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Sam’s Sign is Still in the Dark

The future of Sam The Record Man signs gets dimmer by the day.

Sam Moving by Alfred Ng

Photo by {a href=""}alfred ng{/a}, from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

After years of planning, construction on Ryerson University’s $112 million student learning centre, located on the former site of the Sam The Record Man flagship store at 347 Yonge Street, began in May. Unfortunately, the iconic neon signage, synonymous with the location, has been left out of the design equation entirely.

Nonetheless, Ryerson remains obligated to display the heritage signs (there are actually two) somewhere on the premises when construction is complete in 2014. In the meantime, the iconic neon records gather dust in a warehouse.

How the university will eventually incorporate the mammoth, energy-sucking devices into its ultramodern new building remains to be seen.

Four years have passed since the Sam signs—which consisted of one set of two enormous, neon vinyl records, and another set of three less-enormous ones—last illuminated Yonge Street. Back then, before realizing they would cost approximately $250,000 to restore, Sheldon Levy, president of Ryerson University, made a show of removing the final neon tube.

He went so far as to harness himself into a scissor lift so he could perform the honour.

Back in 2007, before a single light bulb had been unscrewed, the signs received a reprieve when the city designated them with heritage status, which protected them from destruction with the force of law. Soon after, Ryerson entered a contract with the City. It required the university to incorporate the signs into the still yet-to-be-designed learning centre.

This never happened.

With the sign crated and shipped to a storage facility, the university changed its tune. By November of 2011, Levy was telling the Toronto Star, “There must be a better way to both use our money and to create the memory that people want.”

As things stand today, nobody seems to know what will end up happening. Michael Forbes, a Ryerson public affairs officer, told Torontoist recently that, “[The signs will] wait in storage until we come up with a final plan for what we’re going to do.”

In the meantime, Forbes said the university intends to recognize the Yonge Street strip’s contribution to the city’s historic music scene by creating a website on the subject. A music historian is writing content. Archival photographs are being gathered.

As for the other party in the contract, the City remains optimistic. Heritage Preservation Services is confident Ryerson will not renege on its commitment. Though staff have not recently been in discussion with Ryerson, Mary MacDonald, acting manager with Heritage Preservation Services, is confident the university will eventually meet its legal obligation.

Concerning the eventual placement of the signs, MacDonald said, “There is a location that is identified [in the agreement] and an alternative location.”

The agreement between the City and the university says Ryerson has the right to veto the City’s suggested locations. If this occurs, Ryerson is required to provide a third, City-approved location during the design phase of the student centre.

With the design phase apparently over, that’s no longer a viable option.

Citing safety concerns, the university declined Torontoist’s request to visit the facility where the sign is stored.

Heritage officials are taking Ryerson at their word. In the meantime, iconic pieces from Toronto’s past remain locked away.


  • Anonymous

    Not cool, Ryerson.

  • Canadianskeezix

    This is an instance where Kristyn Wong-Tam needs to call Sheldon Levy, advise him that the signs need to be publicly displayed full stop, and that Ryerson’s strategy of prevarication and avoidance is not acceptable.

  • Anonymous

    This article perpetuates a misconception about the heritage designation of the Sam’s signs; there never was a designation by-law passed by council for the former Sam’s property. Both the Star and Torontoist got this wrong back in 2007 too.

    A notice of intention to designate under the Ontario Heritage Act was served (, but no by-law was passed thereafter. You can check the entry for 349 Yonge St. on the City’s online inventory of heritage properties to confirm this ( There is no entry for 347 Yonge St.

    • Anonymous

      Does it matter whether or not the signs (not the property) were designated, if Ryerson and the City have a contract requiring their preservation and display?

      • Anonymous

        Maybe it seems like a technicality, but under the Ontario Heritage Act, only real property can be designated. This is probably why the designation by-law was never passed; if the signs are treated as movable property, they can’t be protected under the Act.

        I won’t speculate about the agreement between Ryerson and the city concerning the signs. I’ve never seen it. I just wanted clarity on what happened with the designation process.

