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5 famous Toronto signs in danger of disappearing

Posted by Chris Bateman / August 20, 2014

Honest Eds signAfter a lengthy preservation battle, the famous spinning vinyl discs of the Sam the Record Man sign are safe. Starting soon, the neon sign that used to mark the downtown Toronto location of a mighty music store empire will be installed on top of a city owned building on the east side of Yonge-Dundas Square.

Late last month, the Inglis sign, famous for its strange messages to passing motorists such as "The greatest remedy for anger is delay" and "Destiny is not a matter of chance it is a matter of choice," was taken down, the company that built it having vanished from Liberty Village years ago.

Although they often mark businesses, Toronto seems to have a certain amount of affection for some of its more prominent (and eccentric) signs, especially when one is threatened with destruction.

Here are 5 famous Toronto signs in danger of disappearing.

Honest Ed's
The end is nigh for Toronto's world famous discount emporium. Owner David Mirvish sold the building on which his father, "Honest" Ed Mirvish, grew an empire to Vancouver-based developer Westbank Properties in 2013. What will become of the sign, which general manager Russell Lazar says is too damaged to repair, is uncertain. "It's dilapidated. It's rusting through. We're concerned about the metal on the top part which has become very thin," he told The Star last summer. It will most likely be removed when the developers move in.

Mono lino typesettingMono Lino Typesetting
The Mono Lino Typesetting building at Dupont and Bathurst is the latest historic building to lose a famous sign. In better times, Mono Lino was a leading Toronto typesetter--a company that arranged text on a page prior to printing. In the early 1980s, the company employed 180 people, but by 1985 it was out of business and it's 70 remaining staff out of work. The end of the company, which was founded in 1912, was hastened by the departure of half of its sales staff, the Toronto Star reported.

"The work went with the people who left us," company owner Walter Adamson said. "It's a sad ending." More recently, the building was used as a backdrop in the movie Hairspray and the 1980s CBC show Street Legal.

toronto el mocamboThe El Mocambo
The El Mocambo, one of Toronto's most famous night spots, has been sending strange signals the last year or so. The owners closed for several months in 2013 for interior renovations. Sam Grosso, co-owner of the business, left that year only to return a few months later. In March, the building was put on the market, but no sale was finalized, leaving the fate of the historic music hall in question. The club's tropical sign was extensively renovated at a cost of $20,000 in 2012.

Captain JohnsCaptain John's
Captain John's is leaving the Toronto waterfront, it's just a case of when. The red neon sign attached to the prow of the M.S. Jadran once marked the location of a popular seafood joint frequented by politicians like Brian Mulroney and Mel Lastman, and sports stars like Steve Stavro, before idea of a floating restaurant went out of fashion. "Captain" John Letnik was turfed from the foot of Yonge St. for nonpayment of taxes, fees, and other charges totalling around $1 million. New owner, James Sbrolla of North American Seafood Exchange, is currently hoping to get the court ordered removal date of Aug. 22 extended.

toronto canary restaurantThe Canary Restaurant
Ironically, the Canary Restaurant at Front and Cherry streets, named for a bird famous for its ability to drop dead at the first sign of trouble, inhabited one of the few buildings in the West Don Lands to survive redevelopment. Operated out of a former school, the Canary had a bright blue sign centred around a decorative yellow bird over the doorway. The sign was taken down prior to renovations in 2007, but renderings of the finished neighbourhood, which is named after the greasy spoon, show it back in its original location.

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

Image: mcdux, Michael Smith, Alex Meoko, James Hamilton, Patrick Leduc/blogTO Flickr pool.



Eric / August 20, 2014 at 01:45 pm
The Canary sign (last I saw) was in Jim Addison's warehouse the last time I was by...
Todd Toronto / August 20, 2014 at 02:47 pm
Of those, the Honest Ed's signage (which I believe only dates to the mid-80s) would be the biggest loss. It was so gaudy and wonderful.

