Sunday, April 22, 2007

Montreal street signs: five distinct types

I've identified five distinct types of City of Montreal street signs that are still in active use. Most people are familiar with the old black on white signs (all caps) and the new black on white signs (mixed case and city logo). (See the photo below.)

First a word about English on street signs in Montreal. As late as 1867, the population of Montreal was majority English-speaking. This explains why there were English mayors and why a lot of commercial and cultural life in Montreal was English.

By the time the first in the series of signs pictured below was posted (probably in the 1930s or 1940s), Montreal had a French-speaking majority. But there weren't yet any laws to hide English from the public sphere. It would have been inconceivable to cover up with white tape the English on commercial signs or street signs.

If you drive through the City of Montreal today, you'll notice that on the old street signs, French-sounding placenames (like Marcil) have a French street designation (Ave. Marcil). English-sounding placenames (like Old Orchard) have an English street designation (Old Orchard Ave.). A clever way to make bilingual the city's sign.

I mention this history so you understand why the sign below (Fielding Avenue) is in English and not bilingual.

Here are the five distinct signs:
  • All caps, full street designation below street name
  • All caps, abbreviated street designation on side of street name
  • All caps, full street designation above street name, corners more rounded, optional bubble below containing the direction if required, French-only sign introduced for 1976 Olympics
  • Mixed case, full street designation above street name, city logo introduced circa 1985
  • Mixed case, full street designation above street name, city logo modified and introduced in 1987 for new RenĂ© Levesque sign

By the way, these are the correct relative sizes of the signs.

I didn't include in this the white-on-red signs in Old Montreal or the signs of the various Montreal boroughs. I was only looking at City of Montreal signs.

>> More about Montreal signs here


Justin said...

Types 1 and 2 are variants on the same type, and seem to have been used simultaneously. Long names used only type 1, short names mostly type 2. When type 1 signs were in French, of course the designation is *above* the street name. Some early type 1 (but not 2) signs are English on one side, French on the other. The rather idiosyncratic lettering for these signs was also used at the time (50s/60s) in some boroughs of London, England.

Towards the end of the lifespan of type 3 there was a degraded variant (let's call it 3a) with a white strip above the top black border. Actually, your type 3 photo shows the mounting bracket desiged for type 3a attached to an original type 3 sign. Type 3a signs don't have bubbles, though I have seen one example of a bubble riveted on.

Darryl said...

I have seen those ones with the white strip above the border. I always assumed it was a printing error. Hadn't realized it was a slightly different style.

Anonymous said...

Kinda who cares, but I guess u could go down to Verdun and put the ones from down there on your list as well.

Moiz said...

interesting article... I was wondering if anyone knows where to buy street sign replicas... My friend's bday is coming up and I would like to get him a replica St. Denis street sign. If anyone has any info, could you please contact me? Im hoping to get the replica made with the city logo(4th or 5th style).


AJ Kandy said...

Commenting 11 years later:

The old typeface does indeed derive from English road signs used up till the 1960s. After the UK government Worboys Report the signs were changed to be more legible and uniform, using Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir's 'Transport' typeface, roughly analogous to Highway Gothic as used in the US and Canada.

There are two different digital reproductions of this font available free here, scroll down to the bottom: