Rare collection of 150K vintage posters needs new Vancouver home
Perry (the Poster Guy) Giguere has been collecting posters in Vancouver for almost 40 years
In a small, unfinished basement room near the PNE, two men are trying to preserve the unofficial compendium of Vancouver's cultural history.
It's Thursday night, and Perry Giguere and Tom Snyders are lurking in the depths of the Vancouver Tap Dance Society on Hastings Street.
The two friends occasionally raise their voices over the clatter of a young man dancing his heart out on the hardwood floor above them.
They shuffle around, taking their glasses off, and putting them back on again, to complete the task at hand.
Their job is no small feat: Giguere and Snyders are diligently sorting, cataloguing and archiving about 150,000 posters collected over nearly 40 years. Only about half of them are duplicates.
"Seeing some of these posters reminds me of what Vancouver was and what it meant to people," Giguere said.
"It's like going down Fourth Avenue or Robson Street and it's all different and you don't remember what it looked like before."
'I love posters'
Giguere, known to some in Vancouver as Perry the Poster Guy, has been putting up posters for hundreds of arts and protest groups since 1978.
They range from handmade ones for obscure punk shows and protests to glossy prints for films and major theatre productions.
The first ones he got paid to distribute were for a Kate and Anna McGarrigle concert at a now-defunct restaurant called the Frog and Peach on 10th Avenue — and he kept a copy.
Over the years, Giguere put aside a copy of almost all the posters he was paid to put up. He also collected posters he wasn't hired to distribute. He even took them from cities he visited.
"I love posters," he explains. "I had a house for 21 years — it just became a habit for storing and we had space so I just kept doing it."
That collection swelled to about 250,000 items, until he pared it down because he had to move out of that house, sending the posters to their current home.
But now the Tap Dance Society needs its basement room back, so he's about to lose it too. And Giguere and Snyders are calling on Vancouver to help them keep this part of the city's history alive.
They're looking for a new location and some funding to help support their efforts to sort and catalog the collection.
One of their goals is to display the posters as part of an exhibit in 2018, the 40th anniversary of when Giguere first began collecting them.
"All of this history is worth preserving," Snyders said. "The poster is one of the most ephemeral artifacts of culture — it's up, it's gone. And mostly it just gets trashed."
Snyders, a former poster guy himself, is spending up to 30 hours a week helping Giguere sort through the collection.
He is also the one who set up a Facebook page where the artifacts are posted and occasionally sold.
Giguere said some buyers have offered him up to $75 for some of the more rare concert posters. So part of their task is also trying to figure out how much his collection is worth.
The special collections department at Simon Fraser University is also involved. It's catalogued about 1,000 posters so far and is hoping to start digitizing them to make them available for researchers and the general public.
"I've spent many amazing afternoons with Perry sifting through the collection over the last year, and definitely I feel like I've only scratched the surface of it," said Melanie Hardbattle, the library's acting head for special collections.
"The collection that Perry has amassed over the years is just absolutely incredible."
Hardbattle said she doesn't know of any other collection like it in the province. And because many of the posters are for shows in venues that no longer exist — like the Town Pump — they're an important resource for researchers.
"Vancouver is such a city where there's always a lot of new people coming in, and people just may not collectively have a memory of what Vancouver used to be like in the 70s and 80s from a popular cultural perspective," she said.
"This collection is just really significant in documenting all of that first hand."
The library is aiming to catalog thousands more of the posters, but that will take time. And for Giguere and Snyders, that means money and space they don't have.
Giguerre said the Tap Dance Society has been generous, but he's overstayed his welcome in what was only supposed to be a temporary holding place.
Which is why they're hoping for helping finding a new home for the collection.
"We're sort of desperate for space. In Vancouver, it's not an easy thing to find," he said.
In the meantime, he'll continue to sort through the collection and make it available to those who have as much of a passion for it as he does.