        • Canadianskeezix

          Ryerson and the City reached a deal and the property was never designated. And yes, only a property can be designated under the OHA. But when a property is designated, the reasons for designation lists specific elements on the property that are to be protected. The City often uses designations to protect elements that are arguably as movable as these signs.

          The reason the City moved to initiate the designation process in 2007 was primarily due to the fact that the issuance of a Notice of Intention to Designate temporarily precluded anyone from demolishing the signs. It gave the City time to negotiate a solution, which they did. That’s my recollection, at least. I could be wrong.

          Given that the buildings themselves had no significant heritage value, and that the signs were not going to remain in situ during the redevelopment, it makes sense that the City would have secured the public interest by way of an agreement rather than a heritage designation. It presumably helped that Ryerson was a public entity and the City wasn’t dealing with a condo developer.

          • Anonymous

            Interesting. I had no idea that Ryerson was a public entity, I always assumed it was private.

          • Anonymous

            You thought wrong, in this case. And to be frank, the Snidermans should have tried to conduct their business a whole lot better than they did; if they had, Sam’s would still be there along with the famous signs.

          • Canadianskeezix

            I’m not sure that’s true. Record chains the world over are closing shop and/or significantly struggling. The Snidermans may not have helped the situation, but many of the factors that lead to Sam’s demise were beyond their control.

  • Anonymous

    Saving this ugly sign was never a good idea.

  • Rb754

    The signs were ugly. Recycle them and be done with it. Just because we looked at them for decades doesn’t mean we shoul keep them. They would look pretty stupid on a university building.

    • Canadianskeezix

      People seriously said the same thing about Old City Hall when the Eaton family wanted to demolish it. That’s the whole point of heritage protection – we just don’t destroy things because someone personally decides they are old and ugly. In any event, the public outcry at the time makes clear that there was a strong public view that the signs were historically significant. I don’t recall any competing “the signs are ugly” brigade.

      • Anonymous

        Big difference between a public building and an old (private) outdoor advertising sign. Or do you not care to see that?

        Torontoist: The place where everyone hates outdoor advertising unless it’s “old” and kitsch enough to be “hip”

        • Canadianskeezix

          Yes, torontothegreat, I do “care” to see that (whatever that means). I was not suggesting that Old City Hall and the Sam’s sign are the same thing. I was pointing out that subjective attitudes as to what is “ugly” is a bad basis for heritage planning.

          • Anonymous

            And you have #failed
            no point in flogging a dead horse.

          • Canadianskeezix

            Huh? How could I have failed making in making a comment? If you have no response, do you simply post non-sequiturs like this one?

      • Anonymous

        I think you’re confusing “heritage” with “nostalgia”. The signs were garish advertising. I didn’t mind them when they were up, but I wouldn’t be terribly sad if they never saw the light of day again.

        • Canadianskeezix

          Heritage and nostalgia are not mutually exclusive. We as a city spent a good portion of the 1950s and 1960s demolishing Victorian architecture, and the word “garish” was routinely used as justification.

          • Anonymous

            Fine, but let’s at least draw a distinction between architecture and advertising. Otherwise, God help us 50 year from now when Dundas Square comes up for redevelopment.

          • Anonymous

            Let’s make a further distinction between advertising and signage.

          • Anonymous

            The nuances between the two are so thin that distinction would be a futile exercise.

          • Canadianskeezix

            But heritage protection is not limited to architecture. As a province and a city, we protect everything from buildings to streetscapes to cultural landscapes as cultural heritage resources. The protection of this sign isn’t much different than a number of examples of facadism in this city. And while I agree with you about the merits of the signage in Dundas Square, I disagree with the “if we designate one house, we need to designate them all” theory.

    • Anonymous

      I doubt Ryerson would have gotten away with, say, removing and not replacing the Maple Leaf Gardens marquee, would they? It is inconvenient but that should have informed Ryerson’s decision to proceed with the project IN THE FIRST PLACE.

