Sign, sign, everywhere a (similar) sign

Should Winnipeg, which prides itself on its art and architecture, and is trying to market its design community, ought to have procured something so similar to generic tourist-attraction signs emblazoned with the names of other cities?

New amenity at The Forks has Winnipeg not-so-boldly going where many other cities have gone before

A $120,000 Winnipeg sign is being installed near the The Forks. (City of Winnipeg)

On Wednesday, Winnipeg will receive a sign from above.

Not above as in heaven, where angels lounge around on fluffy clouds, with harps in their hands, but from Mayor Brian Bowman's office, which devoted $120,000 of a $175,000 Canada Summer Games pageantry budget to an illuminated sign that says "Winnipeg" in capital letters.

The 2.5-metre-high sign, which will be placed on a berm near the Festival Stage at The Forks on Wednesday, is similar to the Toronto sign placed at Nathan Phillips Square before the Pan American Games, the Ottawa sign placed at By Ward Market for Canada's 150th celebrations and other sans serif signs placed near landmarks in cities around the world.

Paul Jordan, president and CEO at The Forks, said he believes the sign fits the non-profit organization's mandate, even though The Forks had "not a lot" of input into the design. 

'It's not for everybody'

"It's not for everybody, but it's kind of cool. I've seen them all over the place, in different cities, and it's kind of a symbol for the city," Jordan said Monday in an interview.

"I think that's what's kind of cool about it. It's like all the other cities. I think it all started in Amsterdam: It's this look that goes all across the world."

True enough, this Winnipeg sign is bound to become an immediate hit with tourists even before it's illuminated for the first time on Saturday. In other cities, people stop to take selfies in front or even on top of these things.

"The sign is intended to help promote Winnipeg and to help build pride in our city, and will be a lasting legacy piece of hosting the Canada Summer Games," Bowman communications director Jonathan Hildebrand said in a statement.

The sign is similar to several emblazoned with the names of other cities. (City of Winnipeg)
The question is whether Winnipeg, which prides itself on its art and architecture — and is trying to market its design community — ought to have procured something so similar to generic tourist-attraction signs emblazoned with the names of other cities.

"I'm not keen on them. They just kind of bore me. I think they're highly unoriginal," said Andrea Cordonier, a photographer, writer and management consultant who lives in the Ottawa bedroom community of Burritts Rapids.

"Winnipeg is such a creative community. My god, there is so much to look at, so much to photograph and so much to be photographed in front of, if you're looking for a selfie experience — but real things, like real buildings and real experiences — that I just don't think it's appropriate for Winnipeg."

'I have to use Photoshop'

Cordonier​, who visits Winnipeg more than a dozen times a year, also said she objects to the location of the sign, which she fears will mar the southern view of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights.

"That view is stunning form that side of The Forks, from Inn At The Forks for example. To put that big red-and-white sign right there, I have to use Photoshop. I'll actually have to brush up on my skills to take that out of my photos," she said.

There's no question Winnipeg has the design capacity to dream up something a little more creative than generic Winnipeg lettering, or at least create something vaguely evocative of the city's history, culture and geography.

Hamilton, Ont. is planning to put this sign up. (City of Hamilton)
Since the The Forks didn't dream up the bland design, it's unclear who actually did. The mayor's office handed off this lukewarm potato to unnamed contractors.

"The general design parameters provided for the new Winnipeg sign were that it must be three dimensional, illuminated, incorporate a stylized design of the word 'Winnipeg' and that it meet certain size requirements," Hildebrand said in his statement. 

"The precise design elements chosen and used within these parameters were that of the experts contracted to design the sign."

'The Brisbane sign,' in Brisbane, Australia. (Glenn Hunt/Getty Images)
The mayor's office also said the sign will remain at The Forks long after the Canada Summer Games are over. But The Forks is tempering any expectations of permanence.

"We're not really even thinking how long it'll last. The longer it lasts, the better," Jordan said, noting the cauldron from the 1999 Pan American Games remains standing despite minimal maintenance.

"Time will tell whether that's a popular feature or not."

That statement, in and of itself, may be a sign.


Bartley Kives

Senior reporter, CBC Manitoba

Bartley Kives joined CBC Manitoba in 2016. Prior to that, he spent three years at the Winnipeg Sun and 18 at the Winnipeg Free Press, writing about politics, music, food and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of both Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg and Stuck In The Middle 2: Defining Views of Manitoba.


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