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Neon Vancouver Ugly Vancouver

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:20pm PDT
Comments 48

The switch was thrown on Vancouver’s first neon signs on Granville in 1924 and the craze erupted in the 1950s when 19,000 neon signs illuminated the city. Some though it was a sign of being a booming, bustling, progressive metropolis. Others thought they were the biggest eyesores and took away from Vancouver’s stunning natural surroundings.

A new exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver, Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver, will look at both sides of the neon argument.

Neon Vancouver
Image courtesy of the Museum of Vancouver

Did Vancouver’s flashing neon signs signal glamour, excitement and big city living? Or was neon part of a tawdry display that disfigured Vancouver’s natural beauty?

People were of two minds in Vancouver in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Neon signs that we now love were at that time, objects of deep civic controversy.

Neon was one highly visible sign of Vancouver’s transition from a sleepy west coast port into a striving, happening city. Neon became a lightening rod for critics of change, and at the same time, became the focus of a civic conversation about values in Vancouver.

Photo credit left to right: kennymatic, peanutian, jubilo haku on Flickr

Neon Vancouver begins October 13, 2011 and it will run until late summer next year with curator talks this November and December. If you haven’t been to the Museum of Vancouver recently, this would be a great way to explore their urban archives, displays, exhibits, and artifacts.

The 10-month exhibition will kick off with an opening party Wednesday, October 12, 2011. If you’d like to attend, here’s how you can win a pair of tickets:

  • Leave a comment on this post about your favourite neon sign in Vancouver (past or present) (1 entry)
  • Post the following on Twitter (1 entry)
I entered to win tickets to the Neon #Vancouver Ugly Vancouver opening party @MuseumofVan from @Miss604

I will draw one winner at random from all entries at 12:00pm on Thursday, October 6, 2011.

Update The winner is Alice!

Current contests on


  1. Erin says:

    My fav in Vancouver is the Save on Meats!

  2. Hayley says:

    My favourite was always Helen’s.

  3. It almost feels over-used but I’d have to say the Save-On-Meats sign takes it if only for shear originality (I mean, come on, pigs with giant dollars? How cuuuuuute).
    I don’t really know how else to judge a neon sign… I suppose subtlety could be a metric 😛

  4. Sanaz says:

    My favorite is the W sign

  5. David says:

    I really like the neon “GIRLS GIRLS GIRLS” at the Cobalt, for obvious reasons.

  6. hag says:

    I liked the Smilin’ Buddha , Ho Ho Inn and Bamboo Terrace signs.

  7. Darryl says:

    I enjoy the save-on-meats sign and enjoy the look of neon signage. Interesting use of the LED signage and eye catching displays going up around the city. i would enjoy seeing this exhibition at VAG.

  8. Janet says:

    The Aristocratic

  9. For me, it’s definitely a tie between the Save-on-Meats sign and the W! Save-on-Meats just because it’s a cute pig, and the W because you can see it from far away! It makes me smile 🙂

  10. Linda says:

    i love the old ‘helen’s’ now the ‘heights’ sign! 🙂


  11. I don’t remember the name of the business, but on Seymour St. between Georgia and Davie, one of the auto-repair shops had a wonderful sign: Two neon cars would crash together head-on, then spring apart again, perpetually! The sign was in use into the 1970’s at least.

  12. Amy says:

    Love the East Van sign

  13. Natalie says:

    I like the swinging girl on east hastings !

  14. Anne says:

    I like the Smilin Buddha sign

  15. Vanessa says:

    Save on Meats!

  16. zanna says:

    Helen’s of course… cmon it has a swing!

  17. Deidre says:

    I loved Helen – they updated it and I am glad we still have her, but wish she was still called Helen!

  18. Alan Hawker says:

    I think Helen’s was great, but for sheet majesty, you can’t beat the Orpheum sign.

  19. Alakitten says:

    I like Helen’s!

  20. Lauren says:

    Helen’s sign before, now the heights, ugh. Long live Helen’s!

  21. Brenda says:

    Gotta be the Orpheum!

  22. Michelle says:

    Def the W!

  23. Katie says:

    Love the East Van Sign.

  24. Cory says:

    I live in the wrong decade. Most of them are all gone nowadays.

  25. Gladys says:

    I’ll always remember the old BowMac sign on West Broadway.

  26. Jan says:

    Drake Hotel and Save On Meas\ts

  27. Jan says:

    Drake Hotel and Save On Meats

  28. Teresa says:

    East Van one.

  29. Jessica R.F says:

    East Van cross. Without a doubt. Thank you, Ken Lum.

  30. Robin says:

    I love the Only Seafoods one with the seahorse on it.

  31. Gordon says:

    Save-on-Meats 🙂

  32. Grace says:

    Ho Ho Chinese Food in Chinatown!

  33. Vince says:

    The Orpheum!

  34. Kevin says:

    Ho Ho in Chinatown.

  35. Ginger Gervais says:

    Im going to have to go with the majority with Helens

  36. alice irwin says:

    the Stanley Theatre on south Granville

  37. Michelle W. says:

    East Van!

  38. Sharon says:

    Smiling Buddha – my parents used to hang out there when they first met.

  39. Alice Farrow says:

    The Woodwards “W”. It is my shining beacon to find my way home.

    It’s currently stopped moving right now – fix the W!

  40. Alicia says:

    I like the East Van sign! 🙂

    I tweeted about the contest here:!/awesome_tacos/status/121861453220298752

  41. AC07-NW says:

    Ovaltine Cafe

  42. Stacie Schartner says:

    Woo hoo! Thanks for doing contests like this! 🙂

  43. Karen says:

    BOW MAC …. on BROAD-WAY!

  44. GS test says:

    Neon Vancouver Ugly Vancouver – Vancouver Blog Miss604 » Vancouver Blog Miss604

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