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The top 10 iconic signs in Toronto

In the heyday of neon signs immediately following the second world war, cities like Toronto were ablaze with brilliant enticements to eat, drink, sleep, or watch girls dance. The cost of maintenance and improvements in technology led most to ditch their signs in the decades that followed, but thankfully many still remain.

If the outcry over the potential loss of the Sam the Record Man sign taught us anything, it's that stick around long enough and your gloriously tacky sign has a chance of finding a place in our hearts. Honest Ed, I'm thinking of you.

Here's a short guide to the most iconic signs in Toronto.

The front of the Dundas St. E. strip club is lit up like a neon Christmas tree every night, its marquee carrying titilating messages such as "merry XXXmas and a happy nude year," "feeling blue? ... our girls will cure what ails you," and "baseball is back and our girls are ready to play." The best parts are the giant neon lettering on the roof and the cocktail and treble clef above the doorway.

toronto zanzibar

Another strip club that's impossible to miss, Zanzibar on Yonge St., just north of Gould St., is covered in brightly coloured stars, the largest of which carries the name of the business in giant lettering. Up top near the roof, a scantily clad girl with a top hat and cane lures men like a neon siren.

Honest Eds

Honest Ed's
The massive carnival-inspired sign on the outside of Honest Ed's has seen better days. Many of the 23,000 light bulbs have burnt out, the wiring is a mess, and rust eaten away at much of the internal structure, according to a 2013 Toronto Star story. When the store closes in 2016 the sign will likely vanish for good.

toronto massey hall

Massey Hall
The oversized, electric red marker outside Massey Hall has been casting a warm glow over the famous Shuter St. entrance to Toronto's most prestigious music hall for decades. When the hall gets its long-awaited overhaul, the distinctive fire escapes will vanish, but the sign will remain.

Maple Leaf Gardens

Maple Leaf Gardens marquee
There was a time when it looked like the famous black and white Carlton St. marquee outside Maple Leaf Gardens might hit the scrapheap, but thanks to a loving restoration, the sign once again proclaims the name of the stadium where the Beatles played their first Toronto concert and the Buds last won a cup.

El Mocambo

El Mocambo
At time of writing the future of the El Mocambo sign is uncertain. The famous tropical sign for the famous Spadina Ave. music hall was put up for sale on eBay last week but removed a few days later. Co-owner Sam Grosso says it hasn't been sold (unlike the venue itself) so we will have to wait and see.

toronto royal york

Royal York
The sign has changed over the years but neon lettering has graced the upper floors of the Royal York Hotel since the 1940s. Most recently Fairmont, the name of the company that operates the hotel, has been added in a scripted flourish above the name of the hotel.

Patrician Grill

Patrician Grill
The Patrician Grill is a weird little place. The squat one-storey box on King St. East keeps odd hours and is often acting as a backdrop for movies and TV shows, such as Suits and The Firm (it has also appeared on Due South.) The diner's neon sign shows just one word at night: "GRILL."

Garden Gate

The Goof
Officially the Garden Gate Restaurant, "The Goof" owes its affectionate nickname to its classic diner-style neon sign. The electric lettering spells "GOOD" vertically and "FOOD" horizontally so that, when the "D" inevitably burnt out, the sign read "GOOF" and "OOD." The sign has now been updated to take advantage of the unfortunate design flaw.

toronto ttc subway

The classic TTC subway sign
When the TTC opened the Yonge street subway in 1954, it debuted a modified version of its maroon and yellow logo with the word "SUBWAY" printed across the bottom. The signs appeared outside entrances, on maps, and other promotional material but, thanks to years of hodgepodge design standards, today the icon appears only sporadically.

Canada Life Beacon

BONUS: Canada Life beacon
Part stylish decoration, part public service, the Canada Life beacon ("The Thing" internally) is a icon of Toronto that, if you know how to read the code, flashes out a weather forecast; yellow lights move upward when the temperature is set to rise, move down when the weather is cooling, and remain stationary when the mercury is stable. The box at the top flashes red for rain or snow, solid red for grey skies, and solid green for clear weather.

Images: John Tavares, Matt, Ian Muttoo, Chris Lyn/blogTO Flickr pool, City of Toronto Archives; Series 381, File 298, Item 11847-16.

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