Ghosts in the Rockies


Probably the best ghost sign collection I have seen – Missoula, Montana

In one of the many ironies of destroying my knee in May, we were left with a race against time to see if I was fit enough to go on a booked holiday in late August and early September. Would I make it to our walking holiday in the Canadian Rockies and northern Montana?

Well I made it, but not to do any walking. Recovery remains a work in progress. But, in a compensatory fashion it meant we spent more time in small towns and discovered a collection of ghost signs, historic stores, store museums and various other historic retail artefacts. It was not the focus of the holiday (honest) but we accidentally came across some fun retail things.

So what follows are some of my holiday snaps – those with a retail history theme. As can be seen from the photo at the head of this post, some of the ghost signs and history were spectacular.

Buried deep in the Montana wildness, was the ghost town of Garnet. In a relatively difficult ravine, the town is in the state of preserved decay. I could not explore much, but the shop on the main street had a collection of artefacts and gave a sense of the past. Having to dig it out of the snow each year must be a fun pastime. I loved the wooden skis.


In contrast to the preserved oldness of Garnet, the museum of Fort Steele in British Columbia was an altogether different experience. Whilst some of the shops and street buildings were being allowed to decay as being too far gone, many had been restored and preserved. Not all were from the original settlement, and some were being reused in a modern way (the bakery, the hotel etc) so the whole settlement was hardly original, but there was considerable interest in just walking around and in the old stores.

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More generally, in all the small towns we visited there were reminders of the past in the form of ghost signs and great retail design. The brick work in many of these places lends itself to painted signs, and the photos below (from Kalispell, Hamilton and Banff) are a reminder of this lost art.



As ever, we are at the mercy of what survives, and whilst these examples are wonderful there is a sense of their fragility and lack of permanence.  What we preserve, allow to decay, or protect present real and difficult choices. Enjoy these reminders of the past while we can.


A better photographer would have been able to show this Coca-Cola sign in a better state, Kalispell



About Leigh Sparks

I am Professor of Retail Studies at the Institute for Retail Studies, University of Stirling, where I research and teach aspects of retailing and retail supply chains, alongside various colleagues. I am Chair of Scotland's Towns Partnership. I am also a Deputy Principal of the University, with responsibility for Education and Students and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
This entry was posted in Advertising, Architecture, Buildings, Canada, Corporate branding, Downtown, Ghost Signs, Heritage, High Streets, Historic Shops, Places, Retail History, Signage, Small Towns, Streetscapes, Urban History, USA and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Ghosts in the Rockies

  1. Anne Findlay says:

    Glad you managed to go. We did a similar trip going to Calgary and circling through Banff etc and then to Montana. I recall that town in Montana. I also recall a fine day at Fort Steele. There were actors recreating the circumstances by which Fort Steele was not on the railroad and a scene in the school. I remember Hamish being volunteered into the action! I even nicked a trick they did and used it for an event in Blebo to launch an exhibition of old Blebo!



  2. Pingback: Ghostsigns: A London Story | Stirlingretail

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