‘Sur Les Murs’: Montréal’s Bilingual Ghostsigns


Montréal street scene with ghostsign in archival image

Archives de la Ville de Montréal: VM94-C143-019

Sur les murs‘ (‘on the walls’) is the first book about ghostsigns to come out of Canada. It is a French language publication, as it is set in Montréal, but contains many English language signs. This reflects the bilingual history of the city and the country, which continues to this day. In fact, through the comments on this review where I first discovered the book, I was made aware of the current tensions between the French and English speakers in the country.

Linguistic and cultural rivalries aside, the book is a beautiful documentation of the city’s ghostsigns with black and white photography by Michel Niquette sitting alongside archival images reproduced in red-tinted sepia. This treatment of the archival images gives the book a nostalgic warmth, something complimented by the materials chosen for the pages and cover. Réjane Bougé explains, “It’s a work of memory, to preserve, to testify to something that is disappearing,”

Montréal street scene with ghostsign in archival image

Archives de la Ville de Montréal: VM98-Y_1P020

Compared to other books about ghostsigns I think this is the best researched that I’ve seen in terms of sourcing images of how the signs once were. This is in large part thanks to the city’s archives, Archives de la Ville de Montréal, in helping to find and reproduce items in their collections. For example, the image above shows an advertisement for Turret cigarettes in its prime. This has actually been preserved quite well and a colour image featured on my 2011 Ghostsigns ‘World Tour’. And below, a sign in good condition but already on its way out due to the advance of billboards.

Montréal street scene with ghostsign in archival image

Archives de la Ville de Montréal: VM94-C95-015

The book is not only a lovely object to hold but a wonderful documentation of a city’s bilingual ghostsigns. Sadly my GCSE French doesn’t allow me to comment on the text but I can only assume it is as well researched as the images. The book is available to buy direct from the publisher Fides, and also via the Canadian Amazon site.

Cover of Sur les Murs book by Réjane Bougé and Michel Niquette

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