As you walk along 104 Street on a pleasant summer evening, you wouldn’t expect to encounter a museum. But a block south of the new arena, affixed to the side of a nondescript building, the Neon Sign Museum has been growing since 2002. Brought into being through a partnership between the City of Edmonton, the Alberta Sign Association, Telus, the Downtown Business Association and The Places, the museum is resurrecting pieces of the city’s past; it’s a way to hang on to our history in the face of a rapidly-changing city.
One of the oldest signs on display is also the most eye-catching. Large and rectangular, with flashing yellow lights around its edge, the Pantages Theatre sign hasn’t moved far from its original location on Jasper Avenue.
The theatre opened in 1913, and provided a venue for vaudeville in Edmonton, featuring entertainment legends such as Buster Keaton and Stan Laurel. In 1921 the theatre began to change with the times, and became the Metropolitan Movie House, and then the Strand Cinema in 1931. Even though the theatre was designated a historical site in the late 1970s, it was ultimately demolished in 1979 to make way for an office building. There were plans to recreate the theatre in Fort Edmonton Park, but the Capitol Theatre was chosen instead. Today, our last link to this piece of Edmonton’s history can be found here on 104 Street.
Some of the history displayed here is more recent. I can remember walking to the Bee Bell Bakery on 80 Avenue when my husband had his art studio just south of Whyte Ave.
No matter what you were looking for, it was worth the trip just walking in the door and breathing in the delicious aromas. Bee Bell had been at that location since 1995, and before that had been in business for 39 years on 103 Street. After more than 50 years of business in Edmonton, the bakery closed its doors in 2013. The brand (and some of the staff) continued at Sunrise Bakery, but the distinctive neon sign with the bee and the bell came down, to find a new home in the Neon Sign Museum.
As the city continues to change and grow, even “landmark” businesses aren’t reaching the 50-year mark. After 20 years of business on the High Street, Call the Kettle Black closed its doors in 2016, due in part to the lack of traffic on nearby 124 Street due to bridge construction. The store was an iconic part of the High Street, located in the corner of the shopping plaza. Full of colourful giftware and kitchenware, it was a unique place to find stylish décor. Now, the store’s striking sign is a newer addition to the Neon Museum.
If you’re looking for something free to do on a warm summer or fall evening, the Neon Museum is worth a look.
You can sit at the Mercer Tavern across the street, sipping your drink and watching the neon glow against the twilight. The Neon Sign Museum is a quiet reminder of Edmonton’s past, located within view of an icon of the city’s future.