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Hunting for Ghost Signs in Edmonton Early History of Industrial Edmonton

Signs like this are called ghost signs, because of their ghostly faded beauty and because they advertise long-dead businesses.

In the early 1900's Edmonton was a bustling town, due to the Gold Rush in the Yukon. The Industrial Era opened a chance for entrepreneurs to get rich quickly by supplying merchandise and building materials to the fast growing population of Alberta. They needed to advertise their goods and services, using outdoor advertising.

At that time sign-painting was a fairly common job, and many sign-painters moved from place to place. While most cities had their own sign shops, many smaller towns and rural areas depended on travelling artisans to do their sign-painting. Painters, who designed these signs, were called "wall dogs". Because signs had to be made on the spot, every sign was produced with a brush attached to a hand. Painters used lead-based paint, on the brick buildings in Edmonton downtown, mostly along Jasper Avenue.

The billboards that once advertised anything from cigars, coffee and steam-cooked rice to sportswear can be found on decaying brick buildings and neglected back alleys. Only few of them remain, serving as the reminder of the service or product they sold. Some are visible only after the rain and for this reason they got the nickname "ghost signs." The few that still remain are at risk of being demolished, to make way for new downtown development.

The photos below are my small collection of ghost signs, that are still visible on the brick walls as an evidence of well-being in the past business, but non-existing today.

1914, Jasper Avenue, Edmonton

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Metals Ltd. Building

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1910

Metals Ltd. was organized in 1910 with headquarters in Calgary to handle wholesale plumbing and heating supplies. In 1948 the company was sold to Empire Brothers Manufacturing Company Ltd.; the building itself was sold and converted into retail and office space in 1975.

Outdoor painted advertisement was recently restored and displays the following products and services: "PLUMBING & HEATING SUPPLIES. METALS LTD. WHOLESALE IRON & STEEL HARDWARE. MINE, MILL & BLACKSMITH SUPPLIES "

10184 - 104 Street, Edmonton, Alberta

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Union Bank Building

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1910

This ghost sign is for the James Richardson & Sons company, that had been in business for more than 150 years. This sign advertises stocks, bonds and grain in downtown Edmonton, Alberta.

From the moment James Richardson first began to explore the unrealized potential of Canada's grain industry, the company has remained at the forefront of the international marketplace. James Richardson & Sons, Limited was the first company to realise the potential of Canada's grain industry and the first to ship western Canadian grain overseas in 1883. By 1931, the firm began shipping grain directly to China, a new venture in the global grain trade.

Ghost sign advertising: "JAMES RICHARDSON & SONS LIMITED | STOCKS BONDS GRAIN | CUNARD LINE"

10053 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

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Western Supplies Ltd.

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1927

Western Supplies Ltd. was built as a loft warehouse and recently, after restoration, converted to four stories modern office space.

Ghost sign : "WESTERN SUPPLIES | PIPE | LIMITED | PIPE"

10722 - 103 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

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Phillips Building

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1913

With the newly built railroad, Edmonton become the gateway to the north. Many warehouses were built downtown to store goods delivered by rail before being shipped off to their destinations.

Initially the Phillips Building was leased to the Western and Cartage Company as a storage warehouse. After James Brody, owner of Brod-Ease Shoe Co., purchased it for commercial purposes, the Phillips Building underwent a complete renovation in the 1950s. He named it 'Phillips' in honour of his first grandson.

Despite a City of Edmonton demolition permit, the new owner converted the warehouse into lofts and saved it from a future as a parking lot.

Ghost signs: "PHILLIPS BUILDING | INSURANCE AGENTS | WHOLESALE | DRY GOODS | WESTERN CARTAGE Co | FASHION TAILORS | COMPLETE ALTERATIONS | CUSTON TAILORING | FOR MEN & LADIES | 2nd FLOOR "

10169 104, Edmoonton, Alberta

2019. The south wall of the building painted over. Historical ghost sign disappeared!

Building management wiped out history of the city by painting over the ghost signs!

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Shaw Building

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1915

H .V. Shaw was a well-respected local businessman. He started his wholesale cigar business in 1901. He was typical of Edmonton’s early entrepreneurs who contributed to the growth of manufacturing and warehousing during the Edwardian era.

The cigar maker H.V. Shaw built it as a cigar factory which operated until 1919. The fast developing business demonstrated how important cigar production was to the local economy. The factory produced 'Major Reno' and 'La Palma Cigars', brands that were widely available across the prairie provinces during WWI.

