A Montreal university is working hard to preserve 20th century signs that offer clues about the city’s history.

Matt Soar, who teaches communication studies at Concordia University, says he runs the Montreal Signs Project on “about zero budget.”

Among the treasures he’s recently saved is from the Silver Dragon Chinese restaurant sign, which dates back to the 1950s.

Silver Dragon Chinese restaurant sign

There are also signs from the food shop Buywell, which closed in 1985, from the Guerin bookstore, which closed in 2013, and from the 1940s-era Monkland Tavern.

Research Assistant Danica Evering said that the signs “tell a story of some of the different histories of Montreal.”

One example: two flight boards she’s restoring from the Mirabel International Airport, which is slated for demolition.

sign from Mirabel International Airport

The signs were state-of-the-art when Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau unveiled the gleaming terminal in 1974. At the time, the futuristic airport was the world’s biggest.

It proved so unpopular that all commercial flights left by 2004. Not only was the location far from downtown, but Canada’s economic power had shifted from Montreal to Toronto and international airlines followed.

Another history lesson was provided when researchers found a hand-painted sign from La Belle Province Meat Co. hidden behind another sign. Soar suspects it was covered up because it contravened French language laws.

A sign preserved by Concordia University

The signs are on display in the communications and journalism building of Concordia’s Loyola campus.

With a report from CTV’s Genevieve Beauchemain