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A Short History of Toronto’s Street Signs

As decommissioned signs are auctioned off, a look at how some of the city's iconic signage came to be.


The “acorn” street-name sign is as much a Toronto icon as are City Hall or the CN Tower. Though the design has graced the streets of many municipalities across Ontario and elsewhere for nearly 70 years, it’s thoughts of our city that it conjures up for many people. Its versatility allowed neighbourhoods and business improvement areas to display their identities to the world.

Once described by the Globe and Mail as consisting of “a separate metal frame, a painted white face with embossed black lettering and a three-dimensional acorn like the cherry on a sundae,” the acorn sign marked an improvement over earlier versions that were often illegible (if they were posted at all). But, as is often the case when it comes to infrastructure decisions, concerns about fiscal responsibility led city fathers to put off improving street signage while calls for action grew.

Though the design is being phased out for economic and safety reasons (the new signs are easier to read from a distance, meaning drivers are less likely to cause accidents while negotiating their routes), Torontonians retain their fondness for it. Bids in the current online auction for decommissioned signs run into the four-figure range.

Our gallery illustrates the history of Toronto’s street-name signs, including developments in the pre-amalgamation suburbs.

Additional material from the July 6, 1937, November 17, 1944, February 21, 1947, September 9, 1947, September 16, 1947, January 27, 1949, December 3, 1956, January 7, 1958, November 15, 1965, and February 11, 2011 editions of the Globe and Mail, and the October 23, 1926, July 5, 1948, July 24, 1959, December 23, 1968, March 19, 1970, September 14, 1996, July 11, 2004, February 8, 2007, and March 7, 2007 editions of the Toronto Star. Unless noted, all photos by Jamie Bradburn/Torontoist.


  • fenderbender

    who decided on the auction length, way too long, i’m sure i’m not the only person pissed off by it…

  • Steveinto

    I miss the lighted yellow and blue signs. Where did they go?

  • VictorianShuter

    I understand you’re covering an pretty huge scope, but I was wondering how far the Chinese and Greek signs go back.

  • tomwest

    I wish Toronto’s signs were larger.

  • PaidConservativeSupporter#64

    If you really want to impress people with how widespread the “acorns” are, they’re used in Dawson City, Yukon, just about as far from Toronto as you can get and still be in Canada.

  • Dwight Williams

    The opening collage of this article is poster-worthy at higher resolution. The visual diversity within this particular set of design limits is incredible!

  • BrothersMarkle

    Ha! Nicely done. Love to see Toronto’s Street Signs..

  • mjennings

    The acorn signs should of received heritage protection, they are now being replaced with a bland suburban type version that look out of place in the downtown area.

  • Dwight Williams

    Thanks for the linkage!