South wall ghost signs: " THE EDMONTON HOME OF NABOB TEA & COFFEE | KELLY. DOUGLAS Co. LTD | EDWARDSBURG | CROWN BRAND CORN SYRUP | SMTH. DAVIDSON & WRIGHT LIMITED| WHOLESALE STATIONERS AND PAPER DEALERS |

North wall: "STATIONERY | BUSINESS FURNITURE |

10229 - 105th Street, Edmonton, Alberta

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Dominion Rubber Company Warehouse

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1913

The company was opened for business on December 27, 1913, suppling northern Alberta with rubbinger belting, packing, hoses, waterproof clothing, felt footwear, automobile and carriage tires, and druggists’ rubber sundries.

The building was the house for companies like Clark Brothers and Company Ltd, paper & stationery and R. E. Brown Company. That fact is reflected in ads on the south wall of the building.

Ghost signs: "DOMINION RUBBER Co. Ltd | CLARK BROS & Co. LIMITED | PAPER | THE R.E. BROWN Co"

Cobogo Lofts, 10240-104 St., Edmonton, Alberta

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Great Western Saddlery Building

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1911

E.F. Hutchings of Winnipeg opened a harness shop in Edmonton in 1889 and formed the Edmonton Saddlery Company in 1904. In 1900, it was merged with Carson & Shore to form the Great West Saddlery Ltd. the company constructed this building to house its wholesale and retail activities. It stayed in business, and kept ownership of the building until 1958.

From this location the Great West Saddlery Company supplied customers throughout central and northern Alberta with its “Horse Shoe Brand” of leather products including baggage, belts, oiled clothing, saddles, gloves and mackinaw jackets. By 1918 it was the largest saddlery company in the world.

Ghost sign: "THE GREAT CANADIAN WESTERN SADDLERY"

Updated 2019:

Updated look of the north wall of the historical building; May, 2019

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Armstrong Block

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1912

The Armstrong Block is an evidence of the rapid expansion of Edmonton before the WWI and the early development of the warehouse district.

It served as a combination of commercial and residential functions. The lower portions of the building were designed for the needs of wholesale businesses while the upper floors were subdivided into apartments and offices.

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Alberta Block Building

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1905

Alberta Building is more than 100 years old and was build between 1903 - 1905. Initially, it was a retail store selling fur and at some point a rooming house.

SKUA, advertised in the wall, is the first radio station to stream the web content over the Internet in early 1996.

Ghost sign: "SKUA | 5.8 FIRST ON YOUR DIAL"

105 Street Jasper Avenue, Edmonton AB

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The Canadian Bank of Commerce

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1912

The ghost sign advertises "THE CANADIAN BANK OF COMMERCE"

101 Street Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta
The Canadian Bank of Commerce, 1931.

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Mc.Leod Building

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1915

The McLeod Block became an instant Edmonton landmark when it was completed in 1915. The crowning glory of Kenneth McLeod’s career as a businessman and developer, this was the city’s tallest building at the time, a distinction it retained for almost 40 years. McLeod had seen a similar building n Spokane, Washington. He even hired the same man, John K. Dow, to design it. Now it is the best remaining example of Edmonton’s skyscraper designs of that period

10134-100th Street Edmonton, Alberta,

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Imperial Bank of Canada

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1954

Imperial Bank of Canada building is a symbol of the Imperial Bank at this location since 1891. The Imperial Bank of Canada began in Toronto in 1875 and expanded across Canada, and continued its banking activities in the West, opening its first branch in Edmonton in 1891. During the economic boom of the late 1940s and early 1950s, the financial needs of clients grew exponentially, and the original bank building at this location was demolished in order to construct this larger and more modern building.

9990 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

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Gibson Block

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1913

William Gibson bought this lot in 1913 for the sum of one dollar, as it was believed the odd, pie-shaped lot was all but unuseable. The building was originally to be 3 floors, another was added after construction had already begun.

The Gibson Block characterizes the historic wave of prosperity and opportunity at the height of the commercial boom in pre-WWI Edmonton. Originally built to provide first floor retail space and offices on the remaining floors, the building’s use has evolved with Edmonton’s changing economic fortunes and has included office and retail. Commercial tenants on the main floor at one time included the Gibson Cafe, whose now-notorious sign on the brick exterior referred to “white help only”. There was a Turkish bath in the basement that operated from 1914 till 1978.

After many years of neglect, The Gibson Block received a three-million dollar restoration in 1994 by the Edmonton City Centre Church Corporation to house the Women’s Emergency Accommodation Centre.

Restored signs: "PEPSI COLA | EDMONTON JOURNAL | BARBER SHOP | TURKISH BATHS"

9608 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

“On the picture of the Gibson block, to the left of the Pepsi sign, is a white patch. That was a sign for a restaurant until the Women's Shelter took over the block.

The words at the bottom were WHITE HELP ONLY. Few people were able to correctly identify the racial group being disparaged. It shows how the but of discrimination changes over time.”

