Ancestral Roofs

"In Praise of Older Buildings"

Monday, August 15, 2011

Neon in Nipigon

Just back from three mind-altering weeks of camping in the provincial parks along the mythical north shore of Lake Superior. Needless to say, I have spent more time lately marvelling at bald eagles, tall pines and cobble beaches than I have in honouring old buildings.

On our one rainy day we made an exception and spent the day with 4 fine Thunder Bay architectural walking tour guides, playing scavenger hunt and discovering the Bay's significant built heritage...more later.

And pictured above - the pleasant surprise of Nipigon, which we encountered when we dropped off highway 17 in search of a place for lunch. As we rounded the corner I spied the familiar neon sign of the Nipigon Cafe!...familiar as it was featured in my history of Ontario architecture course two years ago, as a fine example of Art Moderne or Machine Age styling.

The curved glass block entry and the large horizontal cornice band (to quote my prof Shannon Kyles) are typical of the style, as is the wonderful sign. These signs are still common in the north (usually on empty and forgotten buildings of this era), and recall a time when owners of these businesses would pay a fee to a sign company to create and maintain these 'moderne' calling cards, and would retain them when the companies folded.

We toasted Shannon with pretty good coffee, enjoyed our Nipigon Cafe lunch, then went on to explore the tiny town which had celebrated its architectural history with a number of interpretive plaques. The photo on the left is of the jazzy sign on the Nipigon Inn which stands in place of an earlier hotel built to house bush and railway workers in the earliest days of the nineteenth century. The current Inn, itself now empty and abandoned, built in 1955 after a fire destroyed the original structure, is unlovely and but a pale copy of the original. Looking at an archival photo of the old hotel, it wasn't difficult to imagine those long-ago nights at the tavern!