Neon Vancouver | Ugly Vancouver

In the 1950s Vancouver had approximately 19,000 neon signs – more than Las Vegas!  While some thought that thousands of signs signaled excitement and big city living, others thought they were a tawdry display that disfigured the city’s natural beauty. This deep civic controversy resulted in a turning point in Vancouver’s history and a change to the city’s urban landscape.

Enjoy the big city lights of Vancouver and catch a glimpse of the city from the 1950s through to the 1970s with this extraordinary collection of neon signs.

The remarkable signs, some lit for the first time since they were rescued from the junk yard, are accompanied by the tale of how the city went through a war of aesthetics that resulted in a transition of the very way Vancouver imagines itself.

Curator: Joan Seidl
Design:   Resolve Design
Photos:  Rebecca Blissett and Amanda McCuaig

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YVR - Vancouver AIRPORT

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 1900s - 1920s: Gateway to the Pacific

• Everyone hyping Vancouver? 
• Vancouver in the grip of real estate frenzy?
• House prices soaring, then crashing?

That’s the City of Vancouver in the early 1900s.

Vancouver became a big city whose busy streets flash by in the 1907 Then and Now film. 

Streetcar lines extended south and east, encouraging new developments. Substantial communities of Chinese, Japanese, and South Asians made their homes here, in spite of deep prejudice that flared in the Anti-Asian Riot and the Komagata Maru incident.

The shadow side of Vancouver’s “golden years” becomes harder to ignore.
Dreams of safe, prosperous homes in a beautiful corner of the British Empire were tested by economic collapse in 1913 and world war in 1914. 

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1930s - 1940s: Boom, Bust, and War

The City of Vancouver and the neighbouring towns of South Vancouver and Point Grey joined together in 1929.

As Canada’s third largest city, Vancouver, they undertook a city plan -- the first (and some would say only) comprehensive plan for Vancouver.

With the market crash of 1929, resource prices plummeted and Vancouver landed on the skids. Big civic plans were put on hold as residents struggled with lost jobs, slashed wages, evictions, and foreclosures.

When Canada entered the war in 1939, Vancouver factories geared up for record production. Shipyards began producing a ship every two weeks. After Pearl Harbour, the well-established Japanese Canadian community on the coast was shattered.

Officials confiscated their property and forced them to leave a 100-mile “protected area” along B.C.’s coast for internment camps in the interior. 

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1950s: The ‘50s Gallery

Experience the modest, hopeful dreams of post-war Vancouver.

The City of Vancouver's once streetcar lined streets are altered and re-shaped to accommodate cars.

See the neon light up downtown when folks go to nightclubs and movies.

Pose for street photographer Foncie Pulice as he snaps portraits of the sidewalk parade. 

Check out the jukebox and the private lives of teenagers. 

Live the post-war dream in the neighbourhood of Fraserview, as veterans’ families move into brand new housing.

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1960s - 1970s: You Say You Want A Revolution

Young people searching for an alternative way of life made the City of Vancouver the hippie capital of Canada. Kitsilano, at the time a neighbourhood with cheap housing, became home to Vancouver's radical youth. 

The 1960s and 1970s were a time of contention as the city grew in to itself and now internationally known "radical" groups like Greenpeace started right here on home turf. 

Groove on Vancouver, the coolest city on the Canadian coast. Visit the hippies’ communal house, try on macramé finery, and listen to great Vancouver bands from the late 1960s.

Look for your mom or dad, or yourself, in swinging footage of the Stanley Park Be-In.

Follow the action as Vancouverites – both hippie and straight – fought the freeway, saved their neighbourhoods, and changed the way city planning is done.

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