A Look Back at the BC Provincial Sign Shop

A snapshot of the Provincial Sign Shop, located in Langford, circa 1965.

Signage on BC highways is an essential tool to help us communicate information to motorists about the road ahead. Whether a regulatory, warning, or guide sign is called for, we make sure our signs are clear and concise – easy to read and understand at a glance.

It hasn’t always been this way. In fact, in the early days of motoring, signs on BC highways were irregular, inconsistent and poorly produced. The neglect of highway signage during the war years resulted in a wide range of non-standard signage on BC Highways.

Enter the BC Provincial Sign Shop.

Established in 1949, to ensure that only good quality standard signs be used on BC highways, the sign shop created and produced most of the signage you see today.   Back then, normal production included hand-painted and screen-printed signs (today signs are produced in mass volumes, with the assistance of the latest computer technology).
The sign shop provided millions of signs to the Province through a state-of-the-art facility in Langford, until February of 1988 when it was privatized and purchased by its employees.

In 1995, the Provincial Sign Shop returned to the Ministry of Transportation and reopened its doors in Kamloops, with a focus on improving quality assurance, product specifications and product delivery.  Following the provincial government’s restructuring, which began in 2001, the Provincial Sign Shop was rebranded as the Provincial Sign Program.

Today the Provincial Sign Program provides design and procurement services for several provincial government ministries as well as airport authorities, BC Ferries and the federal government. Sign manufacturing is now provided outside of government through a competitive bid process. The Provincial Sign Program has been recognized across Canada as a leader in the sign industry by the City of Calgary, the Province of Ontario (on two separate occasions) and the sign shops which produce signs for British Columbia highways.

We recently found some old snapshots of the original sign shop and the production of some of those older signs for our highways. Enjoy!

A ministry employee at the Provincial Sign Shop screen-printing a sign, using a manual production table.
A ministry employee at the Provincial Sign Shop screen-printing a sign, using a manual production table.
A ministry employee at the Provincial Sign Shop baking a heat activated reflective sign face onto a satin coat steel sign blank, using a heat vacuum applicator.
A ministry employee at the Provincial Sign Shop baking a heat activated reflective sign face onto a satin coat steel sign blank, using a heat vacuum applicator.
A selection of highway signage, produced by the Provincial Sign Shop, on display, circa 1965.
A selection of highway signage, produced by the Provincial Sign Shop, on display, circa 1965.
A ministry staffer stands in front of a display of highway information signs, in 1965.
A ministry staffer stands in front of a display of highway information signs, in 1965.
A scuba diver retrieves BC highways signage from Lake Okanagan during the 1960s.
A scuba diver retrieves BC highways signage from Lake Okanagan during the 1960s.
Travellers view informational signage overlooking Osoyoos.
Travellers view informational signage overlooking Osoyoos.
Unique visual identifiers, like the Yellowhead (above) and Crowsnest (below), help motorists quickly identify their route.
Unique visual identifiers, like the Yellowhead (above) and Crowsnest (below), help motorists quickly identify their route.

Staff add metric measurements to regulatory speed signage following the move to metric in 1978.
Staff add metric measurements to regulatory speed signage following the move to metric in 1978.
This snapshot of a road distance sign (circa late 1970s) shows ways in which signage can become damaged and why they might need to be replaced.
It’s not just natural wear and tear but also intentional damage that causes us to replace signs. This snapshot of a road distance sign (circa late 1970s) shows ways in which signage can become damaged and why they might need to be replaced.
A collection of vintage highway number signs on display in the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructures regional office in Kamloops.
A collection of vintage highway number signs on display at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure’s Regional Office in Kamloops.

If you’re a fan of our signs, you might find these other stories interesting:

Do you have any questions or comments about this, or anything else we do here at the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure? Let us know in the comments below.

2 comments on “A Look Back at the BC Provincial Sign Shop”

Leave a Reply to James Cancel reply

  1. I’ve always been a sign enthusiast and have a small sign collection. I’ve noticed how BC’s highway signs have changed over the years, and some of the changes match the dates in the article. From the early days up until right around 1988, an old fashioned traditional font was used. Must have been up until the shop was privatized. Then it changed to a helvetica font, with a condensed version for signs with many words and letters. In 1995, the font was switched to ‘highway gothic’, and the new installs of street name signs were green instead of the traditional white. These changes make sense, with the newly reopened sign shop in Kamloops. The traffic signal standards were changed considerably around 1995 as well. I remember how the new signals seemed so futuristic.

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