Collage of selected neon signs, such as The Only Seafood, Foo's Ho Ho, Stanley Theatre, Ovaltine Cafe, Granville Street, Jesus Light of the World, and Ted Harris Paint

At the height of Vancouver’s neon heyday in 1953, a sign industry association announcement exclaimed that the city streets were thick with an estimated 19,000 neon signs—one sign for every 18 residents in the City of Vancouver at the time.

Neon would never reach that height again in Vancouver as public mood around the signs shifted from affection to revulsion a decade later. But some neighbourhoods have persisted as vibrant neon hubs, particularly around Hastings and Granville streets downtown. There, new business owners are attempting to re-animate the streets with contemporary light installations.

To me, neon was the best public art project ever. It completely expresses the neighbourhood that it’s in.”

— Judy Graves, City of Vancouver advocate for the homeless

Inspired by the layers of history illuminated by Vancouver’s neon signs, the Visible City focuses its virtual exhibition and mobile tour on the Hastings-Chinatown and Granville neighbourhoods, where we find the heart of the city’s neon history. The “Other Neighbourhoods” section explores the many other neon signs across the city and Metro Vancouver region.