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Sam the Record Man sign officially gets new home

Posted by Chris Bateman / July 10, 2014

toronto sam the record manAfter years of political wrangling, the Sam the Record Man sign is finally getting a new home at Yonge-Dundas Square. City council voted this morning to have the sign reassembled on the roof of 277 Victoria Street, a city-owned building on the east side of the square, and have Ryerson University pick up the bill.

The decision means Ryerson is no longer responsible for installing the sign on the outside of the new Student Learning Centre at Yonge and Gould, the original site of the Sam the Record Man store, despite building permission being granted on the understanding the university would restore the giant neon records in situ or on the outside of its library.

Ryerson claimed the sign would clash with their architectural designs, distract students, and pose a safety risk due to the presence of mercury in the old bulbs.

"We always thought there was a better solution than that," said Sheldon Levy, outgoing President and Vice Chancellor of Ryerson University, last year. "There was a number of people, ourselves included, that thought we could find a better location. We were always willing to meet the obligation of putting it on Gould Street, that was never the question."

Ryerson will pay the cost of installing, operating, and maintaining the sign in Yonge-Dundas Square.

toronto sam the record manThe gigantic sign was built in 1961 for the exterior of Sam Sniderman's flagship Toronto record store. Today, only one store from the original music store empire remains in Belleville, Ont. Musicians Geddy Lee and Leslie Feist wrote letters urging for the sign's return prior to today's decision. The sign is currently in pieces at a sign company in Vaughan.

The city looked at various location in Yonge-Dundas Square, including the northwest corner of Yonge and Dundas and the roof of a smaller building beside to 277 Victoria. Today's decision also directed city staff to seek funding sources for a "Toronto Music City" sign.

City council also voted to ensure that any future owner of the Victoria Street building, which is seen as a prime target for redevelopment, must take on the preservation of the sign. City staff noted that tethering the sign to the building will reduce the value of the property should it be sold at a later date.

Are you pleased with the outcome?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.



Andrew / July 10, 2014 at 10:46 am
Finally. Now we just need to explain to all tourists that there isn't actually a record store in that building so don't go looking for it. Its a sign advertising a store that doesn't exist.
Suicide_Boi / July 10, 2014 at 10:50 am
I don't mind the placement of the sign but I don't think Ryerson should pay for installation as it's not within their remit (despite the agreement).
Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 10:53 am
Yay a sign that will make no sense to anybody born after 1980 and which advertises a company that doesn't exist! Surely, there will not be mockery from tourists wondering why there is a huge sign for a defunct record store that was dirty and who six people miss! Excellent use of resources! I am sure Ryerson students will love that their tuition will reflect the costs of installing and lighting this sign forever!
iSkyscraper / July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am
All good. No different than the Colgate Clock or Pepsi Sign in NYC -- odd origins, no current purpose, but such is the colour of local history. I'm fine with this, and if they can parlay into a bigger bragging statement about our musical successes, great. Now where is that CHUM1050 sign?
SteveM / July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am
Great win for Toronto's music culture!
couldadonebetter / July 10, 2014 at 11:10 am
I can count on 1 finger how many times i have looked to the top of any of those buildings east side of Victoria.

Terrible location for them.
Tuck replying to a comment from SteveM / July 10, 2014 at 11:14 am
Huge win for the Canadian Music Industry. This is an absolute game changer. This is bigger than the mp3.
matty / July 10, 2014 at 11:14 am
I always liked the store, and I love the sign... but like Andrew said I don't see the point in putting up a sign for a store that no longer exists.
Al / July 10, 2014 at 11:15 am
It was an iconic sign at its original location. If they're going to move it, they might as well just throw it out. Ryerson is the villain here, agreeing to something they had no intention of doing.
steve replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / July 10, 2014 at 11:20 am
Richmond and Duncan
Potrzebie replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 11:27 am
"...a defunct record store that was dirty and who six people miss!"

You have no soul.
Joe replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 11:28 am
I don't give very many shits about people born after 1980 or their potential confusion stemming from this sign. This one's for the Toronto OG's.
bizarre better than nothing / July 10, 2014 at 11:30 am
I'm happy it's being preserved and displayed....problem is this is Toronto so of course the only real solution was a solution that made no sense at all. Putting that sign up there makes no sense, it loses all meaning and's just going to end up being a bizarre piece of trivia for the next 50 years. Maybe they'll put the Honest Ed's sign up there too?
rAY / July 10, 2014 at 11:31 am
"We always thought there was a better solution than that," said Sheldon Levy, outgoing President and Vice Chancellor of Ryerson University, last year.

yet replying to a comment from Patrick / July 10, 2014 at 11:34 am
Regardless if someone is a "jagoff" or not, it doesnt change the fact of all the building near Yonge and Dundas, they chose pretty much the worst one to put the sign on.

