A collection of neon signs in downtown Edmonton, Alberta showcase Edmonton history
There is something fascinating about the luminous glow of neon signs. Georges Claude is credited with developing the first neon lamp by applying an electrical discharge to a sealed tube of neon gas. This produced a glowing red effect, but other colours can be created by using different gases, such as argon, mercury, or helium. Claude unveiled his invention in 1910 at the Paris Expo, patented the technology in 1915, and introduced the first neon sign to North America in 1923.
The City of Edmonton in Alberta, Canada has installed a collection of over 20 restored historic neon signs on the east wall of the TELUS building and the south wall of the Mercer Warehouse to create an outdoor Neon Museum. The museum started with 8 signs in 2014. The location at 104 Street NW and 104 Avenue NW was chosen partly because of its historic character and because TELUS made its building available to attach the signs to. The area is part of the Warehouse District that developed in the early 1900s when Edmonton boomed. There are nine historic sites along the 104 Street Promenade.
The first neon sign in Edmonton appeared in 1928 on Darling’s Drug Store on the corner of Jasper and Second. By 1928, neon signs were common. Their popularity grew into the 1930s despite the poor economic situation. Six businesses competed in the neon sign market.
The use of neon signs declined gradually in the 1960s and 1970s. Some businesses closed. Others replaced their signs with cheaper plastic interior-lit signs that were easier to maintain and seen as more modern or tasteful. The making of neon signs is largely a manual process.
Mike’s News operated from 1912 to 1985. Its sign was a landmark on Jasper Avenue from 1934 until it was removed in 1979.
Most of the signs are restored originals. However, the Princess Theatre sign is a replica. Although the City of Edmonton owns the original, it is in too poor a condition to be restored. The Princess Theatre was built between 1914 and 1915. Its vertical art deco neon sign was added in the 1940s and removed in 1954.
The Edmonton Neon Museum is outdoors and open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Located alongside the 104 Street NW public sidewalk, no admission is required. Although the signs are visible at any hour, dusk may be the best time to view them. It only takes about ten minutes to see the signs themselves, but you may want to take a bit more time to read the information about the signs. It provides glimpses into bits of Edmonton history.
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