While a great many multi-national corporations operate in Canada, on my trips to Vancouver to see my family, I’ve been noticing that a lot of fairly individual styles of shopfront and associated typography co-exist with the more modern global brands. It feels quite ‘small towny’, which makes it all the more charming, although I don’t imagine those I know over there will be delighted with me for saying so. No-one wants their lovely city described as that, but it is meant as a compliment.
I have a feeling that most of this atmosphere will be swept away by the rapid redevelopment that is taking place across the city. Sometimes, as in Yaletown, this has made huge modern residential areas out of what used to be mostly derelict land. Elsewhere, parts of the University of British Columbia campus are being developed for a mixture of student and other housing. Older single-storey shops are often dwarfed by the high-rise apartment buildings that grow up behind them. It feels like low-rise construction all over the city, from downtown to the residentials suburbs, will be gone in a few years to be replaced by something less individual. I hope this isn’t universal, as that would be a great loss to the city’s character, which is largely still one of small stores owned by individuals.
In one of the most down-at-heel areas of Vancouver – on the east side – there are still some really old and characterful signs advertising hotels that might be better described as ‘flop-houses’. Like most cities, Vancouver has its darker side and this is part of it. The streets are filled with down-and-outs, drug users and homeless people, and feels like it has been forgotten in a time-warp. A lot of lovely advertising signage from the 1950s remains here and some of it is really imaginative, even if rather dilapidated.
Footnote: I called this post ‘Vancouver Old-Style’ because it’s the only city in Canada that I have visited a lot, so I don’t know whether the typographic phenomenon I’m observing is common to the whole country or just to British Columbia. I did once spend a month in both Montreal and Victoria on Vancouver Island, but it was a very long time ago before multinational companies, beyond maybe Kodak and Martini, were as ubiquitous as they are now.