54 YEARS IN THE SIGN INDUSTRY
Luke Andrew Caya started his career in signage by picking up part-time work during highschool in a neon shop. After graduation, the summer of 1961, Luke moved to Ottawa and started working in the sign industry at Malco Display, where he worked with some of the country’s best artists, Eleanor Kish (Ely Kish), and Mike O’connor to name a few. He developing the lettering, most of which was screenprinted, that would surround their artwork, this was required in those days for quality display panels. Luke later changed companies to PM Display, hired as the overseer of the art and signage departments and worked there for several years.
In 1965/66 Luke attended night school for photo stenciling and graphics arts, which at the time were fairly new techniques in the area, this opened many doors and set him up for some high profile work shortly thereafter. In 1967, Luke worked on many projects, the Centennial Celebrations which was a lot of work at the time including display floats for the Centennial parade. Later that year he designed and built floats for both the 55th Grey Cup parade, won by the Hamilton Tiger Cats, and the Queen’s visit to Lansdowne Park in Ottawa.
After leaving his employment in late 1970, Luke decided, along with his wife Jean and his young family, to move out west settling in Nanaimo BC.
Upon arriving in Nanaimo, Luke worked with TW (Tom) Palmer, an ex air force graphic artist with the Uplands Air Force base in Ottawa. Palmer had retired from the Air Force a year earlier and moved to Nanaimo at a similar time. Tom had leased a small studio on Wharf Street, this is where he and Luke worked together, but Tom left Nanaimo only 3 months after Luke had arrived. Luke decided to stay with a little help and convincing by Frank Ney from Nanaimo Realty who later became Nanaimo’s famous Mayor ‘Black Frank’ and the founder of the World Championship Bathtub Races.
“In those days there wasn’t a lot of competition in the sign business” says Luke, “I was able to russell up quite a bit of work, all hand painted signage, showcards and lettering.”
Through the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) Luke met many people and forged many lifelong friendships including Jack Harris of the Harris Car Dealership, Dave Hart, G W Carson Construction, and Rick Rispin of Anchorage Marina. These are just a few of the many companies Caya Signs does work for to this day!
Luke also did a lot of work for Dean Finlayson who spearheaded and built Woodgrove Centre. When “the mall” opened in September 1981 the sign shop was very busy doing interior and exterior signage for the entire mall, all under the watchful eyes of Donna Dash, the mall’s marketing director.
Because of the companies success, Luke bought the building he was renting on Warf Street from Aylmer Bradshaw, all on a hand shake one afternoon. Luke was lucky enough to sell it rather quickly and built a new building on Nicol Street in 1972, it would be better suited for the small business.
After spending some years on Nicol Street, Luke bought a new site on Franklyn Street from the Kneen Family, who previously ran a small dairy farm on the property. In 1976, Luke built a new large commercial style building were the small business grew exponentially larger. Real estate, forestry and commercial signage kept the company hopping.
When automated vinyl cutting first appeared on the scene, Caya Signs was the first to purchase computerized vinyl cutting equipment. Slowly but surely the quills and showcard brushes ended up in a drawer never to be used again. Luke explains, “even though we still hand paint many of our signs, the introduction of computers has streamlined the process and has opened the doors for much more dynamic full colour photographic design.”
The Company, now located at 218 Prideaux Street is in the same Downtown “Old City” District they have been for 35 years.
“My years in the sign business in Nanaimo has been filled with great friendships and opportunities, what a ride, I’ve enjoyed every bit of it.” says Luke. “Nanaimo has been a wonderful place to raise our family with my wife Jean and my sons Patrick and Luke jr. who now have kids of their own. Nanaimo, it’s business community, and it’s people have been good to us, and we thank you.”