Vancouver Signs of Bygone Days

Vancouver Signs of Bygone Days

We were searching online  recently and came upon an amazing collection of old Vancouver photos. We were struck by how the photos not only document the history of the city, but also provide a visual history of Vancouver signage. This vast and stunning collection of photos contains more Vancouver signs than we’ve ever seen assembled in one place. We’re not positive about the source of the photos. Many may be culled from the Vancouver Public Library public domain photo collection, which is a great source that would peak the interest of any Vancouver sign makers or signage geeks.

North east corner of Granville and Hastings in circa 1900-1905. The competing signs of several Vancouver businesses.


Old signs are beautiful, and it makes us wonder whether 50 or 100 years from now people will look back at the signs adorning buildings in today’s Vancouver and have the same feeling we do looking back at these signs now. To Vancouverites of a certain vintage, many of these signs will be familiar, and, in fact, many still exist downtown. It doesn’t take long to bump into old building signage if you stroll parts of Granville or Hastings streets.

This photo to the left is the northeast corner of Hastings and Granville, looking north, with the CP Rail station (now the seabus terminal called Waterfront Station) in the background. The North Shore is off in the distance across Burrard Inlet, which you can barely make out as a small rectangle of light midway down the left side of the photo – North Vancouver shrouded in a haze of fog or low cloud.

This little corner is like a real-world sample case of early Vancouver store sign styles. The clock face advertises “Trorey’s Jewellers”. The Trorey’s clock became the renowned “Birks clock” when Birks purchased Trorey’s in 1906. Birks moved to Granville and Georgia in 1913 and they took the clock with them. When Birks moved back to Granville and Hastings in 1994, they again moved the clock, where it still stands today. The Trorey’s sign, to the left of the clock face,  appears to be made of steel and glass with some kind of lighting, which couldn’t have been neon because the first neon signs didn’t appear until around 1910 (according to Wikipedia). To the right, there is the Union Assurance sign which is likely carved wood 3-dimensional sign lettering upon a painted wood base. Below it, you can make out the “HEN” of the Henry Birks and Sons” sign, also likely of hand-carved and painted wooden lettering on a wood base, and in the background is a poster bill nailed to a utility pole. The business poster, visually self-referent, is a poster sign of a man holding a poster sign. It may be hand painted or screen printed.

Anyone interested Vancouver history or Vancouver sign history will find themselves getting as lost in them as we did. Although materials, typeface preferences and design styles change, quality is quality, and you can see the love of craftsmanship in all of these. As sign makers, it feels good be connected to Vancouver’s rich history of business signage.