Man sues city for $2.5 million over ‘Toronto’ sign

Apr 5, 2016 | News

(Credit: Eric Sehr/Flickr)

Flickr/Eric Sehr

Christy Farr

A Unionville-based man is suing the city of Toronto for $2.5 million after he claims they used his idea for the Toronto sign in Nathan Philips square.

Bruce Barrow, a marketing professional specializing in brand strategies, alleges that he pitched the idea to the city in 2013 and has not received any credit for his design.

He is suing for misappropriation and breach of confidence.

Barrow told Humber news that the Toronto sign is probably the most successful branding campaign the city has had in decades and has mixed feelings about its success.

“It’s rewarding to see my vision come to life and to see it so successful, as I envisioned it would be a cultural icon in the city of Toronto,” he said.

“At the same time it gives you sort of a sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see it and you’re thinking this was my idea and it was taken from me.”

He says his idea included the iconic LED lights that make the sign so colourful, as well he pitched that the city build the sign in Nathan Philips Square.

After trying to resolve things directly with the city, and getting nowhere, Barrow said he was forced to take legal action.

“I haven’t had this situation happen before,” he said.

The long-time marketing professional said he has a significant paper trail and wouldn’t present an idea like this without the proper documentation.

“This is what I do for a living.”

“We have nondisclosure on all the documents… it’s hard to pitch an idea without telling a person about the idea, but at the same time you think that the person sitting across from you have the integrity not to use your ideas without your consent or permission,” said Barrow.

The sign has become one of Toronto’s most photographed and shared images creating a cultural icon that is recognizable worldwide.

Frederic Dimanche, professor of Marketing and Tourism at Ryerson University, said these signs are becoming icons for a lot of cities.

“For example the ‘I amsterdam’ sign [in Amsterdam, Netherlands] is probably one of the most famous city letter sign,” he told Humber News.

(credit: Melanie Feuerer/Flickr) The 'I amsterdam' sign, a popular tourist photo-op in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

(credit: Melanie Feuerer/Flickr) The ‘I amsterdam’ sign, a popular tourist photo-op in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

“Everyone is going there getting photographs with this kind of thing, it’s been a boom for tourism over there, but more important for city communication and tourism communication.”

He adds that the CN tower may have once been an icon for Toronto, but that the tower isn’t easy to get photographs in front of which created the need for something like the ‘Toronto’ sign in Nathan Philips Square.

However, Dimanche says that it would be very hard to claim authorship or proprietary right to an idea that is similar to others around the world.

“The idea of putting big block letters in front of the city somewhere – it’s not new.”

“I don’t think anybody can claim it. Maybe they can claim the design, the font, the size of the signage, but even then again several cities would be doing those kind of block letters,” Dimanche said.

He says it’s always a risk when pitching an idea, and would be a hard thing to prove in court.

Toronto city spokesperson Wynna Brown wrote in an email to the Toronto Star that there is “no basis for this claim.”

They said the city will “vigorously defend” the allegations.

Barrow’s claims have not been proven in court yet.