Residents save Civic Pharmacy sign

By Alyson Queen – 

Thanks to months of effort from a group of concerned residents and their supporters, the Kitchissippi Times has confirmed that the Civic Pharmacy sign has been saved from its potential fate in a dumpster.

It’s been nearly a year since Andy Billingsley and Gregg Kricorissian took on the project of preserving the Civic Pharmacy sign on behalf of the Civic Hospital Neighbourhood Association (CHNA) through its History and Heritage Committee.  

They first learned of the situation following some media attention around the building and its sign.

Artist and “Ottawa Rewind” blogger Andrew King covered details of the sign’s “Googie” architecture on his website (ottawarewind.com) in March 2017 in which he described the atomic-like lettering as being trendy in the 1960s.  When Andrew wrote his post, the building was listed at $3.36 million. He wrote that he hoped the Ottawa icon wouldn’t be “unceremoniously tossed into a scrap heap.”

The iconic Civic sign was the first of its kind in Canada. Photo by Andrew King

The process to track down building contacts was a long one. Gregg’s real breakthrough happened in late October when Councillor Jeff Leiper’s office noticed a building permit had been issued for exterior updates. 

It was at that point, Gregg says, that the campaign to save the sign really got underway. 

In the meantime, Gregg had shored up support from Steve LeBrun of Ottawa’s Ray Neon Signs to help restore the sign and store it if needed. His father co-founded the company, which built the original sign nearly 60 years ago.  

With its five letters illuminating on rotation, and unique design, the sign was the first of its kind in Canada and a major project for the Ottawa company. 

The project was a natural for the community association, but particularly given CHNA uses the Civic sign lettering for its logo. 

“When we heard of the sale of the building, we did worry that the new owners wouldn’t really understand the significance or importance of the sign to the community and it would inadvertently be destroyed. So we wanted to make sure that didn’t happen,” says Karen Wright, president of CHNA. 

When asked why such an effort was made to save this sign, Gregg said it beckons of home. 

“I’ve seen it every day for the last 35 years that I’ve lived in this neighbourhood. It’s just a very happy touchstone of the neighbourhood. It shows where home is.”

The famous five letters are currently keeping warm underneath layers of tarp and scaffolding during the building renovations. 

It remains to be seen where the sign will ultimately hang.

Although many would like to see the icon remain at Carling and Holland, other ideas include a new adopted home in either an art gallery or even possibly the new campus of The Ottawa Hospital, once built. 

But one thing that everyone agrees upon is that this little piece of illuminated history – and all the memories it conjures with it – needs to remain alive and connected to its community.

“If it’s restored and honoured on the building where it’s always traditionally been, I think that’s a great outcome. If for some reason it doesn’t fit into the future of that building, we are more than willing to help find it the right home,” says Karen.

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