Andrew Sims

Draving by Dane Ryksen

While not a photo, here's a drawing of the sign… Ironic that years later it was quite literally 'white-washed' over, although I can completely understand the reasons why.”

- Dane Ryksen

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Ernest Brown Block

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1912

This building was constructed for Ernest Brown's photographic studio, office, workshop, and retail store. In 1924, after the post WWI bust, creditors seized the building and renamed it the "Brighton Block". Brown fled to Vegreville for a short time, and became involved with publishing a pro-labour 'radical' newsletter. He later returned to Edmonton, and in 1947 he sold his collection of over 150000 negatives to the Alberta Government.

9666-9664 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

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Quarters

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The Quarters and the Boyle area was the original downtown core of Edmonton. It was where the town grew up, and when the Hudson's Bay Reserve Lands (on current downtown, Oliver, and parts of Rossdale) was subdivided and sold in portions to the City of Edmonton in the late 1900s and the area where current Churchill Square and TELUS Plaza are were booming like crazy.The current downtown soon became the centre and was called the downtown, ditching Boyle.

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The Lodge Hotel

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1904

The Lodge Hotel, originall name the Pendennis Hotel, was completed in 1904, and was known as one of the finest hotels in Edmonton. It's restaurant had a reputation for fine cuisine. Prohibition ended the hotel's profitability, and eventually it was foreclosed. In 1945 it was converted to a boarding house, the "Kenmo Lodge". This was later shortened to The Lodge Hotel.

Ghost sign - The LODGE HOTEL

Sign with the original name of business The Pendennis Hotel

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Hub Hotel

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1882

The Hub Hotel is the second hotel ithat was built in Edmonton by businessman James Goodridge as Jasper House, it was Edmonton’s first brick building and also the first between Winnipeg and Vancouver.

Originally, the Jasper House Hotel was the Edmonton terminus of the Calgary-Edmonton stagecoach and the hangout for hunters and trappers. The five day journey (in good weather) cost $25 one-way. In 1920 the name Jasper House Hotel was changed to the Empress Hotel, and changed again to the Hub Hotel in 1940. Today it is home to a convenience store and a seedy drinking hole.

His Hub Hotel offered accommodation, food and drink, and served as a temporary business quarters for such entrepreneurs as lawyer J.C.F. Bowen, who become Alberta’s Lieutenant Governor.

9692 Jasper Ave.

1929

Henry Birks and Sons began their business in Montreal in 1879. They were descendants of a family of silversmiths who had practiced their trade in England since the 15th century. In 1927 Birks bought the successful jewelry store owned by D.A. Kirkland, the “Diamond Prince of Edmonton”. The Birks building was designed by Montreal architects Nobbs and Hyde and built by local contractor H.G. MacDonald at a cost of $350,000. Over 5,000 people attended the opening of the store in November 1929. The store featured 200 feet of counters and large display windows.

The store also had medical and dental facilities above and the most up-to-date medical facilities in Edmonton. Although it was originally designed as a two-storey building, the big demand for medical and dental space was so high, that an extra two floors were added.

10123 104 Street, Edmonton AB

A.Macdonalds Consolidated

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1913

To the mid-twentieth century the A. Macdonald Building played significant role in the history of the storage and cartage of wholesale grocery goods in Edmonton, and became one of the three largest grocery suppliers in northern Alberta.

The painted ghost wall signage on the east and north facades identifying the corporate occupancy and function of the building .

10128 - 105 Avenue, Edmonton, Alberta

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Mercer Warehouse

1911

Built in 1911 by John B. Mercer, the Mercer Warehouse was originally used to store liquor, dry goods, foot ware, cigars and wine.

The Mercer Warehouse was re-opened in May 2012 and has become home to some of the city’s hottest startups, studios, meetups, eateries, and hangouts. The ghost sign was restored to its original look.

Ghost sign: THE MERCO WHOLESALE LTD.| GROCERIES | FRUITS | DRY GOODS & FOOTWARE |

1912
Fire 1922

10359 104 Street, Edmonton, Alberta

Now the practice of painted outdoor advertisement is abandoned. The colourful signs, once painted over without a second thought, are increasingly coveted for their historic value and craftsmanship.

Some people say that those signs are ugly and have to be completely covered or painted over to make the city look more contemporary. The other are stating, it is a part of our history and need to be protected and restored. I support the protectors team.

More stories about cities early industry

GWG - Great Western Garment Company

This is Jasper Avenue looking west from 98 Street. The building with the "Boston" sign is the Hart Block, at the corner of 99 St & Jasper.Ave. Photo contributed by Ron C. Johnston
Created By
Luba Romanko
Appreciate

Credits:

Video credits : CKUA’s Ken Regan, CEO, takes you on a tour of our old home. Sources: Edmonton Historical Board Canada's Historic Places http://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=1808