Read the Signs

The CBRM is “considering how to best address temporary signs within CBRM and whether to regulate them.”

Under consideration are those signs “commonly displayed as black roadside signs with interchangeable lettering”

Back in 2015, Halifax passed a temporary sign by-law dealing with these — and other types of — temporary signs, so I checked out the Halifax by-law online and then went to see what kind of response it had provoked but, as I should have anticipated, if you type “Halifax” and “temporary” into Google these days, you are immediately inundated with stories about temporary shelters for people without homes. This wasn’t helpful in gauging public reaction to the sign by-law, but it did help put this issue into perspective.

CBRM’s planning department had begun work on a sign by-law back in 2019, forming what Planning Director Michael Ruus called “a working group of internal and external stakeholders” that was preparing to hold public sessions on the matter when the pandemic hit. Ruus told council in November that, with COVID restrictions easing, the group had reconvened and was ready to restart the public consultations.

I wanted to know who made up this working group, so I wrote the CBRM Clerk who forwarded my question to Ruus who emailed me to say:

The Sign By-law Working Group is made up of representatives of several groups:

  • Business community
  • Mobile sign businesses
  • Tourism sector
  • General public
  • CBRM Police Service
  • Engineering and Public Works Department
  • Planning and Development Department

Please let us know if you have any further questions.

I let him know I had a further question — I asked if I could have the names of these people and on Wednesday morning, he provided me with them, although he did not note their affiliations, so I’ve added them where I could:

  • Michelle Wilson (Downtown Development Association)
  • Kathleen Yurchesyn (CB Regional Chamber of Commerce)
  • Craig Boudreau (CB Regional Chamber of Commerce and owner of Magnet Signs)
  • Terry Smith (Destination Cape Breton)
  • Nathan MacNeil (General Public?)
  • Kenneth O’Neill (CBRPS I presume)
  • Ray Boudreau (CBRM)
  • Mary Lynn MacPhee (CBRM)
  • Kristen Knudskov (CBRM Planning)

I’d say the “general public” is decidedly outnumbered here.


What do you think?

The first step in the information-gathering efforts is an online survey. The CBRM tweeted out this invitation to citizens to take it:

CBRM survey on temporary signs


That message is ambiguous. My initial interpretation was that they wanted me to tell them what I thought on a temporary mobile sign:


(Worth a try, right?)

On Twitter, where I saw this invitation, it was immediately pointed out that these signs are not in CBRM, are in much better condition than many of the temporary signs in CBRM and are all standalones rather than the little, mushroom-like clusters we’ve become accustomed to here.

The original pictures, which are also used in the survey, are intended to represent the three types of temporary sign under discussion — mobile signs (the ones with the interchangeable letters), box signs (the ones with the constructed wooden bases) and printed signs (the ones more like mini-billboards).

As a public service, I did a (non-exhaustive) search for temporary signs in CBRM —  both online and IRL — and while I didn’t run across any box signs, I did find examples of the other two types. So I fixed the ad:


The survey asks exactly the kind of questions Ruus told council it would, that is, questions related to:

  • Number of permitted signs on commercial properties;
  • Permitted duration of signs on properties;
  • Separation distances for signs; and
  • Locations where signs are permitted



As noted earlier, Halifax passed a temporary sign by-law in 2015. Here are a few highlights:

In HRM, you need a license to put a mobile sign on private property and that license will cost you $30 per 30 days to a maximum of one year.

There are a couple of zones within HRM (like Downtown Dartmouth) where mobile signs are not permitted and while they are permitted on vacant lots, those lots must be owned by the business owner and abut or sit directly across the street from the business being advertised.

Mobile signs must be located at least 100 feet away from other mobile signs (or box signs), the sign area can’t exceed 50 square feet and the signs can’t be higher than 10 feet (12 feet for box signs).

On a street without curbs, mobile signs must be at least 23 feet from the edge of the pavement. On streets with curbs, the minimum setback is 15 feet.

Mobile signs must also:

…incorporate a full frame system or equivalent which utilizes pre-formed concrete weights or other acceptable materials for stability but shall not include a fixed foundation nor use sandbags or other loose weights on frame legs.



When council discussed restarting the by-law consultations, District 1 Councilor Gordon MacDonald asked if the impact of the by-law on jobs would be considered and he was assured it would be.

My own survey of local signs (which, again, was not at all exhaustive) produced evidence of five providers:

Magnet Signs, a Cape Breton franchise operation owned by Craig Boudreau, the vice president of the Cape Breton Regional Chamber of Commerce and a member of the by-law working group.

Lyla’s Mobile Signs, registered to Jeffrey Briand of Island Movers and Storage, in South Bar.

Ceilidh Signs, registered to Sheldon MacKinnon of Sydney.

Shoutout Advertising, which I found on Facebook but for which I could find no ownership information. (You can easily identify their signs, though, as they seem to have a shortage of “Y’s” in their letter collection and are forced to create them by combining “V’s” with periods).

CB Signs, for which I could find no listing in the NS Joint Stock Registry or website or Facebook page.

I don’t know how many people are employed installing signs for these companies, but if the point of the CBRM by-law is to regulate rather than ban temporary signs, there will presumably still be work to be had installing them. (It’s a question sign providers in HRM could answer.)

Personally, I find these signs incredibly ugly and I particularly dislike the ones in Sydney River that welcome visitors to our community with talk of asbestos, mold and vermin. (The survey asks specifically if we should limit the number of signs on routes heavily traveled by tourists).

But I would be remiss if I didn’t include this example I found of a temporary sign, because it shows the provider in a very good light:

temporary sign lost dog


If you have an opinion on temporary signs (and I suspect most of you do) be sure to share it with the CBRM. Here’s the survey link again.