  • GreenMan

    Why immortalize the Sam’s sign? The company forced itself into bankruptcy twice (once as a national chain, and once as a single location retailer), conveniently retiring debt and laying off staff each time, and the deal with Ryerson provided the owners with a nice tax break, and other benefits. Why celebrate this legacy? If you like the logo so much, why not tattoo int on your butt cheeks? Besides, the sign has already been immortalize (in appropriately cheesy fashion) in The Incredible Hulk (2008), during the showdown between the green man and the Abomination, with Yonge St. exteriors doubling for NYC (see The scene also includes the “iconic” Zanzibar Tavern” sign… should we celebrate that too?

    • Canadianskeezix

      Using that logic, we should also demolish Casa Loma given Sir Henry Pellatt’s dubious business practices and the fact that he also went bankrupt.

      The motivation for protecting the signs was, IIRC, due to the fact that they were a landmark and harkened back to an earlier period along Yonge Street. In any event, people were remembering the store from the days of Sam Sniderman, when it played an instrumental role (pardon the pun) in the music scene in Toronto. The later actions of his son do nothing to diminish that importance. We don’t tear down all the plaques to Timothy Eaton simply because his great-grandsons ran the chain into the ground.

      In any event, heritage preservation is more than just protecting the nice aspects of our history. History is a lot more interesting if we remember all of it, warts and all.

      • Anonymous

        LOL, the “sign” is from the 60′s. The “building” (read: LANDMARK) was built over 100 years ago. Get a grip, it’s an old outdoor advert that needs to go away.

        • Canadianskeezix

          Most jurisdictions are now actively designating heritage resources from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. And the terms “heritage resources” and “historic places” are now being used since heritage protection has long since expanding beyond simply preserving old Victorian buildings.

          • Anonymous

            be that as it may, it doesn’t make your comparison any less ridiculous.

          • Canadianskeezix

            I wasn’t actually comparing the sign to Casa Loma. I was suggesting that a business failure does not cancel out the heritage aspect of a site.

          • Anonymous

            “Most jurisdictions”

            We’re talking about Toronto right?

            “has long since expanding beyond simply preserving old Victorian buildings”

            That’s not the point of heritage designation at all. Nowhere did I say it had to be an “old Victorian building” — your just putting words in my mouth. While heritage preservation covers a WIDE array of buildings (including Roy Thomson Hall, CN Tower) the Ontario Heritage Act has no provisions to protect store signs. Your “opinion” on this is much adieu about nothing…

          • Canadianskeezix

            Most juridictions and Toronto. And I believe you need to reread the Ontario Heritage Act.

            And is it possible for you to post without insults?

        • Jenniferhoskin

          I don’t care about this sign either way, but your LOL is misplaced. The sixties are a big focus of heritage designation these days. Something doesn’t fail to be a heritage object simply because it isn’t as old as, or is different than, Casa Loma.

          • Anonymous

            No, my LOL is not misplaced, but apparently your knowledge is. The Ontario Heritage Act has no provisions to protect store signs.


          • Canadianskeezix

            You misinterpreted the Toronto Star article. Read the comments above. The OHA requires that properties be designated. Technically, you cannot designate a sign. Technically, you can also not designate a building. However, in designating a property, the designation by-law contains reasons for designation which lists the elements being protected. The reasons will list elements like, depending on the circumstances, facades, interiors, external structures like signs and marquees, gardens, gates, fences, etc. The OHA has been even used to designate trees.

            You owe Jennifer an apology, because her knowledge on the subject appears to be greater than yours.

          • Anonymous

            No, I haven’t misinterpreted anything. I am confused however by your statements.

            You have previously stated that “the property was never designated” so are you now eluding that the property is IN FACT designated? If you’re not, than my assumption about Jennifer’s knowledge is spot on and you’re just talking a lot of shit at this point about what if’s and what if not’s

          • Canadianskeezix

            I never said or implied that the property was designated. In fact, I plainly said the opposite. I was simply responding to your incorrect statements about the Ontario Heritage Act, and your suggestion (based on your incorrect statements about the Ontario Heritage Act) that Jennifer was wrong (she isn’t).

