436-438 1st Avenue – Nicholson Block

436-438 1st Avenue in downtown Ladysmith was built in 1909 for Donald Nicholson and is still known at the Nicholson Block.  It still retains its original configuration of retail/commercial space on the main floor with apartments on the upper floor.

It is currently configured as three apartments on the second floor with two retail/commercial spaces on the main floor. The retail/commercial space is now occupied by Lttle Otter’s Den and the Wigwam Restaurant.

438 1st Avenue in downtown Ladysmith.
438 1st Avenue in downtown Ladysmith.

The Nicholson Block was added to the City of Ladysmith Community Heritage Register in 2010.

Here is a map showing the location of 436-438 1st Avenue:

Here is a Google Street View image of 438 1st Avenue:

Description of the Historic Place

The Nicholson Block is a two-storey, brick Edwardian commercial building on the west side of Ladysmith’s main commercial street. The historic place is confined to the building footprint.

Heritage Value

The Nicholson Block is significant for its association with a defining event in Ladysmith history. During the Great Strike of 1912-14, meetings of the United Mine Workers of America were held on the second floor. Striking for better wages, working conditions and union recognition, the miners ultimately achieved none of these goals and, after two long, bitter years, the strike collapsed. Shaken and demoralized, the optimistic and expansive spirit of the pre-strike community was fundamentally altered and would not be recovered until the emergence of the logging industry in the late 1930s.

The Nicholson Block is valued for its association with early developer and community leader Donald Nicholson.

Nicholson was a member of the first town council and served as Mayor of Ladysmith in 1906 and 1908-1909. In addition to this building, Nicholson built Ladysmith’s first hospital, first purpose-built school, the Opera House and several other early buildings. A section of road, still known as the Speedway, was graded and built by Nicholson, originally for use as a horse racing track.

Built in 1909, the Nicholson Block is a very good example of an Edwardian Classical Revival style commercial building. The building’s simple form, massing, and symmetrical facade reflect the transition from the more elaborate styles of the Victorian period to the restrained elegance of the Edwardian era.

The Nicholson Block is part of a grouping of largely intact historic buildings in Ladysmith’s commercial core. Situated mid-block, the building is part of an almost continuous city block of similarly proportioned historic buildings that collectively create a cohesive streetscape.

Associated with Ladysmith’s earliest development, the Nicholson Block has been in continuous commercial use for
over a century and is a significant contributor to the heritage character of the area.

Character-Defining Elements

The character-defining elements of the Nicholson Block include:

  • – all of the elements of an Edwardian era Classical Revival style commercial building as expressed in the overall restrained appearance, simple form and massing, symmetrical façade, flat roof, brick construction with corbelled detailing, cambered arches on upper storey windows, and simple pilasters, frieze and capitals
  • – the building’s location within a group of similarly proportioned, historic commercial buildings on the town’s main commercial Street
  • – continuous use as a commercial building
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