Kris / July 10, 2014 at 11:34 am
Ryerson should have kept it's promise by keeping it in the original location.

Jamie / July 10, 2014 at 11:35 am
Let's commemorate sexism!
Future Post from 2025 replying to a comment from bizarre better than nothing / July 10, 2014 at 11:36 am
"The story behind that strange sign at Yonge and Dundas"

"That time when the record sign at Yonge and Dundas made sense"
Sam / July 10, 2014 at 11:40 am
Jesus, does no one under thirty have any appreciation for Toronto iconography? Yes, the placement of the sign is weird, but incase anyone hadn't noticed yet, so is the rest of our city. Toronto is a hodge-podge of communities and the architecture is equally as inconsistent. What we don't have a lot of are things that are universally and identifiably Torontonian, besides the sky dome (rogers centre, but actually... sky dome) and the CN tower. Ed's, the "Sam the record man" sign, these are pieces Torontonians, past and present, know, despite being from different neighbourhoods, cultures, of different ages. There are still things in the city, that we need to preserve, that remind us Toronto has a story and character. And frankly, by the sounds of that article, seem like it might be moving again shortly. I'd prefer that happen 'til it finds a permanent than for it just simply be destroyed.
Andy / July 10, 2014 at 11:42 am
Look at that sweet location.

Here's what'll happen, the sign will stay there for about 5-10 years. THEN Ryerson and outdoor advertisers will realize the revenue opportunity of a billboard placed up there.

Sams sign will be removed and a giant billboard will be placed in its location.
Russell Barth / July 10, 2014 at 11:47 am
god, i am all choked up here. so nice....
Juls replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 11:57 am
To be fair, I was born in 87' and this sign and its history mean a great deal to me.
skazzy B replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 11:59 am
1980s? Sorry kid, I remember going to the store in 96 and seeing those signs up there late at night for many years.

You must be new to Toronto.
Tough to say / July 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm
I dont know which look like the bigger boobs.

The Sams sign or the Kevin and Dina sign next to it.
Jacob / July 10, 2014 at 12:14 pm
Wait, so they're putting the original bulbs in there?

They could save a whole bunch of money in the long run by retrofitting it with LEDs. Less energy used, and less frequent replacement.
Dave replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm
You're a fool.
J replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 12:29 pm
Sure. Why not just paint over this while we're at it. Culling the landscape of anything historic or deemed unnecessary by the shallow minded horde.
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from steve / July 10, 2014 at 12:51 pm
Oh, nice. I had no idea they had moved the sign to Whiskey Saigon and turned the place into studios. That sign was a Yonge St landmark for me. Thanks for the heads up.

By the way, here are the details for the NYC precedents that had very similar histories to the Sam's sign:

KevinN / July 10, 2014 at 01:11 pm
So not only does Dundas Square mimic Times Square, we throw the Sam sign up there along with an art-deco like Toronto Music sign that mimics Radio City Hall... and we have what?

A New York like experience, for those who didn't go to New York.
Gary / July 10, 2014 at 01:12 pm
I love neon and this sign was one of the few neon signs remaining in Toronto, so I am happy it will be back up and flashing. It's actually one of my favourite signs in Toronto, so I am a happy man. I called every politician I knew to advocate for this sign, so hopefully, that helped get it approved.

Toronto needs more animated, colourful, neon signs!!!
KevinN / July 10, 2014 at 01:13 pm
What is wrong with our city? Like, we (Toronto) along with Canada have some serious identity issues.
Peaches / July 10, 2014 at 01:17 pm
This is so ugly, I don't care about what "history" the sign as to other people, are we going to stick the Honest Ed's sign up down here too, COME ON LAS VEGAS!!!
E. Pankhurst replying to a comment from Sam / July 10, 2014 at 01:31 pm
Let's all pretend that the Sam's sign is not a pair of breasts.

By all means, let's preserve a symbol of commercialism that demeans women because good timez.

umm replying to a comment from KevinN / July 10, 2014 at 01:32 pm
Because this sign in any way shaped Torontos identity?

