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City Lights: Neon in Vancouver

A Canadian museum exhibits vintage neon.



Upon discovering numerous, uncataloged neon signs in a Vancouver, British Columbia, warehouse, Joan Seidl, curator of history at the Vancouver Museum, began assembling an exhibit that would showcase vintage neon signs of the 1940s and 1950s — a remarkable time of growth and change for the largest city on Canada’s West Coast.

"The signs eloquently captured a tawdry, go-ahead quality of Vancouver in that era, and, the more I researched it, the more I realized that this collection of signs was a great opportunity waiting to happen," Seidl recalled.

Consequently, Seidl and John Atkin, a Vancouver historical expert, curated "City Lights: Neon in Vancouver," an exhibit that opened in March 1999 and continued into 2001. According to Seidl, patrons’ reactions were immediate and passionate. She said, "Neon speaks to us and evokes intense memories. Neon signs help us remember our childhood through their fun, funky designs, colors and warmth. There’s nothing quite like neon to evoke nostalgia."

Forty years ago, approximately 19,000 neon signs illuminated Vancouver’s commercial streets, in a riot of color and movement. They ranged from simple and delicate to elaborate and grand.

These included diminutive window signs, such as the neon, dogwood flowers that beckoned from the Silver Grille Caf



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