vintage signs toronto

The eclectic beauty of vintage signage in Toronto

There are so many ways to track how cities change over time, but one of the most remarkable is surely the signage that we encounter every day. Toronto might have more buildings and traffic than in the past, but sometimes it's the markings on our streets that are the most noticeable sign of change.

You might not notice the manner in which various typefaces and types of lighting shift over the course of a year or two, but when you expand the spectrum over the course of a decade or more, the differences are remarkable. 

As far as overall trends go, you'll notice how text-heavy signs were in the first half of the 20th century. By the time the 1960s rolled around, giant neon signs dominated the Toronto streetscape.  A few decades later, however, these shining beacons had mostly faded away.

Today LED signs and image-based billboards reign supreme. Along the way, the city progressively lost plenty of visual character. Contemporary signage might be more energy efficient, but it also tends to defined by corporate logos and a homogeneity that breeds nostalgia for the way things used to be. 

We can't go back again, but there's plenty of photos to provide us with memory trips. Behold, the eclectic array of signage that once marked Toronto. 

Vintage Signs Toronto

William Davies shop, 1908. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Sandwitches sign in 1910. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Northeast corner, Yonge and Shuter streets, 1912. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Bloor and Russett, 1915. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

511 Yonge, 1919. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Madison Theatre (Annex) in 1919. Photo via Chuckman's Nostalgia.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Cyclorama, 1922. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Ads on a Peter Witt streetcar, 1924. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

York and Front streets, 1925. Photo via Chuckman's Nostalgia.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Sign at horse racetrack, 1930s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

696-702 College Street, 1939. Photo via Chuckman's Nostalgia.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Markham and Queen streets, 1940. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Fruit and vegetable store on Coxwell, 1940. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

CN Telegraph office, 1941. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signage Toronto

Christies billboard, 1942. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Scholes Hotel, 1945. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

North side of college, near Bellevue in the 1950s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

111 and 113 Queen West, 1952. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Power Grocery Store, Danforth 1953. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Variety Store on Carlton, 1956. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Lux Burlesque, ca. early 1960s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Victory Burlesque, ca. 1960s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Maple Leaf Stadium, ca. 1960s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Ads Toronto

TTC bus ads, 1960s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Steinberg's grocery store, ca. 1960s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

The Yonge Street strip, 1970s.

Vintage Signs Toronto

The old Dundas Square and Yonge St, ca. 1970s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

toronto signageThe Brown Derby at Yonge and Dundas, 1970s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

toronto signageTops Restaurant & Tavern on Yonge St. in the 1970s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Yonge Street, Imperial theatre 1972. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

toronto signage

The intricate A&A Records sign at Yonge and Elm in the 1970s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

toronto signage

Zanzibar and Company on Yonge St. in the 1970s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

toronto signage

The old Coronet Theatre at Yonge and Gerrard in the 1970s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Edgewater Hotel (at Roncesvalles and Queen), 1970s.

Vintage Signs Toronto

St. Patrick's Market (Stork and Sons), early 1980s. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

Queen & Bay, 1980. Photo via the Toronto Archives.

Vintage Signs Toronto

The Eaton Centre Cineplex, ca. 1990s. Photo via Silent Toronto.

Lead photo by

Toronto Archives


Join the conversation Load comments

Latest in City

Door to door sales are about to be banned in Toronto

Sold! High Park ravine house goes for $1.8 million

Tiny Toronto library is getting a big upgrade

Someone wants to build a huge condo above a church in the Annex

Union Station renovations further delayed and over budget

The TTC still won't turn on $2 million art installation

King Street nightclub is shutting down

Condo of the week: 155 St. Clair Avenue West