Buildings, Businesses

Ghost Signs in Kingston

Kingston has a number of “ghost signs” of various kinds in the downtown area. Although the term is normally used to describe old painted signs on the sides of buildings, I’ve included some interesting examples of more permanent types of signage that have remained. If there are any more out there I’d love to know!

Excuse my un-artistic and kind of spatially disorienting photos – I had wanted to take photos of each whole building but found I couldn’t get enough detail that way.

University Drug Store sign, 260 University Avenue


This sign will be most familiar to Queen’s students. It’s visible on the Johnson St. side of 260 University Ave. and is partially obscured by some later brickwork. A grocery store operated at the corner of University and Johnson since at least the 1880s, but the University Drug Store didn’t open until 1916. It’s hard to tell how old the sign is, because I don’t know how long the University Drug Store was in operation. Judging by the style I’d guess it’s no later than the 1950s. However, examining the lettering reveals that there may actually be two signs overlapping each other here.

“Dry Goods” sign, 352 King Street East

I added arrows so you can see it better.

I added arrows so you can see it better.

Just barely visible on the upper storey of 325 King St. (A-One Clothing), this sign is a mystery to me, although it’s probably quite old. A jumble of shops operated on this block over the years, several of them selling what could be termed “dry goods.” I can only date it to before people stopped calling things dry goods. I should mention I didn’t actually find this sign myself – I remember seeing it on a website somewhere a long time ago, although I forget which. I’m not sure who to give credit to, but let it be known that I do give credit!

Mills storefront, Princess Street below Shopper’s Drug Mart


This storefront is the last vestige of George Mills & Co. Hats and Furs, a business that thrived in Kingston for many years. I believe it began sometime in the 1870s, and operated in several locations downtown (notably in the large heritage building on Wellington Street, now Scotiabank) before moving to its “current” location in about 1907. However, judging by photographs and the Art Deco design of the structure, this storefront was built later on – I’d guess the 1930s.

Modern Fuel sign, 21 Queen Street

modern fuel

Modern Fuel Art Gallery, which currently occupies this site (though not for much longer, due to the opening of the Isabel Bader Performing Arts Centre) have conveniently explained some of the history behind this sign on their History page. The building was constructed in 1848 for the City of Kingston Gaslight Company, and was bought by the city in 1904. The sign, which reads “Gas – The Modern Fuel” probably dates from after that time. I love the punchy slogan, and it provides an excellent name for a contemporary art gallery.

McMahon Bros. Hardware sign, 85-87 Princess Street


This sign is at the current site of Wayfarer Books. McMahon Bros. Hardware was established in this building sometime between 1873-1883, and remained there until 1892 or 1893 when W.A. Mitchell took it over. I noticed the sign after seeing this photograph on Vintage Kingston, which shows a sign at this location advertising Mitchell’s hardware store:

Princess St. after 1893

Princess St. sometime after 1893. Sign is in the centre of the photograph. (click photo to go to source)

It wasn’t till I took a closer look at my own photograph that I realized the ghost sign doesn’t say W.A. Mitchell, but McMahon Bros. The McMahons must have gotten hold of some pretty impressive paint, because their sign has been there for over 120 years despite other advertisements having been painted over and scrubbed off the same wall.

Dr. Kilborn’s sign, 244 King Street East


In the window above the doorway at 244 King St., gold letters spell out the name “Dr. Kilborn.” Dr. Roland K. Kilborn lived at this address from 1896 until his death in 1916, although his family continued to occupy the house for some years after. Before 1896, he had been Medical Superintendent at KGH for several years. He moved into 244 King after another doctor vacated it. (His office hours were 2-4 p.m. and 7-8 p.m.; telephone 342!) I suppose the sign was unobtrusive enough to keep after Dr. Kilborn’s death, and apparently it has been ever since.

(While taking photographs for this post, my mom pointed out to me another “doctor” sign I had missed, this one for Dr. Anglin on Earl St. There are probably more of these around town.)


January 14, 2015 update: Clark Wright Furs and Hats and Ohlke’s Art Decorations, 182-84 Wellington Street

At least two overlapping ghost signs on this place. (my photo)

At least two overlapping ghost signs on this place. (my photo)

I discovered ghost signs on this building while doing my post on women in business, and can make out two distinct ones from different businesses, although they’re hard to see. The first is from Clark Wright Hats and Furs. This shop was in Kingston since at least 1855, although it was originally on Brock Street. Further directories show it on Wellington Street by 1867, although since street numbering has changed it’s difficult to tell when it moved to this location, and for how long.

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Does that make it any easier to see? By 1889, Paul Ohlke’s “art decoration” shop had moved to this location. It seems to have been kind of like an interior design store, selling mouldings, framing pictures, and offering other items like easels, engravings, and “plush goods.” This is the only remnant I can find of its signage; it’s extremely faint but I swear I’m not making it up! I actually recognized that it said “mouldings” before I even looked up the store:

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Ohlke’s was only here for a few years; later a branch of the Mills family hat and fur shop was here, and even later Emma Greaza moved her own hat shop here. This building was a hat store for something like 70 years of its existence.


All photographs are mine except for the one obvious example taken 120 years ago. I don’t know who holds this photograph, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Queen’s Archives has a copy.

I’ve relied on the trusty Kingston City Directories for much of my information. Full disclosure: they’re actually not-so-trusty. They’re often incomplete and/or erroneous, like many such publications, and only selected years are available. That’s why I’ve included the word “about” with some of my dates. However, generally they’re a good source of information, and for low-stakes research like this they’re incredibly handy. Big thank you to the Kingston and Frontenac Public Library for digitizing them.

Biographical information on Dr. Roland Kilborn was found with


2 thoughts on “Ghost Signs in Kingston

  1. David McCallum says:

    Hello, (If you are still checking responses to this site) I have enjoyed most of your SPECTRES OF KINGSTON’S PAST blogs, but I don’t remember seeing this one until now (I think, I hope). Many of your posts are about subjects which have also interested me, i.e.: Clifford Johnson, buildings which had lost their tops. I recently completed an article about “ghost signs” of Kingston (I referred to them as “palimpsests”) and have completed research on further examples. You have found “ghost signs” I had not discovered and I am very impressed with your deciphering of the signage on the “Clark Wright” building – “mouldings” completely baffled me. If interested, I can send you a copy of my piece on “ghost signs”. Dave

    • Hi David, thanks for your interest in my blog! I would be very interested in reading your article. If it’s electronic, you can send it to me at f.brzezicki at gmail dot com.

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