            And, seriously, why do you feel the need to add stuff like “you’re just talking a lot of shit” to your posts? How is that helpful? You say I am talking shit but you don’t even respond to or counter the substantive points I made about the OHA. If I am talking shit, then what specifically did I say about the scope of designations under the OHA which with you disagree?

          • Anonymous

            You’re being confusing.

            I said: “The Ontario Heritage Act has no provisions to protect store signs.”

            You said: “Technically, you cannot designate a sign”

            Now you say: ” I was simply responding to your incorrect statements about the Ontario Heritage Act”

            Jennifer on the other hand said: “Something doesn’t fail to be a heritage object simply because it isn’t as old as, or is different than, Casa Loma.”

            And it DOES fail to be a heritage object by SIMPLY BEING A SIGN! Get it?

          • Canadianskeezix

            Seriously? Are you joking? Did you just read random sentences and ignore the rest? Is someone pulling my leg? You do understand, that you can’t just take random sentences, ignore everything else, and jump to conclusions? You do understand that I said quite the opposite of what you are suggesting I said?

            OMG. I should never feed the troll. This is insane.

          • Anonymous

            I’m really unsure what your damage is… I’m not trolling but if that makes you feel better, power to ya! Great cop-out for your wishy washy-ness!

            There is nothing random about the context of these sentences and how they relate to each other. If there is something specific you’re confused by, please ask.

          • Canadianskeezix

            I wasn’t making a comparison between the sign and Casa Loma.

      • Anonymous

        Except that Pellat’s place was (and still is) an architectural marvel; I don’t think the Sam’s sign quite qualifies as one.

        Also, I love how many Torontonians (such as Dave Meslin) love old advertising signage, but hate new advertising signage, simply because it’s not ‘kitsch’ enough.

  • Anon11

    Funny how all these preservationists want to save the world, as long as it’s not out of THEIR pocket. If the signs were really worth that much, some strange and wealthy collector would have probably already purchased them to put them in his medieval castle replica. The fact that NOBODY did this tells a lot about their worth. The fact that the city had to force ryerson to preserve them reinforces the point. The truth is that these signs were never to exceptional piece of art. Bent neon tubes are ubiquitous and not know for their cultural value. As someone else this is pure nostalgia and cannot even begin to be compared with old city hall.

    • Anonymous

      Was there anything preventing Ryerson from figuring out how much the signs would end up costing when they agreed to preserve them… this really isn’t about whether or not the signs should be preserved… Ryerson agreed to preserve them full stop… so they should.

    • Canadianskeezix

      Who said they were an exceptional piece of art? In all the discussions over the preservation about these signs, I do not recall one person making that claim. Nor I am aware of that being the criterion for heritage preservation.

    • Adam Gorley

      This is probably the best idea: put the signs up for bid to be used somewhere in downtown Toronto by a private business.

      For example, a consortium could buy them and incorporate them into Dundas Square. That would be a pretty obvious choice.

      Ryerson appears not to want them, and they won’t fit back on Yonge—at least not on the new Ryerson building. Better to sell them to someone who wants them and will use them.

  • OgtheDim

    “the university intends to recognize the Yonge Street strip’s contribution to the city’s historic music scene by creating a website on the subject.”

    Lame, and lazy.

  • Mark Jull

    Yeah, the sign’s cool, but imagine in a few years. There’s a Sam the Record Man on the side of a university building.
    “What’s that there for?”
    “Oh, there used to be this record store there. It closed and the city made them keep the sign.”
    “Uh, ok – haven’t lots of other shops closed?”
    “Yeah, like A&A with their sign next door. I think it cost the university, like, $300,000 or something. Too bad. They could’ve used that for scholarships or fix up the library or something.”

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, the house’s cool, but imagine in a few years. There’s a tiny old Georgian house on Queen West.
      “What’s that there for?”
      “Oh, there used to be this family that lived there. It’s one of the only Georgian homes left from two hundred years ago and the city kept the house.”
      “Uh, ok – haven’t lots of other houses been built?”
      “Yeah, like all over the suburbs. Too bad. They could have put a Tim Horton’s here.”