It didnt. No one outside of the city even knew what it was. And for those that did, all it was was a flashy sign that you kind of noticed at night when you drove by.

I take more historically important dumps every morning.
McRib replying to a comment from umm / July 10, 2014 at 01:41 pm
your lack of knowledge with regards to the history of this city, and especially Sam the Record Man, is sad. Of course people outside of this city knew what it was. Sams had chains all across Canada. This was the flagship store. The sign is a big part of the visual history of Yonge St. It was iconic.

Trust me, not only do you not take more historically important dumps every morning, I'd wager that for the rest of your life you will do nothing and be nowhere near as important historical or otherwise) to Toronto as an old, broken down neon sign.

How pathetic is that, hey?
Geoff replying to a comment from McRib / July 10, 2014 at 02:03 pm
What's pathetic is a sign made to look like breasts sits atop a public square in 2014.
Some Guy replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / July 10, 2014 at 02:11 pm

This one? (Duncan st, if the link doesn't work)
GenderEquality / July 10, 2014 at 02:48 pm
What about Samantha the Record woman. There's just no equality it's not fair!!! Always about the MAN.
Winston / July 10, 2014 at 03:06 pm
The sign looks nothing at all like breasts. If you see breasts, perhaps that says more about your own frame of mind than the sign design.

Sam Sniderman and Ed Mirvish deserve to be immortalized in Toronto history. We need more leaders like these guys and fewer weasels like Sheldon Levy.
David R / July 10, 2014 at 03:25 pm
To the commenters who say that the sign was made to look like a pair of breasts ...

There originally was one record (actually there was different signage before that even) and when the store expanded into the next storefront a couple of decades later, a second record was added (in fact the complete signage was duplicated as can be seen on the wiki page

maureen / July 10, 2014 at 03:42 pm

It will help continue the excitement that made Toronto's downtown successful, and distinguishes it from failed downtowns everywhere
iSkyscraper / July 10, 2014 at 04:16 pm
Now they just need to find somewhere nearby to put the A&A sign, so that this scene can live on in perpetuity...

Because, after all, it was historically A&A that had the more outrageous signage. Sam's is just an afterthought in this image (which shows only the right record. The left one was added after Sam's took over Steele's Tavern):
Eldon / July 10, 2014 at 04:17 pm
It's a great day for rock radio
Washing Machine / July 10, 2014 at 04:18 pm
No different that keeping the Inglis sign in Liberty Village. Does't serve a purporse, but a nice but of preservation.
Jacob replying to a comment from Washing Machine / July 10, 2014 at 04:37 pm
Can we get the KFC bucket back?
Washing Machine replying to a comment from Jacob / July 10, 2014 at 05:03 pm
Still a few about.
Drew / July 10, 2014 at 05:45 pm
Scotts Chicken Villa
Reg / July 10, 2014 at 05:52 pm
The other Sam the Record man's were franchises he did not own them.
Peter Dunns Vinyl musem!
#FordMoreYears / July 10, 2014 at 05:57 pm
You know who else shaped Toronto's identity? Rob Ford has, thats who. Can we get a Rob Ford statue in Dundas Square?
David replying to a comment from Alexander / July 10, 2014 at 06:06 pm
What a completely ignorant statement. Many people who were born in the '80s know about Sam The Record Man too. I'm sure that some from the '90s do as well. In fact, the store only closed 7 years ago. And before you get to far ahead of yourself, yes many people outside of Toronto know of Sam The Record Man and the iconic sign. Just as an example, I was born in the mid-80s, grew up a couple hours away from Toronto, and many of my friends new of the store too. Not only did we know of the store, we knew exactly where it was and have shopped there.
Maggie / July 10, 2014 at 06:21 pm
Honestly I think it looks stupid on top of that building. You'll get none of the charm of the sign from way up there. City council should have been more firm and told Ryerson to f---ing suck it up and put the sign where they agreed to put it when bought the property. Ryerson knew full well their responsibility when they purchased the spot and should have designed around the sign.

What does this say to other companies and the like who buy historical property? That they can just weasel out of their responsibility like Ryerson did?
G / July 10, 2014 at 07:38 pm
Yes , great spot for such a nostalgic iconic Toronto sign, Where will the Sam the Chinese Food Man sign go?
Al / July 10, 2014 at 08:42 pm
Where's the Mr Pongs panda sign going to go? The Toronto Restaurant and Food Truck was an Toronto landmark!
Danny / July 10, 2014 at 08:49 pm
Toronto Music City is never going to happen that's just a game they're playing so they can take the sign down in a few years when Music City doesn't happen then the spot can be ready and declared a new Advertising Billboard spot that will make $$$$$$$$$!
DL replying to a comment from Maggie / July 10, 2014 at 10:16 pm
Yes, let's ruin a beautiful new building with an ancient sign for a defunct company.

