Monday, December 19, 2016

Ghost Signs - Alberta

Old vs new in downtown Calgary.  See what you find while lurking in an alley!

Another favourite thing of mine is ghost signs. These you will not usually find on back roads or in rural areas. They are most likely to be found in older downtown commercial areas of cities and towns. In the US there are several great examples of ads painted on barns, but I have not ever come across one in Canada.  If you don't know what a ghost sign is, I can guarantee you've walked by one at some point and not even noticed. I bet after reading this you'll start seeing them! A ghost sign is what's left of old hand painted advertisements. These were popular in the early 1900's. I've seen them from illegible, to just uncovered (usually when an adjoining building get demolished), to restored. The paints that have lasted the longest likely contain lead, which is why in some cases you can see ads showing through other ads.

Painted over. 
With all things I photograph, you never know how long they will be around, so shoot it now, don't wait. Case and point, a ghost sign that I photographed 3 years ago has now been painted over, for no apparent reason.  This particular sign was on a side of building in a narrow alleyway, why not leave it?? You can make out 'Jenkins Groceteria'.  It was a chain in Calgary and by 1928 they had 17 stores. This was about the same time Safeway came to Calgary and offered to buy Jenkins stores.  He refused and instead opened up a bunch more in Calgary, central and southern Alberta.  He was the first in Canada to change to self-serve groceries. Now every time you go grocery shopping and grab a cart you can thank the forward thinking of Mr. Jenkins. These Groceterias have been gone for decades and now this sign is gone too.  For more info on Jenkins Groceteria 'checkout' this: http://www.glenbow.org/collections/stories/jenkins-groceteria/index.cfm.
On the flip side the revitalization of Calgary's East Village has restored some of the old buildings including some ghost signs. These include the Biscuit Block and Simmons Building pictured below.

I have many more photos of ghost signs but have chosen a few here to highlight.  If you want more info please drop me a line, I could go one for hours about these and what came next for advertising, Hint: it's bright and flashy and glowing!

The writing is on the wall:

Calgary - Simmons Building

Calgary - Biscuit Block
Downtown Calgary
Downtown Calgary

Calgary - 17th Ave SW

Calgary - Kensington (almost gone!)

Edmonton 

Medicine Hat - area now turned into a park/plaza

Coleman, AB
Lethbridge, AB
Lethbridge, AB

Nanton, AB (see similar ghost sign below)

Okotoks, AB
Fort Macleod, AB





13 comments:

  1. I love those too. Moose Jaw, SK has tons of murals and "ghost signs". Amazing Race Canada had a segment in Winnipeg where they had to find several of these downtown. They are very cool!

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    1. Thanks Steve! Moose Jaw will have to be added to my list! Swift Current and Winnipeg are subjects of another post. Winnipeg has a fantastic downtown full of ghost signs!

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    2. I wish I'd seen that Amazing Race episode! I'll have to try and find it.

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  2. Those signs are wonderful. We find them on old barns once in awhile. Or on other farm outbuildings. There were several in my neighborhood but, sadly, in a fit of community beautification, most were painted over.

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    1. Thanks! I've seen photos of wonderful barn ads..tabacco ones in particular. They are so interesting, why anyone would paint over them is beyond me! 😆

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  3. Fantastic! It's amazing how much interesting stuff is out there, if one just takes the time to look. Good eye. There's that one in Stavely, which I understand was a movie prop and not original to the building. Never looked into it myself, but I've heard it from a number of sources.

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    1. Thanks Chris! I always drive right by Stavely, but there is a church and a couple other things there I want to check out next time I head to L.A.
      I was told that a couple of the neon signs and a particular ghost sign in Fort Macleod were also for TV. Thanks for visiting!

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  4. In the miniscule town of Puryear, TN, where we lived when I was small (late 1960s), about a half mile due north was the old "business district"; think a couple of stores, a bank, and a big 1890s brick warehouse. These were all built fronting on the railroad, usual in American towns that grew up around & were serviced by rails.
    The sides of the warehouse were each covered with a big painted advertisement for Jefferson Island potatoes. I've never seen the brand, & am pretty sure the company was defunct decades before I was born, but as long as I live I'll be able to see that building, down the tracks & across the fields.
    The building still stands, but the sign was barely visible last time I was there.
    --Tennessee Budd

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  5. Hi Tennessee Budd! Sounds like an interesting building and sign and memory of that town. Most small towns here sprung up with the railroad and had grain elevators. Not many elevators left and the rail lines are pulled up along the abandoned lines.
    Happy Holidays!

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  6. Such towns here & there are probably similar in layout. Rural areas, mostly farming for a living. The only real reason for the towns was to have a place where the trains would stop, & to have facilities to hold livestock & produce until they could be shipped (they were founded, most all of them, in the days before refrigeration; lots are on a creek, for the stock, and I've seen produce storage built over cold springs in a couple of places).
    Love the blog, and a pleasant Christmas to you & yours!
    --Tennessee Budd

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    1. Tennessee Budd: I lived in a big city my whole life and now I take the time to stop at any small town I pass. I've seen more cool things in the last couple years than I ever did. I wish I started sooner! Thanks for visiting and commenting, enjoy the rest of the holiday season and wishing you a Happy New Year.

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