To say Lucien Douville has left his mark on the Creston Valley over nearly half a century of work is hardly an exaggeration.
Douville retires this week after a more than 47-year run operating D-Signs and Design Services. The designer and sign maker has created logos (including the Advance‘s former logos), painted signs and created sandblasted cedar signs that will serve as reminders of his talent long into the future.
“I wouldn’t have done anything different,” Douville said last week as he reminisced about a lengthy career that has allowed him and his wife, Phyllis — who has been his business partner and assisted with the bookkeeping — to raise their three daughters in a small community.
Raised in Creston, Douville spent a year in the Navy and another working in the local sawmill after graduating from Prince Charles Secondary School.
“My high school art teacher, Jim Waldy, was my mentor—he suggested I go to art school,” Douville said.
He enrolled in what was then called the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design), a four-year program that he looks back on as “the best years of my life.”
On his first day as a post-secondary student, Douville met fellow students Andy and Elaine Alfoldy.
“We went for coffee across the street from the school at the New Moon Café, a Chinese restaurant that was an art students’ hangout,” he said. “Andy and I have been best friends ever since — he is like a brother to me.”
When Douville eventually returned home to Creston to start his business, he kept in touch with Andy and Elaine.
“I sent them a subscription to the Creston Valley Advance — they were living in Richmond. They saw a property in Canyon advertised and came down to see it. They decided to buy it.”
Alfoldy Gallery has been a fixture — first in Kuskonook and more recently in Erickson — ever since.
In art school, Douville focused on commercial art and especially enjoyed typography, the art of lettering.
“That’s where I got my highest marks!”
He worked for a year in Edmonton, making decals and banners before coming back to Creston.
“With $86 worth of brushes and supplies I started out in business,” he laughed. “It was pretty lean at first.”
His competition was “an old sign painter in a station wagon,” who made Creston a regular stop as he plied his trade throughout Alberta and B.C.
“He used to bang out signs like you wouldn’t believe!”
Douville worked out of his mom and dad’s house for a few months before renting of space behind optometrist Herb Dodd’s office on 10th Avenue North.
“One of my first customers was the Creston Valley wildlife centre — it was in its first year and I designed their logo and made all of their area signs and decals.”
In September 1975, D-Signs relocated to 12th Avenue North. The building burned to the ground two years later.
“There was nothing left.”
He was told the fire was likely an electrical issue, but he has always believed it was started by shellac-soaked rags combusting spontaneously.
“I was at a Rotary meeting when I learned the fire had started. It was the day before Elvis died. After a half-hour, the building was gone. Thankfully, I had insurance.”
A new building was erected on the same site, built by Martin Bros. Construction.
“Ralph Casemore was working for Fred Castellarin and my building was his first job,” Douville said. “Ralph and his son also did the block work upstairs this fall.”
The D-Signs building has been purchased by Douville’s daughter, Paulette, and son-in-law, Todd Francouer, who will occupy a newly constructed residence above and rent out the main floor’s commercial space.
Last week, Lucien sat in the office from which he has worked for 40 years, pointing out equipment that has been sold. He looked around at dozens of rolls of paper and vinyl, reminiscing about the first cedar signs he made.
“My favourite is probably that one,” he said, pointing to a photo of one of the Welcome to Creston signs that greet visitors from the south, east and west.
“Mayor Lela Irvine supported me to get that job done,” he said.
He points fondly to other designs for the wildlife centre and Town of Creston.
“I actually designed the Town of Creston logo when I was in art school.”
Another favourite is the one that hung outside his shop for decades — the distinctive cedar sign with brightly-coloured paintbrushes.
“I like to make signs that illustrate what a business does.”
That sign has found a new home at the Creston Museum.
Most of the signs he has made were created in the large shop below his office. A huge garage door allows entry for large vehicles.
“I’ve painted a lot of vehicles in my time — too many to count.”
In the early 1980s, D-Signs changed the face of Creston’s commercial properties with the introduction of signs, the lettering cut from Styrofoam sheets. Creston businesses stood out as unique on the Highway 3 corridor, with the three-dimensional signs creating a distinctive look.
“It’s too bad they didn’t last longer,” he smiled.
Retirement for Lucien Douville doesn’t necessarily spell a complete end to his career.
“I’ll probably dabble a bit. I worry about being bored, but I can also help Denise with some design work.”
His daughter, Denise, runs a successful sign and design shop in Lethbridge, Alta., having learned the trade working at her father’s side as a young woman.
He does look forward to not having to get up and walking across the alley to get to work, but he has no regrets.
“I was never bored here — every job is different.”