Ryerson never intended to put the sign up, and everybody knows it. It should never have even been discussed.
Jules / July 10, 2014 at 11:32 pm
Yo Toronto! Dont try so hard.
Shane Slimmon / July 10, 2014 at 11:47 pm
It should go in the Quinte Malls roof since it's the only SAMs left!! Stupid idea to put it on a place that's hundreds of KM from the closest store.
Dane replying to a comment from Shane Slimmon / July 11, 2014 at 12:43 am
You's right! There is still a Sam's franchise open in Belleville! Awesome.

Adam / July 11, 2014 at 02:39 am
As a Ryerson student, I'm pretty pissed that the school will be footing the bill. I study engineering, my tuition was 10 grand last year and will increase 10% per annum until I graduate, four years from now. Lab equipment is dismal and funding for student groups is extremely limited. In regards to the school finding a way to put the sign back where it was, it is pretty damn obvious that they had no intention of re-integration given the design of the structure they are building. You don't need to be an architect to see that it won't work. Personally, I was born in the mid '90's so I don't understand why the sign is so iconic, even if I was amazed by the seemingly hypnotic spinning as a child.

As a Torontonian I would be equally pissed if the city paid the tab. As much as the sign is a city landmark I don't think it is appropriate for tax dollars to go into it. Especially when the store does not exist any more.

I dunno, maybe it's generational differences but either way it's a lose lose situation. Recently in Berlin they took down the last remaining part of the Berlin wall, an international landmark. Cities should move forward, especially a forward thinking city like Toronto.
Spike replying to a comment from Suicide_Boi / July 11, 2014 at 02:47 am
Same here. And they never should have been rope into an agreement to be even hosting the sign in the first place-this sign's the Sniderman family's heirloom, let them take care of it.
Spike replying to a comment from skazzy B / July 11, 2014 at 03:03 am
Or maybe he was born in 1995 and doesn't give a shit since he (probably) never grew up with Sam's? I've come across many young people born in the 1990's who don't remember anything from the 80's, 70's, 60's, or '50's; why should they care about Sam's or the Sam's sign (especially since they'll have to pay for it out of their tuition?) We need to let go of this.
toronto dude replying to a comment from Adam / July 11, 2014 at 06:36 am
what you should be pissed at is that Ryerson insists on planting their awful buildings only in the most prominent & expensive locations...Yonge & Gould, Bay & Dundas etc...apparently they have tonnes of money and hate side streets.
Kilgore / July 11, 2014 at 07:58 am

If the parties involved drag their feet on this in the usual bureaucratic way, the sign matter will not go away. It is an emotional issue for a generation (or two or three)
WN / July 11, 2014 at 08:35 am
I agree that it makes no sense at that location. They should give Ryerson a choice: Sheldon Levy's house or the original location.
Alex / July 11, 2014 at 10:21 am
I wonder if people would be hating on Ryerson less if Sheldon had a different non-Jewish last name.

bobbyc / July 11, 2014 at 11:47 am
This is a perfect and fitting end to an iconic image of Toronto. This was the go-to destination in Toronto for music-lovers for decades. The notion that no one will 'understand' what it means is simply not true.
biggerpicture / July 11, 2014 at 11:57 am
People complaining that the sign has no relevance to their lives, or they barely/don't remember the store, or Toronto should move forward: cities aren't just for one person, perspective, or experience. They're for everyone. So maybe be open-minded before slamming things that other people hold dear or are passionate about? You're not just paying taxes so that the city can fix your water mains and run the TTC - you're paying for a city where people's voices, memories, and interests are included and encouraged.

