Skip to content

Council approves controversial city logo (11 photos)

60 per cent of SooToday readers hate it. Just four per cent describe it as 'awesome'

6:50 p.m. update

Sault Ste. Marie City Council has tonight approved a controversial city logo that took two years to develop as part of a $100,000 identity and rebranding exercise. 

Councillors generally supported the identity, positioning and strategy of the proposed campaign, but some expressed strong dislike for the logo.

"I don't get it," said Ward 4 Coun. Marchy Bruni.

"How can I tell a story if I don't understand?"

"A logo should speak for itself," said Bruni, who said more ordinary citizens should have been consulted.

Ward 1 Coun. Paul Christian said he started hearing complaints about the logo minutes after a story about it was posted by SooToday on Friday.

Reaction to the design was more overwhelmingly negative than on any other issue during his time on City Council, Christian said.

A SooToday poll showed 60 per cent of our readers considered the design "cringeworthy" while just four per cent thought it "awesome."

A major last-minute drive supporting the logo took place today, with Sault College, Algoma University and Sault Ste. Marie Indian Friendship Centre all sending speakers to tonight's City Council meeting.

Future SSM posted photographs on social media of dozens of individuals wearing t-shirts bearing the logo.

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker, who opposed the logo, said he received about 15 emails of support for the logo today, but none before that.

Councillors voted 6 to 3 in favour of the logo and branding campaign. 

Ward 3 Coun. Matthew Shoemaker, Ward 4's Marchy Bruni and Ward 5's Matthew Scott voted against.  

Additional coverage will appear on SooToday.

Original story: 5:11 p.m.

Don't like the proposed new city logo?

How old are you?

Maybe you're just not part of the beautiful, youthful, totally awesome target demographic that city officials are trying attract to this city.

Future SSM, which developed the logo and an associated identity/ branding campaign with $100,000 in help from consulting firms Trajectory and Scott Thornley & Company, is filling social media today with images of locals proudly sporting t-shirts displaying the icon.

But when SooToday posted a poll about the resulting design last week, 60 per cent of our readers hated it.

Just four per cent considered it "awesome."

But Future SSM's project manager, Travis Anderson, points out that the campaign is aimed at a young audience.

"Our current unemployment rate is the lowest it's been in 20 years. We are really in a dogfight to attract skilled workers to Sault Ste. Marie," Anderson says.

"It's critical that we have all the tools at our disposal to attract these people. That's where the branding really plays in. A consistent brand that's very youthful (because we are trying to attract and retain our youth) that looks professional and modern and allows us to really go out and fight for people to come to Sault Ste. Marie to fill these positions."

Our readers, however, complain that they can't see the design elements that supposedly inspired the logo - the International Bridge and a medicine wheel.

Some compared it to a basketball.

Others thought it looked like a badly sliced pizza.

Future SSM says more than 750 stakeholders and community leaders were consulted during the two-year process of developing a comprehensive branding campaign.

Who was consulted?

Here's a partial list, as released by the city:

  • Sault College Student’s Union
  • Community Development Roundtable
  • Algoma Country Tourism
  • Sault Ste. Marie Local Immigration Partnership
  • Tourism Sault Ste. Marie
  • Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre
  • Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation
  • STRIVE Young Professionals Group of Sault Ste. Marie
  • Downtown Association
  • Village Media
  • Algoma Workforce Development Corp.
  • NORDIK Institute (Urban Indigenous Youth for Change)
  • Great Lakes Music Institute
  • Algoma University
  • Sault College
  • STEaM
  • Sault College Indigenous Initiatives
  • Garden River First Nation
  • Parks Canada
  • Village Electric
  • Ermatinger-Clergue National Historic Site
  • Canadian Bushplane Heritage Centre
  • Community Development Corp. of Sault Ste. Marie
  • Velorution
  • Destination Ontario
  • Algoma University Indigenous Initiatives
  • Outspoken Brewing
  • Delta Hotel
  • Mayor’s Youth Advisory Council
  • Indigenous Friendship Centre
  • Sault Ste. Marie Soup Kitchen Community Centre
  • Algoma Steel
  • Algoma District School Board
  • District of Sault Ste. Marie Social Services Administration Board
  • Metis Nation of Ontario
  • The Catalina Motel

Yes, they consulted patrons of the Sault Ste. Marie Soup Kitchen.

What feedback did they get there?

"We went around lunch time," says Katie Elliott, Future SSM's communications coordinator.

"We just sat down and had a conversation."

Four design options were presented there. 

"People certainly gravitated towards the option that we have in front of you. They felt it said Sault Ste. Marie to them. They loved the element of the bridge incorporated into it, the bold colours," Elliott said.

A set of visual identity guidelines prepared by city staff state that the proposed logo is a "specifically drawn, original piece of artwork" that must never be altered, re-drawn or reconfigured:

  • do not rotate, flip or invert the logo
  • do not change any colours of the logo
  • do not stretch or compress the logo
  • do not alter the size or position of the logo elements
  • do not add elements to the logo
  • do not apply a dropshadow or other effects to the logo
  • do not allow objects to enter the minimum clear space of the logo
  • do not reproduce a logo with poor quality
  • do not place the logo on images or backgrounds that may compromise its legibility
  • do not place the logo on a colour with insufficient contrast
  • do not re-typeset the wordmark
  • do not reproduce the icon smaller than 0.3 inches (22 pixels) wide
  • avoid graphics, images or text inside a safety zone as wide as the letter M in the wordmark

If adopted tonight by City Council, the city's official corporate typeface will be the free Google font Barlow. When Barlow isn't available, for example for inter-office documents, email signatures or Microsoft Powerpoint presentations, Arial may be used.

"Drawing from the visual style of the California public, Barlow shares qualities with the state's car plates, highway signs, busses, and trains," says Google Fonts.

Barlow is a member of the Grotesque family of fonts, so named because of their slightly crude appearance

The visual identity guidelines also stipulate the kinds of photographs to be used in city communications:

"Whenever possible, we want to communicate an experience. The visuals should feel welcoming and personal. Let's aim to showcase our city in a vibrant and unexpected way. We want to avoid cheesy, obviously staged imagery. Instead, showcase the true beauty of our surroundings, whether they are natural or industrial. The imagery should provide a glimpse into how people feel while visiting or living here."

Former Ward 2 Councillor Susan Myers, who led the team that developed the city's Naturally Gifted logo, tells SooToday that she likes the identity work done by the consultants, but she's less enthusiastic about the proposed logo.

"There's absolutely nothing I would disagreee with in the branding story. I have no issue with any of that. The colours are the very similar."

But Myers says the new logo does nothing to differentiate the Ontario Sault from it's U.S. counterpart.

"I don't think the graphic icon has clear messaging about our distinctive Canadian city," she says.

When the Naturally Gifted logo was developed in 1993 by Brooks Marketing Resources,  Brooks told her the day would come when the classic design would in itself be considered synonymous with the City of Sault Ste. Marie.

Myers says she had to fight hard then to get a professional visual identity.

"Joe Fratesi was so anti-marketing," she says. "He didn't understand what we did. He did everything he could to obstruct it. We were really a leader."

Myers believes the city should scrap the new logo and instead adopt an updated version of the 1993 icon.

"To me, it would take very little tweaking," she tells SooToday.

Local graphic designers point out that the mixed gradients used in the old logo went out of vogue many years ago.

City Council is being asked to approve the new logo and branding/identity campaign tonight.

The meeting is being livestreamed on SooToday.


David Helwig

About the Author: David Helwig

David Helwig's journalism career spans seven decades beginning in the 1960s. His work has been recognized with national and international awards.
Read more