/audio recording of the meeting. http://hamilton.siretechnologies.com/sir...

Councillor Partridge asked Councillor Ferguson (the Co-Chair of the Pan Am Stadium Subcommittee) about the $1 Million per game guarantee requested by the Tiger-Cats if the new stadium is not completed on time. Councillor Ferguson said the Pan Am Stadium Subcommittee will seek a guarantee from the province because Infrastructure Ontario will not provide one. He said that no guarantee has been provided to the Tiger-Cats at this time. Council voted to receive the report including the recommendation to seek a guarantee from the province.

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