Speaking of nostalgic corporate signs, remember the Dr. Livingstone's billboard on Yonge south of Davisville (on the TTC tracks)? Or the neon Panasonic billboard at Bathurst and Lawrence? Those two held on for decades, it seemed.
Deryck / August 20, 2014 at 02:58 pm
I don't think people are going to miss the Mono Lino Typesetting, mainly because they probably have never heard of it (like myself). As for the Captain John's sign, I won't miss that one either.
The Canary Restaurant sign will be back, so it's not going anywhere.
Honest Ed's and the El Mocambo signs would be missed if those properties do indeed get redeveloped.
puff / August 20, 2014 at 03:11 pm
Mono lino is just about to come off. Hopefully someone bought it. Even better if it's preserved and displayed somewhere in the city.
Steven / August 20, 2014 at 03:14 pm
Nice the Canary Restaurant is saved.
Found this neat link.
Rob replying to a comment from puff / August 20, 2014 at 03:40 pm
Honest question - why? Even with Sam the Record Man, I don't get why we need to preserve these signs somewhere else in the city - and this is coming from someone who generally agrees Toronto should preserve things. They are signs. They have had their day and now something else can go up.
Chris / August 20, 2014 at 03:45 pm
They should put all of these iconic signs on display in Dundas Square! The Inglis Billboard and Honest Ed's sign would be perfect additions to the square, and also help make it more unique!
the lemur / August 20, 2014 at 04:20 pm
No one's really going to miss the Mono Lino sign itself, but it has been a reminder of what that slightly mysterious building once was. For a long time it has not had any immediately obvious use.
Skye / August 20, 2014 at 04:21 pm
The Inglis Billboard was HUGE. Where on earth could it have been displayed? It's too big for even Dundas Square.

It makes sense to display the Sam sign at Dundas Square, because the store used to be there. Many spaces/buildings display momentoes of what used to stand in the same spot. But it makes no sense at all to hang the other billboards there.
moleski / August 20, 2014 at 04:26 pm
These old signs are a glimpse into the past. They tell a story about where the neighbourhood came from. They add beauty and/or character to the buildings they grace, and they aid wayfinding. When you see the Honest Ed's sign, you know you're at Bathurst and Bloor in Toronto and no where else in the whole world.

How sad to think about the Honest Ed's sign being scrapped and replaced by yet another of Westbank's soulless, interchangeable glass and concrete towers.
chester / August 20, 2014 at 04:27 pm
Oh who gives a shit! It's a sign!!???
Perry Como / August 20, 2014 at 05:39 pm
If they started taking away Stop signs I might be upset.
Bettie / August 20, 2014 at 06:11 pm
I love Y-D Square for what it is, with new modern animated signage. I really don't want it to become a repository for old neon junk.
Alexander replying to a comment from moleski / August 20, 2014 at 08:06 pm
Then, you know what, you pay to restore the stupid thing. Guess what, things change. I know, shocking stuff, but developers aren't required to spend money to restore signs for businesses that no longer exist because it fuels your need for nostalgia. You want to keep it, find a spot and you pay for it.

No? Didn't think so.
eric / August 20, 2014 at 08:27 pm
Some of these signs are absolute works or art built by craftsmen with immense talent at a time when things were actually unique and not stamped out by the thousands. Some of the ignorance towards our history shown in this comment thread is pretty disheartening.
poop replying to a comment from eric / August 20, 2014 at 09:12 pm
I'd rather we talk about how to save architecturally significant buildings than any signs. How about we get that right, first?
Michael Crichton / August 20, 2014 at 11:48 pm
Anyone remember the fabulous SONY neon sign visible from the westbound Gardiner many years ago?
Drew replying to a comment from Michael Crichton / August 21, 2014 at 12:57 am
YES wasn't fot the SOny Centre of Performing Arts. We should be preserving the stories of these places and how they stood as record stores, meeting places, lots of changes.
DL / August 21, 2014 at 09:09 am
If you were to put these signs up for auction, the interest level would be minuscule. That should be your first indication that this is a fool's errand and not worth the time, effort nor funding to preserve them. They saved the Sam's sign; that should be the beginning and end to this nonsense.
DL / August 21, 2014 at 09:09 am
The CBGB awning is now at the Rock n Roll HOF in Cleveland. Offer them the El Mocambo, and when they politely say "No thank you", be done with it.
Clever Pup replying to a comment from Eric / August 21, 2014 at 10:48 am
It is/was at Addison's. Did someone buy it back?
Chris / August 21, 2014 at 02:21 pm
what's the hold up? get that rusted rat-ship outa my city
TC / August 21, 2014 at 04:27 pm
Wow. A few of you had a side of bitchy with lunch today. Some people appreciate things that are unique and characterful, and others obviously would prefer a city devoid of soul and delight. No doubt to match their personalities. Lighten up, misery guts.
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