News / Winnipeg

Project to throw spotlight on the Exchange District’s ghost signs

There are ghosts in the Exchange District and the Advertising Association of Winnipeg has set out to track them down.

The association has launched a project documenting all of the area’s ghost signs, the once eye-catching but now faded hand-painted outdoor ads on the area’s historic buildings.

“They’re one of these things that you see every day but don’t really think about,” said association president Matt Cohen of the medium that became popular in the 1890s but was virtually wiped out by the advent of billboards and vinyl banners in the 1960’s. “It’s part our history in the area. There’s so much emphasis on preserving the buildings… but ghosts signs don’t have that kind of protection.

“A lot of these are literally fading from existence.”

Before the signs disappear completely Cohen and a group of volunteers are cataloguing each one and will develop a history of the products and the painters—known as wall dogs—who hung off the roof of the buildings on ropes to create them.

The research will be complied on a website expected to launch in April.

“It’ll be like a Google Maps type of thing where you can click on a marker and it’ll show you the sign and all of its details,” explained Cohen of “The idea is to have something that’s interactive that can raise awareness about something that most people kind of overlook.”

To kick the project off Cohen is leading free exploratory tours of the Exchange District’s ghost signs Sept. 20 and 21 in conjunction with the Winnipeg Design Festival.

For more information on the tours go to and anyone with information about the signs or old photographs of them can contact Cohen by email at

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