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Nelson neon at night, 1968

Updated: Apr 12, 2019

Recently I’ve been posting photos by the late Ellis Anderson on the Lost Kootenays Facebook site. Anderson was a Creston photographer who took brilliant colour shots of the Kootenays in the 1960s and ‘70s and produced postcards, some of which you can still buy in stores and museums.

After Ellis died in 1990, Don Lyon acquired his photo collection — thousands upon thousands of yellow and pink packages of negatives, positives, and small prints. When Don died in 2013, his wife Heather let me go through the collection and pull what I thought might be valuable to local historical societies. I divided them up among several organizations, including the Arrow Lakes Historical Society, which has since scanned hundreds of Anderson’s images and made them available on their website.

Recently, I came across a package that I hadn’t noticed before, labelled “Nelson (night)” and stamped November 1968. There were no prints with these, but the three strips of colour positives, totaling six images, were a revelation: they showed the 400 block of Baker Street on a rainy night, with numerous neon signs lit up in their glory. I don’t know why Anderson didn’t have prints made; they were perhaps a bit too dark for his liking, but he otherwise made reference prints of virtually all of his photos.

These ones are stunning to say the least and I had them scanned at Nelson Fine Art Printing. They are seen here for the first time since they were taken nearly 50 years ago.

Of the six shots, four face west and two face east, and for the most part, each set is identical. But there’s one notable difference between the first west-facing shot and the rest. Although taken only moments apart (judging from the position of the cars), the Use Nabob sign on the roof of Ken’s Cafe was turned on between shots. I recently wrote about this sign, although I wasn’t sure if it was neon, never having seen it at night — until now.

The signs seen in the photo above are, from left: Woolworth’s, Mann Drugs, Fred Whiteley’s Sport Shop (the latter two in the KWC block), Sweet 16 fashion store, the Standard Cafe, Canadian Pacific telegraph office, a Zenith TV dealer, and the Royal Hotel.

On the right, we have a terrific image of Wait’s News (which is still there), with the interior visible. Signs in the window say “Lunch counter/Groceries/24 hour service/Magazines/Tobaccos.”

In this shot you can even see a man and a woman through the window.

Behind Wait’s are signs for Ramsay’s cameras (which later moved across the street and became an art supply store), Ken’s Cafe, the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (which is still there), Milady’s fashions, Ted Allen’s Jewellery (still there), Hipperson Hardware (still there) and Mutual Life of Canada.

In the versions where the Use Nabob sign is turned on, you can also see a painted sign on the side of Ken’s Cafe for the LD Cafe, the name by which it was previously known. That sign is still there but has been painted over.

Here is one of the photos looking the opposite direction.

At right, we can see additional signs for Blakeman’s, which sold fine English China, giftware, art ware, crystal, souvenirs, and greeting cards; City Drug; and Darwin’s Produce, which was around until a few years ago. At left, a second Nabob Coffee sign on the roof of Ken’s Cafe is visible.

Further in the distance, in the 500 block, signs can be seen for Sally Shops, Simpson Sears, Nelson Electric, a fabric shop, the Cameo Cafe, a finance and loan business, the Purple Lantern, and the Greyhound depot.

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