      • Mark Jull

        Yeah, it’s not my greatest contribution to Torontoist.. But there’s a difference between a building that old and this old sign, no? Or even a difference between what old buildings contribute to the city and old signs? And there’s a difference between a university building and a Tim Horton’s.

        If you mean Campbell House, I’m sure you know it was moved in the late 70s or early 80s to its current location so a bunch of rich guys could have a club house (John Sewell opposed this). I notice many tourists now lining up to see the old house, something I can’t imagine for this old sign. But, like the Campbell House, couldn’t the sign go elsewhere? Like Yonge and Dundas square? Or if there are many people that want to save this sign, perhaps a “Friends of…” group could organize like those who ‘saved’ Old City Hall.

        And I do understand that saving this sign was something Levy said he’d do. Did he ‘promise’? Is there a signature somewhere? Are there still plans to put it somewhere? I don’t know.

        • Canadianskeezix

          Ryerson signed an agreement. They bought the property knowing of the obligation, and assuming it was like any other real estate deal, the purchase price would have been reflected the heritage obligation.

    • Anonymous

      “Oh, there used to be this record store there. It closed and the city made them keep the sign.”
      “What’s a record?”

  • Anonymous

    Property developer skates away from its obligations and explicit promises. But oh wait it’s a university so that’s okay.

    • Suicide Boi

      It is OK because upholding that promise is not in the public interest (as it would be a waste of money which could be better used elsewhere).

      • Anonymous

        Ryerson should have thought of that before. We don’t want to see future instances of public institutions being trojan horses for projects which would be refused if proposed privately.

  • Suicide Boi

    Sell the signs and be done with it. Or just throw them away. If this garbage is the “heritage” this city has to protect then it’s not worth protecting.

    Universities don’t have the money to waste on this nonsense. Getting involved in this whole “Ryerson needs a frontage on Yonge St.” business was a mistake.

  • Andrew

    Put it in the floor under glass. How cool would that be”?

  • Anonymous

    Another sign I hope gets heritage designation to protect it is the Scheinders sign along the 401 eats of Kitchener where Scheinders originated though since being bought out by Maple Leaf, something the original owners were desperately trying to avoid when they sold the company because of Maple Leafs terrible labour practices and habit of buying up smaller meat packers just to shut them down to reduce competition, they sold instead to another company who then sold it it to Maple Leaf who is now shutting down Scheinders plants but keeping the name for marketing purposes only.

    Scheinders was a big deal in Kitchener’s heritage. Granted that sign isn’t in Kitchener and Scheinders history in Kitchener has been kept in other ways seeing that sign has always meant to me that I’m almost home. I grew up in Kitchener, as a kid whenever we traveled somewhere seeing that Scheinders sign meant our long trip was almost over. Today when I live in Toronto seeing it means that I’m almost back to see my family and where I grew up. For many in the region it has the same sort of significance that the Sam the Record Man sign has. Luckily its in a field so there’s no imminent threat of it being torn down, but given the corporate ruthlessness of Maple Leaf they may not be willing to pay to maintain it. I can only hope it gets designated.

    So many Kitchener-Waterloo home grown industries and retailers have been bought up and shut down by larger corporate entities trying to gain a toe hold in that market or to get rid of competition for their own products. Kitchener used to have a strong, homegrown, unique and proud industrial and retail sector that has been wiped out in the last couple of decades or so. Even its famous farmer’s market is a shadow of its past since the Mennonites are no longer to bring their horses and wagons into the modern city. But at least nearby St Jacobs has managed to keep one of its industries, Home Hardware and its farmer’s market has taken over from Kitchener’s as one of a very few true farmer’s markets.

  • Yoyi

    If the signs are ugly and only served to advertise then the Toronto Maple Leafs should change the their logo which only serves to advertise and represents an ugly hockey franchise.