This town has a dirty history…
In 1917, Prohibition hit Vancouver harder than a slug of bathtub gin, knocking the city to its knees. Saloon doors swung closed for good, forcing law-abiding citizens into an underground world of bootlegged spirits and illicit activity.
Mob bosses set up scores of illegal drinking dens, while dirty cops took bribes to look the other way. Vancouver’s longest-running mayor L.D. Taylor emerged from the chaos, soon notorious for his shadowy past, raucous parties and underworld ties. When the U.S. followed suit with their own prohibition three years later, enterprising Vancouver rum-runners made millions smuggling booze on midnight voyages down the coast.
These ain’t the kinda stories you’ll hear on tour buses, nor the kind you’ll read in guide books. Throw yourself at the mercy of Vancouver’s oldest and meanest streets. But be warned, you’ll need sharp wits – and an even sharper pencil – to survive in Prohibition City.
Joe Celona – Mobster
Crime boss and bootlegger supreme. Ruled East Vancouver in the ’20s and ’30s. Owned bawdy houses, ran gambling rackets, and bribed cops. Been dead over 50 years and old timers in East Van still fear his name.
Nellie McClung – Activist
Fought to outlaw the demon drink and to close down the evil saloons. Leader of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Her motto? “Never retract, never explain, never apologize – get the thing done and let them howl!”
Sam Kee – Businessman
Real name Chang Toy. Arrived 1874 in Vancouver penniless and by the 20’s was one of Vancouver’s richest businessmen. Fought discrimination through his lawyers, with his fists and if needed, by the gun.
What will I see?
Venture through historic Victory Square. See remnants of Ward 2, formerly a political hotbed where socialists battled corporate forces. Visit the city’s most iconic and fabled buildings like the Dominion Building and Sun Tower. See the best preserved alleyway in the entire city. Catch a respectable hotel that was a notorious private members club during prohibition. Investigate the historic and the new at Woodward’s. Peek in the oldest bar in the city and end up on Gastown’s oldest street.