I went for a rather long and meandering walk on Wednesday (the results of which can be seen here), and while I came across a couple of interesting things, there was a spot on Bay Street, where it intersects with Lisgar, that I found particularly of note.
There, on an otherwise nondescript building, the faint remnants of the words “Scharf Grocer” (or perhaps “Grocery”, it looks as though there may be another letter that faded entirely) were painted on the side of the building. A ghost sign, in other words—those faded reminders that there was once something else here, and that no matter how familiar we are with the urban landscapes we pass through every day, there’s always a past and a history which generally remains hidden to us.
I love ghost signs for precisely this reason. They always stop and make me wonder about them. This one, for instance, makes me wonder if this used to be a hub for the northwest side of Centretown. Perhaps fifty or sixty years ago, this was a thriving corner where locals stopped to buy fruit and vegetables on their way home from work. Or perhaps not. It’s next to impossible to find information about these relics of the past, so all we can ever do is speculate.
Ottawa doesn’t have many of these ghost signs, at least not compared to some cities, but there are a number of them scattered across the city’s older neighborhoods. Next time you see one, stop for a moment, and let yourself be reminded of how much our cities are in a constant state of change. These signs, in the grand scheme of things, are not that old, yet from an urban perspective they are fossils, barely discernable and incomplete messages from the past. And they can’t help but make you wonder what, in sixty years time, the urban fossils of today’s Ottawa will look like.