New, improved Garbage Hill sign goes up permanently in Winnipeg
Original sign was erected anonymously in September and removed the next day by city crews
It's back … and better.
A permanent version of Winnipeg's Garbage Hill sign, styled after the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles — though much smaller than the 45-foot-tall California letters — was unveiled Thursday morning.
"Santa Claus arrived early," said a happy Mayor Brian Bowman, who helped remove the cover from the sign.
"Some say Hollywood is built on filth but this is literally built on garbage."
The sign is a nod to the more common nickname for the park, which was a landfill from 1875 until 1948, and is now a popular space for dog walkers, joggers and in the winter, tobogganing.
Constructed of aluminum composite panels, with letters sheeted in white reflective vinyl, the sign measures three feet tall by 20 feet long.
It is set up on the east-facing side of the hill, looking toward the downtown skyline.
"It'll be around for a long time," said Shane Storie, president of SRS Signs and Service, which made the sign. "And the moonlight, or any flash or anything like that, will jump off like a reflective street sign."
Storie, who grew up in the city's West End and has his business there, said he was thrilled to be involved in the project.
"The challenge we had was trying to determine which majestic mountain peak in Winnipeg we were going to erect a sign on," Bowman said with every mound of sarcasm.
"We're already in dialogue of course about building a gondola here so that tourists can go up and view the sign up close and personal."
The original sign was erected anonymously on Sept. 9 on the same side of the hill in what is officially called Westview Park.
It immediately became a sensation on social media and was used as a photo backdrop by many who went to see it.
But city crews rolled in with machinery the following day and dismantled it because it did not have official approval — and wasn't built to last.
The frame was constructed of one-by-one scrap wood and the letters were made out of old garage doors and drywall, which softens and crumbles when exposed to water.
The identity of the artist who created it was never made public.
Storie said the artist — with whom he worked to make the new sign — grew up on nearby Sherburn Street. His original inspiration was that he thought it would be amusing to make a Garbage Hill sign out of garbage, Storie said.
The artist was surprised it took off as much as it did but is happy to remain behind the scenes, Storie added.
"I wish I had the exact quote, but he said something to the effect of 'The noise sounds so nice from far away.' "
Bowman said he wasn't aware of the original sign until he heard news reports on the day it was taken down.
He quickly expressed support for it and said he was willing to talk to the person who created it, offering to help navigate the process to make a more permanent, and approved, version.
"I think a lot of us were kind of caught off guard," he said on Thursday. "But whoever did it, I have to give them compliments for capturing the imagination of Winnipeggers.
"I understand the name is James, but we don't have a last name. But hopefully James is going to visit here with a smile on his face."
James, after hearing Bowman's offer to help manoeuvre the city's bureaucracy web, reached out to the mayor, who then put him in touch with Storie, whose company also built the Winnipeg sign at The Forks.
Together, they worked out the details, and SRS eventually built and donated the sign. Storie estimated the cost for somebody else to do it would have been about $6,000.
"It's incredibly generous of SRS," Bowman said.
Asked what he would say to critics declaring there are bigger and better things the city should focus on, Bowman said that's absolutely true.
"And we're doing those as well," he said. "But we can also have a little fun while we're taking care of business."
Winnipeg artist Cliff Eyland, who knows James, hopes he will eventually come forward and get the credit he deserves.
"It's a very shy person who doesn't want his name mentioned," Eyland said. "He's part of the graffiti art community, so he's used to that [working under the radar]."
James wasn't devastated when the original sign was removed, Eyland said, because that type of artist is used to putting things up secretively and expecting them to come down.
"It's part of a local underground culture and maybe he wants to keep it private."
Either way, Eyland believes the sign will be embraced by Winnipeggers and initiate a trend toward "more vernacular naming — naming of things as how they're actually known by people.
"The real names of things."