Explore Vancouver’s Neon Past with new “augmented reality” app

Photo credit: Ken Oakes, Vancouver Sun, 1960

During the 1950s and 1960s, Vancouver was home to some 19,000 neon signs.  At night, the Chinatown and Granville Street neighbourhoods glowed with garish turquoise, pink and red marquees, advertising everything from cabarets to drug stores and even funeral homes.

By-laws enacted in the 1970s resulted in a crackdown on the city’s neon signage.  But it’s now possible to relive Vancouver’s neon heyday with a new app from the Museum of Vancouver.

The Visible City app, available for iPhone and Android on April 30, takes users on interactive walking tours of bygone neon landmarks in Chinatown and along Granville Street.  Thanks to new augmented reality technology, when you hold your camera up to current-day scenes, the app shows how the same location looked in all its former neon glory.

The app was developed by the Museum of Vancouver, which says it is the first cultural institution in North America to make use of augmented reality.  It’s accompanied by an online exhibition, as well as the extremely popular Neon Vancouver, Ugly Vancouver exhibit, a permanent installation of 22 salvaged signs that debuted in the museum in 2011.

Vancouverites weren’t always so nostalgic about their neon, however.

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Explore Vancouver’s Neon Past with new “augmented reality” app