A Ghost Sign Revealed


Last week, someone named BK McCabe sent me an email about an old tobacco ad that had been revealed when a fire-damaged building was torn down on Sherbrooke Street West in NDG. Not too long after, another NDGer, Grant Martin, emailed me about the same thing.

“Interestingly, one of the first results you get by googling ‘Turret Cigarettes’ is Mordecai Richler talking about smoking them when he was in high school. Mid-1940s I guess. Makes you wonder how many more of these there are, preserved from the elements but completely hidden by brick,” he wrote. “I don’t know what their plans are for this lot, or how long this will remain visible.”

There are hundreds of old painted advertisements, known as ghost ads, still visible on exposed brick walls throughout the city. Each one is a window into the commercial life of historical Montreal, giving you a chance, as you walk through the city, to see the evolution of marketing campaigns and advertising styles over the decades, not to mention product fashions — when was the last time you saw a billboard for shoe polish, sewing machines or Worcestershire sauce? In this bilingual city, ghost ads also capture a bit of socio-linguistic geography, with mostly English ads in the west end of the city and mostly French ads in the east.

The longer they are exposed to air and light, the more quickly these ads disappear. Some, protected from the elements by the shade of a neighbouring building, look much the same as when they were first painted. Others have decayed rapidly. It’s a bit ironic that the best way to preserve these ads is to actually cover them up. Frequently, when a building is demolished, an old painted ad is revealed. Eventually, they will be covered up once again. Ghosts, after all, never appear for long.


Photo credit goes to BK McCabe (top) and Grant Martin (bottom)

This entry was written by Christopher DeWolf , posted on Monday May 26 2008at 06:05 pm , filed under Art and Design, Heritage and Preservation and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

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