The East Robertson Block
Historic Patio Project

The East Robertson Block

Connie is a well-known local story-teller and professional who has a passion for the history of the City of Belleville, in particular, the downtown streets.

This story is one of five included in our Historic Patio Project, encouraging those passing through the streets of Downtown Belleville to learn more about its history.


In the heart of downtown Belleville proudly stands an architectural gem of a building known as the Robertson Block. Let’s travel back in time while I recount some of the property’s history. In 1810 Theophilus Nelson built a framed house and barns with Indian Permission on Lot 25, which would later form part of the Robertson Block. In later years, it was known as The Old Mansion House Hotel and destroyed by fire in 1875. Alexander Robertson purchased the property in 1876 and commissioned Northcott and Alford Builders to construct a building for him.

Alexander Robertson, born at Trenton in 1838, was educated in Belleville and called to the bar in 1864. He became an important political figure as Belleville’s mayor in 1870 and represented Hastings West in the House of Commons from 1882 to 1888.

He played a pivotal role in the development and progress of our city but sadly passed away in office in 1888 at the age of 50. His legacy lived on through the East and West Robertson Block buildings.

Walter Alford was a prominent builder and respected contractor who settled here in 1870. Among notable buildings he constructed were Belleville, Trenton and Calgary post offices, the East and West Robertson blocks, and numerous stores and private residences.

The substantial brick structure has a frontage of 125 ft and is 70 ft in depth, with a cellar 7 ft high under the entire building. The wall was 37 feet tall and crowned by a majestic mansard roof of blue, red and green slate.

On the ground floor, the building is divided into 6 stores – 3 double and 3 single – each supplied with a vault. A fireproof wall 13 inches thick, with iron doors, separated the building. The second floor was divided into offices, while the 3rd floor was originally home to The Oddfellows Hall and the Temperance Association of the Holy Cross.

The windows on the ground floor were plate glass; the moulding around the pillars was neatly gilded, and the cornice mouldings and sills were white brick. Evans & Bolger were the architects; John Fahey did the mason work; Northcott & Alford did the carpentering; Frank Dolan did the plastering; Thomas Gardner did the slating, and William Wensley did the painting for a total building cost of approximately $30,000.

Originally standing at three-and-a-half storeys, the south three bays were later reduced to two levels following a devastating fire in 1954. The fire, believed to have started in the Vanity Fair Dance Hall, quickly spread to the south bay’s roofs and burned off the top.

Over the years, the Robertson Block has welcomed many tenants, each contributing unique stories to the building’s tapestry. From bakers and merchants to barristers and solicitors, the halls have echoed with the footsteps of those pursuing their dreams and livelihoods.

But the Robertson Block was more than just a place of commerce. It became a vibrant hub for various organizations and groups that united the community. The Knights of Columbus, Liberal Conservative Club, Odd Fellows Hall, and a Mechanic’s Institute found their home within these historic walls.

The building’s association with notable figures further enhances its mystique and allure. Sir John A. MacDonald, a towering figure in Canadian history, was a trustee during the 1860s and 70s, leaving an indelible mark on the building’s heritage. In the 1890s, the Belleville Sun newspaper set up shop, adding journalistic flair to the building’s legacy. After the fire, many long-term tenants, including the beloved Dickens Bakery and Tea Room, Doyles Drugs, and Bill Cooke Cigar Store, closed their doors.

Although time has taken its toll on this architectural feature, the spirit of its former glory remains ingrained in the building’s essence.

The hum of activity on the bustling street, the shopkeepers’ camaraderie and goodwill, and the friendly smiles and greetings blend together to continue creating a welcoming hello to passersby for decades!


The West Robertson block across the road at 224-228 Front Street was destroyed by fire in 1954 and is currently the gateway to a municipal parking lot.

If you would like to read more of Connie’s work about Belleville’s history, check out The Tin Box Memories series.