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Sunday, February 19, 2012


I grew up in Vancouver at a time when the whole city was lit up with neon signs. There were, at one time, 19,000 of them.  Then, in the 1960's, people started to complain about the garish signs.  "We are being led into a hideous jungle of signs," one reporter wrote. They called it a 'neon nightmare' and said that the signs were out sized, outlandish and outrageous, 'desecrating buildings' and cluttering the streets.  And worse: they were blocking out some of the beautiful scenery of the city.

Personally, I always loved those lights.  It was exciting, on a weekend outing to downtown Granville Street, to walk along under the flashing colors.  Once they removed them, some of the 'spirit' of the downtown was removed as well.  I'm happy to see these days that neon is making a come-back, and Granville Street is starting to look more like the street I remember in the 1950's.

This weekend I visited the Museum of Vancouver where there is an exhibit of some of those famous neons.  There was Hootie the Owl that once perched above the Owl Drugs, and the Smiling Buddha sign from Chinatown.

The museum has a collection of twenty three neon signs on display, only a fraction of the signs that used to flash in the city until a bylaw was passed in 1974 prohibiting them. They were collected from various locations and donated by people who had 'rescued' them.  In spite of the display being labeled
"Neon Vancouver/ Ugly Vancouver"  the lights used to reflect on our rain-wet streets, adding colour on the long rainy days of our winter.  I missed them when they were gone.  It's nice to see them making a comeback.  And it was particularly fun to go and see the old ones, as I remembered them, from those fun days when I was young promenading on Granville Street on a weekend night.

Even churches had neon!

Note:  The display will be on until August 12, 2012.  Info at

1 comment:

scott davidson said...

How about this for a design for a wall painting, in the tried-and-true Art Nouveau style?:, by the famous English artist, Audrey Beardsley himself. You can also order a canvas print of the picture from