Where do worn-out old signs go when they retire? Much of Montréal’s sign heritage, especially its spectacular neons, has been lost; unceremoniously removed, carted away, and scrapped. As with changing ideals in urban architecture, one generation’s idea of visual blight is another’s enduring fascination. Cue the Montréal Signs Project.
When it launched in 2010, the project was already playing catch up: the lion’s share of the city’s grand old commercial signage was long gone. But as neighborhoods have been redeveloped and family-owned businesses have shuttered or simply been given a makeover, the Montréal Signs Project has been at the ready to save the remaining examples of this otherwise overlooked art form.
Tucked away in the west end of the city, on Concordia University’s Loyola campus, the Montréal Signs Project is a permanent, ever-expanding exhibition of commercial and civic signs, many of which will be familiar to anyone who lived, worked, or studied in Montréal in the last half-century.
Each sign, however humble, reveals fascinating insights into Montréal’s everyday cultural histories. From personal memories of particular neighborhoods, and deeper questions of migration, post-war entrepreneurship, and popular entertainment, to the hidden stories of signmakers, the project attempts to address many of these questions using signs as a window into the past.
Know Before You Go
The MSP collection is usually accessible in the CJ building on the Loyola campus during regular working hours. Tours can be scheduled ahead of time, led by the project's director, Matt Soar (also a professor in the Department of Communication Studies at Concordia). These guided tours usually include a look behind the scenes, including recently acquired signs being prepared for display.