Neon Vancouver Ugly Vancouver

Comments 48 by Rebecca Bollwitt

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!

48 Comments  —  Comments Are Closed

  1. ErinTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:26pm PDT

    My fav in Vancouver is the Save on Meats!

  2. HayleyTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:29pm PDT

    My favourite was always Helen’s.

  3. Toby SullivanTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:32pm PDT

    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. SanazTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:39pm PDT

    My favorite is the W sign

  5. DavidTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:47pm PDT

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

  6. hagTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:55pm PDT

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

  7. Samantha ClarkTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:55pm PDT

    Save on meats!

  8. DarrylTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 1:56pm PDT

    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.

  9. JanetTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 2:19pm PDT

    The Aristocratic

  10. Meaghan RaffertyTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 2:36pm PDT

    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 🙂

  11. LindaTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 3:14pm PDT

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


  12. Stuart DesBrisayTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 3:24pm PDT

    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.

  13. AmyTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 4:14pm PDT

    Love the East Van sign

  14. NatalieTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 5:14pm PDT

    I like the swinging girl on east hastings !

  15. AnneTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 6:15pm PDT

    I like the Smilin Buddha sign

  16. VanessaTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 7:57pm PDT

    Save on Meats!

  17. zannaTuesday, September 27th, 2011 — 9:47pm PDT

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

  18. DeidreWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 10:39am PDT

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

  19. RubyWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 10:42am PDT


  20. Alan HawkerWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 10:44am PDT

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

  21. AlakittenWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 11:58am PDT

    I like Helen’s!

  22. LaurenWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 11:58am PDT

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

  23. BrendaWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 6:51pm PDT

    Gotta be the Orpheum!

  24. MichelleWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 10:47pm PDT

    Def the W!

  25. KatieWednesday, September 28th, 2011 — 10:54pm PDT

    Love the East Van Sign.

  26. CoryThursday, September 29th, 2011 — 1:06am PDT

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

  27. allysonThursday, September 29th, 2011 — 2:02pm PDT


  28. GladysThursday, September 29th, 2011 — 2:59pm PDT

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

  29. JanThursday, September 29th, 2011 — 7:36pm PDT

    Drake Hotel and Save On Meas\ts

  30. JanThursday, September 29th, 2011 — 7:37pm PDT

    Drake Hotel and Save On Meats

  31. TeresaThursday, September 29th, 2011 — 9:37pm PDT

    East Van one.

  32. Jessica R.FFriday, September 30th, 2011 — 9:06am PDT

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

  33. RobinFriday, September 30th, 2011 — 12:03pm PDT

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

  34. GordonSunday, October 2nd, 2011 — 1:35am PDT

    Save-on-Meats 🙂

  35. GraceSunday, October 2nd, 2011 — 3:23pm PDT

    Ho Ho Chinese Food in Chinatown!

  36. VinceMonday, October 3rd, 2011 — 11:42am PDT

    The Orpheum!

  37. KevinTuesday, October 4th, 2011 — 2:48pm PDT

    Ho Ho in Chinatown.

  38. StephanieTuesday, October 4th, 2011 — 4:32pm PDT

    The Orpheum

  39. Ginger GervaisTuesday, October 4th, 2011 — 6:07pm PDT

    Im going to have to go with the majority with Helens

  40. alice irwinTuesday, October 4th, 2011 — 10:22pm PDT

    the Stanley Theatre on south Granville

  41. Michelle W.Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 — 10:40pm PDT

    East Van!

  42. SharonWednesday, October 5th, 2011 — 6:39am PDT

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

  43. Alice FarrowWednesday, October 5th, 2011 — 10:55am PDT

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

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

  44. AliciaThursday, October 6th, 2011 — 1:17am PDT

    I like the East Van sign! 🙂

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

  45. AC07-NWThursday, October 6th, 2011 — 10:56am PDT

    Ovaltine Cafe

  46. Stacie SchartnerThursday, October 6th, 2011 — 11:38am PDT

    Woo hoo! Thanks for doing contests like this! 🙂

  47. KarenFriday, October 7th, 2011 — 7:17am PDT

    BOW MAC …. on BROAD-WAY!

  48. GS testSunday, March 31st, 2013 — 8:26am PDT

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

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