As for the funding - Ryerson essentially agreed to act as caretaker for the sign. It was up to their staff to do an assessment before signing, including identification of any hazardous materials. No sympathy here - students should direct their frustrations at Ryerson's board of directors.
bobbyc replying to a comment from biggerpicture / July 11, 2014 at 12:12 pm
Exactly. Seriously, when the hell did ignorance -about history, other people, anything!- become a badge of honour.
tyler / July 12, 2014 at 04:22 am
LOTS of people born after 1980 remember the Sam the Record Man sign. The sign came down in the late 2000s
Tammy replying to a comment from tyler / July 12, 2014 at 06:26 am
OK APPROVED. Keep the sign some people remember it!
Tammy replying to a comment from biggerpicture / July 12, 2014 at 06:29 am
Ryerson students should shut their mouths this sign has no impact on there tuition or other school costs. If you want to look at it that way, the University has already made more than the the cost of the installation of the sign off of the prime land the received off of the deal.
Garek / July 14, 2014 at 10:06 am
Can we have real history in this city and not a big store sign people have seen before? If you went to Montreal and saw a big sign for Jeff the cassette tape guy shoved somewhere in the city would you think ohhh such an amazing example to history!
biggerpicture replying to a comment from Garek / July 15, 2014 at 01:32 pm
How on earth do you propose defining "real history?" One person's "real" history is another person's waste of time, and vice versa. Making such judgement calls leads to an exclusionary/revisionist historical narrative. Sooner or later, you'll need to deal with the fact that late 20th century urban landmarks, artefacts, and events are now history and worthy of remembrance.
Damocles / July 18, 2014 at 06:12 pm
Oh my, they must have gotten the inspiration from Harper's economic action plan.
Pat replying to a comment from skazzy B / August 3, 2014 at 10:45 pm
That's the impression I got from him as well. It's more like, the Sam sign might not make any sense to people perhaps born after 1990 or even after 1992, because a four year old Torontonian back then has the ability to remember that. But most of all, the ones who the Sam sign might not make any sense or connection to, would be those who are not born-and-raised here or not even very long-time residents. And yes, the sign was an icon of the city, because people from outside the city even another province, would have known about the sign and the record store. They would have even shopped there when stopping by Toronto. The sign was even seen in music videos and films when the backdrop was Yonge. As for the sign, wrong place, it should be draped over a building, such as an actual floor level, perhaps somewhere in the middle or upper floors of the Yonge-Dundas square building.
Student / August 6, 2014 at 09:18 pm
I'm a student at Ryerson, and quite frankly I like it. I was born in the 90s but can still understand why it is important to some people here. My uncle used to work there way back and I've managed to dig up a couple t-shirts that I assume were his uniform. Speaking to my dad, he explained to me how relevant it was back then and how it was an important fragment of the music industry. As he was explaining it to me, I could tell he was reminiscing and is that not what it's all about? People will get to walk by this sign and remember what Toronto used to be and how this store somehow affected their lives. For those who have no idea what it is or simply don't like the look of it because it's an old sign on a new building, I'm sure they will still be able to sleep at night. As far as taxpayer's dollars supposedly paying for the installation, if their money was not used for that it would be used for something else. People need to appreciate Toronto's history.
D / September 21, 2014 at 09:08 am
Sam's was a STORE, Just a store. A retailer selling records. Its sign is NOT a cultural icon, people. Why are torontonians always so attached to things that do not matter? While we're at it, why not rename Nathan Phillips Square "Consumers Distributing Square"?!!!
Zee / January 30, 2015 at 05:38 pm
So instead of the city preserving some of old heritage sites we save a sign from a store. I understand how important to music history Sam's was but it doesn't make sense. So now out of my tution i'm helping to pay for a sign I could care less about. This belongs in a museam not here. I could only imagine what they'll do with the obnoxious Honest Ed's signs.
Val / January 31, 2015 at 03:51 pm
I liked this sign and was sad to see it go, but didn't think it was coming back anyway.

I think the main problem here is Ryersons' selfishness. It was bad enough when they bought Maple Leaf Gardens, kept the upstairs rink, but you have to go to ryerson to use it! Yonge and Dundas should be for everyone, it's a cultural downtown hub and they're claiming it for themselves again - no outsiders allowed. They're just pissed off they don't have the real estate to compete with U of T, not understanding that U of T got there before the land was home to many. Get out of my fucking way, Ryerson!

I live down here and want my neighbourhood back.
sarah / July 13, 2015 at 09:58 pm
I laugh now when I think about that sign. Back 1976 I had to be a Sick Childrens Hospital many a time. Did not know my way aroundeonce I left the hospital and seen that big sign that told me where I was and I knew I was on the right street. You must realize that coming from a small town it was so over wellming for me and I had no sense of direction. Thank you for keeping the sign, now I am in Toronto every few months and I am looking forward to going to Dundas Square to see my friend.
kotsy / July 13, 2015 at 10:30 pm
It's been an entire year since this announcement. What is taking so long to get this going?
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