During the 1950s-1970s, Vancouver was the “neon capital” of Canada – and some might say North America period. Back in those days, the whole city was aglow at night with colors from all across the color spectrum thanks to the thousands of neon signs that advertised businesses across Vancouver. According to some counts, there were up to 19,000 neon signs in Vancouver at one point! Businesses ranging from hotels to office supply stores to jewelry stores used neon signs to advertise their establishment. In short, Vancouver became as colorful and flashy a city (if not more colorful) as Las Vegas and New York City were on the other side of the border.
Many Vancouverites did not mind the neon signs and found them both glamorous and aesthetically pleasing; others thought they were eyesores and made the city look tawdry due to the association of neon signs with gambling and adult entertainment franchises. This debate came to a head in the 1960s-early 1970s and from 1974 onward, the city of Vancouver began imposing zoning and light pollution restrictions on businesses that prohibited new neon signs from being erected and required many businesses to take their existing signs down. Over the coming years, the neon signs began to drastically vanish from the Vancouver cityscape.
The Neon Vancouver exhibit at the Museum of Vancouver takes a look at the history of these signs, the debate over the signs, and their rise and fall. Many of the signs that were discarded by businesses are on display in the exhibit and have been preserved for future generations to come.
- http://www.museumofvancouver.ca/exhibitions/exhibit/neon-vancouver-ugly-vancouver (Neon Vancouver exhibit page at the Museum of Vancouver website.)
- https://museumofvancouver.ca/mov-current-exhibitions-and-history-galleries/ (A virtual gallery and mobile display app featuring the neon signs of Vancouver, their history, and interviews with Vancouverites who lived during this time in the midst of all these signs.)
- http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/20438/1/vancouver-once-glowed-with-19-000-neon-signs (Article about the neon signs of Vancouver.)
(Image credit: Kenny Louie. Used via Flickr and Wikimedia Commons per CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License.)