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Jun 06, 2020
Behind the Lens by Shaune Thompson
One of Montreal’s most iconic landmarks is the Farine Five Roses sign. It is a massive neon sign that greets you when you drive towards Montreal from the Champlain Bridge. This neon sign is one of our city’s most historical monuments and comes with a fair bit of history.
The lake of the Woods Milling Company Limited was the mill's first owner and opened in 1946. The iconic neon sign was built two years later in 1948. It originally said Farine Ogilvie Flour named after the Ogilvie Flour Mills Co. Ltd., that would later become the mill's new owner. In 1954, the sign was changed to Farine Five Roses Flour when Ogilvie bought Lake of the Wood Milling and acquired the Five Roses brand. Two decades later in 1977, the company was forced to remove the word “Flour” from the sign to be in compliance with Quebec’s French legislation Bill 101.
In mid-July 2006, Ogilvie was purchased by Archer Daniels Midland Company (ADM), who eventually sold the Farine Five Roses brand to Smuckers. Later that summer, the sign was turned off seemingly permanent, causing public outrage over their plan to dismantle it. Advocacy groups such as Heritage Montreal and the Farine Five Roses Project came together to save what they considered a historical Montreal landmark. The sign was promptly turned back on, but its fate remained unclear.
The sign was left in a state of disrepair for decades and was even deemed a public safety issue due to neglect. Finally in December 2013, the city announced that ADM and Smuckers would be preserving the sign after all when Le Devoir reported that nearly one million dollars is to be spent on its renovation. Montreal gets to keep it's sign... for now.
The sign currently consists of fifteen letters arranged in two rows, repeated on both sides of the sign: ‘FARINE / FIVE ROSES’. These letters are each about 15 ft. tall, supported by a huge open scaffold, such that the words stand out prominently against the night sky, especially when approaching the city from the South shore of the St. Lawrence River (eg driving over the Champlain Bridge). The words are currently outlined in white and in-filled with red. At night they are lit by red neon laid into the red parts; the first word ‘FARINE’ is described in outline, while more elaborate rows of red neon up to three lights wide describe the words ‘FIVE ROSES’. These words flash on and off in a slow rotation, such that one full cycle – lasting about 22 seconds – is as follows: top row on, bottom row on, both off; top row on, bottom row on, both off; top and bottom on, top and bottom off.
Sources: Farine Five Roses
Photo credits: Two historical images from the University of Manitoba Archives and Special Collections, noted under the images.
This year I will be participating in the National Arts Drive with my fellow artists as we bring the windows of the Complexe du Canal Lachine to life with our art!
The event will take place on June 20th between 4 and 7pm. The artists will be respecting the government safety regulations as well as the strict guidelines of the event and we will remain inside the complexe. We encourage our guests to "drive by" and admire all the works. I will be available by appointment only if you or someone you know is interesting in purchasing my art. For more information on being a driver and getting all the information on the participating artists in the Saint-Henri and surrounding Montreal areas, please consult the nationalartsdrive.com website for more details: Check here!
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