I like to read signs. Sometimes they make me laugh, other times they make me shake my head.

Driving into Kenora, my wife Dianne and I saw a sign that read “Hilly Lake.” Now, I’m not a physicist, or a hydrologist, or whatever the appropriate science is, but I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as a hilly lake. The wind might stir up some waves from time to time, but …

On Manitoulin Island, we saw a sign for “Big Lake.” Aside from the lack of imagination, it struck me as a misnomer, given that it isn’t even the largest lake on the island. Never mind the fact that Manitoulin Island is itself situated on the fifth-largest freshwater lake in the world. Maybe it was named after Mr. Big.

In the small town of Naramata, in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley, a chalkboard sign outside a pizza place read, “Open @ 4ish, Pretty much every day.” It made me smile. I found it completely appropriate to the laid-back attitude of the town, even if not particularly helpful. Is today one of the days it’s open? And what does it depend on? And what does 4ish mean, exactly? I suspect it never opens precisely at 4 o’clock, but how flexible timewise is the “ish”? Twenty minutes, an hour?

Translated signs can be a source of amusement. In a town called Evora in Portugal, an outdoor restaurant had a sign advertising petiscos (tapas in Spanish). The English translation read, “Something for nibble.” We just had to go in and get a table. I thought the expression was perfect, and when we have guests over, I like to ask if they’d like “something for nibble.”

Some signs are informative: street signs, signs for parks or buildings, often named after a well-known person or historical figure. Of course, you might have to Google the name to know who the sign refers to. In L’Orignal, signs have been installed in front of a number of historic homes and buildings, providing information about when they were built, who owned them, etc. It makes for a nice walking tour.

­­­There are signs that get my dander up. As a former copy editor, the misplacement of apostrophes drives me crazy, whether the sign is at the top of someone’s driveway or naming a commercial property. Shouldn’t Tim Hortons be Tim Horton’s? I’d have to check what the plural possessive for Demers is, but it’s certainly not Demer’s. I think sign-makers should be familiar with basic grammar.

I once worked in a fishing tackle store and the owner had a sign made to tell people that we sold bait and fishing licences. After the sign was made, he noticed that it only advertised live bait, so he had the sign-maker insert a reference to lures and flies, etc. This was the result:

Live Bait and



Prompting, of course, smart alecs asking for artificial licences.

I am always confused by the signs people put in the back window of their vehicles that read “Baby on board.” What am I supposed to do with that information? I was thinking of playing bumper cars because they’re driving too slowly, but given that there’s a baby on board, maybe I shouldn’t.

The signs that I find equally pointless at times, irritating at others, are those that read “Private Property.” I can understand it when such a sign is posted along a large rural property bordering a road, maybe to keep hunters or hikers or snowmobilers out. But at the top of a driveway? Such a sign tells me one of two things. Either the property owner thinks passersby are a bit thick and may not comprehend that the 10-metre driveway with the garage at the end is not the turn-off leading to the highway. Or worse, it’s a sign of hostility, even paranoia. Better not turn around in that driveway.

Dianne and I often go hiking or snowshoeing on Mount Rigaud, and along the sides of the trails there are a few “Private Property” signs. I’m going out on a limb here by suggesting that hikers and snowshoers and cross-country skiers don’t typically fit the profile of home invaders. I could be wrong. But I’m tempted to have some “Public Property” signs made up and post them along the trail, my way of saying, everyone’s welcome to enjoy a walk, a snowshoe, or ski along this trail through the woods.

How does the song go? “Signs, signs, everywhere a sign, blocking out the scenery, messing my mind.”

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