He was born to a wealthy family in Camden, England and, although he spent a short time studying for the Anglican ministry, he had soon begun focusing his attention on owning a lot of land.
What makes this especially intriguing is he wasn’t interested in the land in his own country, but in Nova Scotia, which was thousands of kilometres away across the ocean.
It seems what grabbed his attention came about after seeing an advertisement in a newspaper. It was for land known as the Sackville Estates, which was said to be only 16 kilometres from Halifax and was estimated to contain a whopping 2,800+ hectares of land without even seeing a plan, he bought the estates.
Soon after arriving in Nova Scotia, he must have begun selling some of his land. He also leased some of it at the head of Bedford Basin to a George Eastment who, with his brother, constructed a woolen mill there.
Soon, Lister had a surveyor draw maps, dated 1854 and 1856. On the maps several streets were planned and named by Lister for places in England. Some of these names, including Wardour, Perth and Camden, remain today.
He was very much involved in building a road, which is now known as Shore Drive, and also laying out lots and roads that were 18 metres wide.
In another area of his estates, he laid out a number of roads that would have been where the Bicentenntial Highway is today.
In 1854, the Intercolonial Railway began building from Halifax to Dartmouth.
Lister, no doubt, realized this was the perfect opportunity to make a lot of money because he was smart enough to know that there was great potential for development along the eight miles of tracks being constructed.
So what does this brilliant developer do next? Well, he hires another surveyor and divides about 16 hectares of land into about 70 lots. Even more impressive, he had a bridge built at the mouth of the Sackville River so that families who would buy a lot would have easy access to their land.
The planned survey of Lister’s land was the result of his idea of creating what is known today as a subdivision.
The first large auction of his lots, for his revolutionary subdivision concept, took place on July 7, 1856 and 59 lots were sold, including some waterfront lots. Each sold for about 28 pounds.
The proceeds earned him about 1,200 pounds, which today would be more than $100,000, a huge amount of money back then.
According to observers, “it shows a very great rise of real estate in that vicinity within the last three years.”
Without doubt, Lister also deserves a great deal of credit for the role he played in building the first Anglican Church in Bedford. Because of his time in the Anglican ministry, he had actively encouraged local adherents to build a church.
Some sources say he donated the land for the church. Others say he sold a plot of land at the corner of Wardour and Perth streets for two pounds.
What no one disputes, however, is that thanks to his financial help, the Anglican Church was built in 1859. Adjacent to the church, was a cemetery for Anglicans.
When George Lister died in 1871, he left his wife his large estate. This included more than 243 hectares of land and the home he had built for them on the Dartmouth road next to Parker’s Brook.
It is at this point in George Lister’s remarkable story that one encounters a mystery.
You see, despite his substantial contribution to Bedford’s first Anglican church, he was not buried in its cemetery.
There is considerable controversy surrounding why this happened. Was it because he and his wife had changed their religion to the Plymouth Brethren and he was no longer considered to be an Anglican? We will never know for sure.
Obviously, his wife Katherine must have faced a distressing dilemma, but what she did was to have her husband buried in a gravesite on their property on the Dartmouth Road.
Two years later, she was placed next to him in the same gravesite.
What we now have to recognize is that this sad fate almost completely erased the extraordinary legacy George Lister made to Bedford during his time there.
For many years, the only reminder of the Listers’ resting place was a white picket fence around their graves. But, as time passed, it eventually disappeared so it became very difficult to find out where it had once been located.
When the new Dartmouth Road was built in 1950, something unexpected occurred. It had become known that the extensive excavation that would take place would destroy the Listers’ abandoned gravesite.
The Department of Highways was soon made aware of this situation and steps were taken to have the Listers mortal remains exhumed and moved to the Brookside cemetery, which is not far away.
What is remarkable about the circumstances associated with this decision, is to learn that Lister’s sister-in-law, Mary Brockwell, who after her sister’s death had become owner of all of her brother-in law’s significant land holdings, had donated property for this cemetery, which she had insisted would be used for “those of other faiths.”
It is said that she was very upset over the burial sites where both her sister and brother-in-law had been buried. Some people have speculated this supports the allegation that it was an Anglican Church ruling that prevented Lister from being buried in the graveyard he had so generously supported.
Today, in the cemetery, you will find small, simple grave markers with the following information on them:
In grateful memory
of George Lister
died June 1871
and his wife Katherine
died July 5, 1873
There is a plaque in Brookside Cemetery, which was placed there in 1950 to honour George Lister, his wife Katherine and Mary Ann Brockwill. Inscribed on the stone is: “Donors of the Anglican Cemetery and Donor of ‘Brookside.’”