Friday, March 9, 2012

Modernity Quaffs a Brew, Selkirk Hotel Sign, 1913

The Laurier years in Canada featured the rise of modernity with all the bureacratic, urban,and industrial graft and grit that the word implies.  Ramsay Cook and Robert Craig Brown's classic survey, A Nation Transformed (1972), follows the growth of Canadian institutions in their attempts to catch up with a rapidly transforming society.  By 1921, Canada was as much urban as it was rural, and the bright light of modernity was illuminating innumerable vices in the burgeoning cities.

One rustic young "homesteader's son" was flabbergasted by the tall buildings and electric lights found in Edmonton upon his first visit in 1913.  (Cook and Brown, 100)  As the young hayseed noted:

"The buildings tower over the street two or three storeys high and even brick and stone buildings of six storeys.  Whoever imagined so many buildings, or such variety?  And the signs advertising their owners' business, painted in large letters, some illuminated and all overhanging the street in bewildering confusion, why, they make your head swim!...it was only after dark that the king of the signs stood out in all its glory over the Selkirk Hotel.  This one, done in many lightbulbs, showed by successive combinations a man pouring a glass of beer, lifting it to his lips, and then quaffing the liquor.  If I had seen nothing else in all the city, this would have been enough."

The incredible sign is seen in the top right of this photo from the Glenbow Archives. File number: NC-6-4776Title: Corner of 101st Street and Jasper Avenue showing Selkirk Hotel, Edmonton, Alberta.
Date: 1919

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