'Sign, sign, everywhere a sign' in Central Elgin ... But maybe not for long

Central Elgin Mayor David Marr says roadways in the municipality are cluttered with signs. But administrators at Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas-Elgin and Victim Services Elgin say these signs are their best way of advertising.

Non-profits in Central Elgin worry that a draft sign bylaw could upset their advertising efforts

A draft bylaw from Central Elgin would mean that businesses could only post signs on the property that their business is conducted on. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Although it's never been easier to place an ad online, Barb Matthews, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas-Elgin, prefers advertising the old-fashioned way: big yellow signs on the side of the road. 

"For us, the yellow signs work," said Matthews. "Well over 90 per cent of our inquiries mention that they've seen our sign."

But Matthews' advertising model could be forcibly disrupted by a Central Elgin draft bylaw on signage.

Mayor David Marr said the municipality receives numerous complaints every year about the number and nature of signs along roadways, and that they're hoping to create more consistency. 

"It's the esthetics of it; it's a cluttered look," said Marr. 

The draft bylaw was based on similar bylaws in neighbouring municipalities like St. Thomas and London, he said.

Among other rules, it would allow a maximum of one sidewalk sign per business. Also, the business advertised on the sign must be on the same property where the sign is located.

Signs for special events and real estate won't need an application, but they will be subject to time limits. 

"There are ways of advertising your business at your business, and in other forms as well," he said.

Less money for programs, non-profits say

Barb Matthews, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas-Elgin, says 90 per cent of her inquiries say they've seen her organization on a sign. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

But Matthews says it won't be easy to find other ways of advertising.

Postmedia's recent closure of the St. Thomas/Elgin Weekly News means that it's become more difficult for her organization to take out newspaper ads, even if they wanted to.

And then there's the price tag. 

"There's definitely a cost difference between the yellow signs and taking out ads in local newspapers or radio ads," said Matthews.

Kate Burton, program co-ordinator at Victim Services Elgin, says her organization will also feel the pinch of any crackdown on roadside signs. 

For her, fewer roadside signs would also mean more investment in online or newspaper ads. 

"That's limiting money that can go toward some of our victims, some of the services that we offer, " she said. "It's really going to change everything about how we do things here in the office."

Organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Thomas-Elgin and Victim Services Elgin say they rely on portable yellow signs like the one shown above. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC News)

Roadside signs also help organizations reach the smaller communities in their catchment areas. 

"Because we serve Elgin County, and it's a very long county, it's very hard to let people know in those communities that we do service those areas and what programs we do provide," said Matthews. 

"We use volunteers all through Elgin County, from Tillsonburg all the way up to the Dutton area. So if we're limited to one sign we're not going to get the volunteer base," Burton agreed.

The municipality of Central Elgin is still seeking input on the bylaw. Survey data on the issue will be brought before council in the coming weeks, said Marr. 


Paula Duhatschek


Paula Duhatschek is a reporter with CBC Calgary who previously worked for CBC News in Kitchener and in London, Ont. You can reach her at