Gastown poster – 1960s or 1970s style

Gastown Poster by Massei Matheson

Because of my research on a 1976 event, people keep bringing me things from that general era. Thanks to my friend Resi for finding this in her mother’s house and bringing it to me yesterday. Not only is this Vancouver neighbourhood nearby to me (and now gentrified many times over), the map shows the Gastown Wax Museum where I worked many a summer in Vancouver, though its sign seems to be on the wrong building. Did it move?

This Edwardian style with its cartoon pioneer typography seems unavoidable in these old map posters. Did every North American city have a version of this? I love these posters inordinately even while I am simultaneously really tired of their quasi-wild west saloon vibe and oldey-timey national myth of origin that is a clichéd staple of Vancouver and N. American tourism products and that we really need need to replace with something else in this country/continent (Happy Canada Day/Fourth of July everyone). Still, there was one that depicted Victoria’s downtown and Chinatown in incredible detail that hung in the bathroom at my grandfather’s house, and I would become lost in it for hours as a kid.

PS I love the exploded perspective. And the colours. (Sorry, I will try to upload a clearer image later.)

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2 Responses to “Gastown poster – 1960s or 1970s style”

  1. Erica W. Says:

    I’m from Springfield, Mass and grew up in the 1970s and remember a lot of advertising and civic-type things with this Victorian/Edwardian vibe from the time – I thought they were cute then and I think they’re cute now. I even had some kind of Barbie doll cardboard cutout with this font. And the show Rhoda had a lot of this (she was a window dresser, I believe).

    I always imagined the fashion started in the West (San Francisco and probably Vancouver) and then came East. The Victorian street that I live on now was saved from urban renewal/demolition (they wanted to knock down ten houses and build surface parking) because the houses were about 100 years old in the 1970s. The people who were active in saving the street at that time made a poster with a very similar font to the one in the Gastown poster.

    I think of these posters/fonts/general vibe as a reconnection with what was going on 100 years earlier — westward expansion (yes, and the killing of the native people that entailed), railroad travel, etc. etc. and that our 1970s people were thinking of the promise of better living through Victorian engineering that the 1870s offered. Here in the Northeast U.S., the 1970s were a pretty grim time — terrible urban blight and poverty, Vietnam, gas crisis — I bet all those new inventions and seemingly unlimited coal and steel (and no income tax) seemed very alluring at the time.

  2. LB Says:

    Yes, and it has been argued by Vancouver writer and curator Scott Watson and others that the Edwardian fashions of the 1970s were associated with that housing stock, because hippies and counterculture were living in those by-then rundown houses and protesting their demolition in the face of modernism and the highrises etc. the developers were putting up. (And now we’re nostalgic for that modernism…and so it goes.) It’s hard not to be sympathetic with their position on the old houses. And of course there was the same nostalgia for “simpler times” that we’re seeing now. Then it was political opposition to the face of modern warfare, recession etc. The entrepreneurial, gentrifying manner of the current heritage hipster thing is perhaps making me more retroactively suspicious of aspects of the 1970s precursor than I should be, since they are qualititatively different. I don’t know, I’m still working it out. This Edwardian/Victorian thing is just such a dominant narrative in the white “counterculture” over several eras and I just find myself wondering if there isn’t something profoundly conservative inside it, which is why I put it in quotes. But again I do think there’s a big difference between the 1970s instance of it and today’s, and that’s a political difference. The aspect that bothers me is the romantic narrative or whiff of colonial expansion and we see that in both.

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