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Tearing down Hamilton's history

Last Updated: Aug 12, 2013

The progress and growth of a city can be measured in many ways: population, economy, physical size. Tearing down Hamilton's history is a look back at how — in the 200 years since the founding of the city by George Hamilton — we have treated our architectural heritage. In some cases (Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board Education Centre), we have removed the old in favour of the new. In others (Lister Block), we have retro-fitted and upgraded the interior while keeping the exterior largely intact.

You can explore each building's before and after pictures by clicking and moving the slider back and forth. The small black arrows in the middle can be clicked and dragged to show you an original photo of the building and dragged back the other way to show you the modern building's site. The large black and white arrows to the sides will lead to other images of the same building. To switch venues, use the buttons along the bottom.

Each building and location in this city has a story to tell and if you would like to join the conversation, or suggest a venue we missed, we can be found on Twitter @CBCHamilton or #TearingDownHamOnt.


TH&B Railway Station

The Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway (TH&B) existed from 1894 to 1987. Based in Hamilton, the old station was at the corners of James and Hunter, with the track running at ground-level; today it runs across bridges at James, John, Hunter and Walnut. The modern station, which later became the Hamilton GO Centre, was built in 1933, can be seen to the right in the first photo.

TH&B Railway TH&B Railway TH&B Railway

Old City Hall

Before the current iteration opened in 1960, Hamilton's City Hall was located at the corner of James Street North and York Street (now York Boulevard), across from the Lister Block. The impressive French Romanesque structure opened in 1889 and was sold to Eaton's in 1955 for $800,000 and eventually torn down to make way for shopping centres.

Old City Hall Old City Hall Old City Hall Old City Hall

Gore Park

"The Gore" has always been the heart of Hamilton. Originally envisioned as a town square by George Hamilton, the park has been a source of contention throughout the years and remains so even today. Although the central fountain has been moved around the park several times, it nonetheless remains a recognizable symbol of the city of Hamilton.

Gore Park Gore Park Gore Park

HWDSB Education Centre

The former site of the Hamilton-Wentworth District School Board education centre will relaunch in 2014 as the $85 million McMaster Health Campus. Originally opened in the 1960s, the site was sold to McMaster in 2011 and torn down in early 2013.

HWDSB Headquarters

Henry Birks and Sons Building

Originally built in 1883 for the Canada Life Assurance Company, the building would become famous for its imposing clock tower, added in 1929 after Birks purchased the building. The signature clock (seen in the second photo) was saved when the building was torn down to make room for an office tower, and currently resides inside the Hamilton Farmer's Market. (Note the Penny-Farthing-style bicycle step in the first image, front right).

Henry Birks and Sons Building

Hamilton Courthouse

The former Wentworth County Courthouse was one of the original buildings in Hamilton. The two acre site was donated by George Hamilton to build a courthouse and jail for the new District of Gore in 1816. The building was demolished in 1956 to make way for a new courthouse and after the court moved to the Sopinka location in 1999, McMaster's Downtown Centre took over the site.

Hamilton Courthouse

Majestic Theatre

Originally built as a movie theatre in 1929, this was the home of the Majestic / Roxy Theatre until 1961, when it became a dance hall (the Club Safari). The Horn of Plenty has been in this location since 1984. (via downtowndundas.ca)

Majestic Theatre

Hamilton Forum

The Barton Street Arena, also known as the Hamilton Forum, was home to Hamilton's NHL team, the Hamilton Tigers. Built in 1910, the arena had an original seating capacity of 4,500 and six entrances (three from Barton Street and three from Bristol Street). The arena was demolished in 1977 and a row of houses erected in its place.

Hamilton Forum Hamilton Forum

Old Police HQ

The former Hamilton Police Services headquarters were located across the street from its present location, at the corners of King William and Mary. Torn down in the 1970s after HPS moved to its current facility, the site now houses Dundurn Place, a long-term care facility.

Old Police HQ

House of Providence

The Dundas House of Providence was opened in 1879 by the Sisters of St. Joseph Hamilton, as a facility to care for the elderly and disadvantaged. While the facility primarily cared for the elderly, it "also took in orphan children and nursed those who suffered from a variety of illnesses." (sjv.on.ca). The House of Providence was replaced in 1970 with a modern building and renamed St. Joseph's Villa, which still stands on the site today.

House of Providence

Tivoli Theatre

Originally built as a carriage factory in 1875, the building was converted to a theatre in 1907 and renamed several times: the Wonderland, the Colonial, The Princess. In 1924, the old carriage factory building was renovated to include a massive lobby and new auditorium by Andrew Ross and launched as the Tivoli Theatre. The building collapsed on itself due to instability in 2004 and the James Street lobby was removed, leaving only the auditorium standing.

Tivoli Theatre

Civic Stadium / Ivor Wynne Stadium

Built as Civic Stadium to host the 1930 British Empire Games and renamed Ivor Wynne after a major overhaul in 1971, the site has hosted the Hamilton Tiger Cats since 1950, three Grey Cups, concerts — including Pink Floyd, Rush and the Tragically Hip — and an outdoor AHL game in 2012. The stadium is currently being rebuilt as Tim Horton's Field and slated to open in July 2014.

Civic Stadium / Ivor Wynne Stadium Civic Stadium / Ivor Wynne Stadium

Lister Block

Erected as a four-storey building in 1886, the Lister Block was rebuilt in 1924 after the building was ravaged by fire. The block, designed in Classical Renaissance style and built by Pigott Construction, fell into disarray by 2000, but was renovated in 2011, at a cost of nearly $30 million. The building will soon be home to a new restaurant and a full slate of tenants.

Lister Block

Modern photos: Kevin Gamble/CBC; Vintage photos: Courtesy of Local History & Archives, Hamilton Public Library; Tim Hortons Field illustration: Courtesy of timhortonsfield.ca/Hamilton Tiger Cats; McMaster Health Campus illustration: Courtesy of NORR Architects and Engineers.