Forbidden Vancouver: Investigating Vancouver’s Gritty and Scandalous Prohibition Era Past

Ex-investigative reporter for The World looks for dirt in Shanghai Alley. Photo credit: Forbidden Vancouver

Slick mobsters. Dirty politicians. Manipulative businessmen. Showgirls turned movie stars. The landmarks of downtown, Chinatown and Gastown are teeming with history that’s wilder than fiction, and rife with scandal. You just have to walk through it with the right person.

Meet Will Woods: The founder and chief storyteller of Forbidden Vancouver walking tours which run Wednesday, Friday and Saturday evenings from Cathedral Square. The former Deloitte consultant slips into character as an ex-investigative reporter for The World newspaper.

The year is 1920. The goal? To dig up newsworthy dirt in the mean prohibition era streets. Every tour participant becomes a reporter. The group hits the pavements and back alleys in search of scoop.

Which Vancouver burlesque star went on to appear in Hollywood films opposite Clark Gable? Which temperance movement campaigner fled to the U.S. after bootlegging $75,000 of illegal liquor? Which Vancouver mayor was a bigamist and a bankrupt newspaperman?

Find out after the jump.

The Vancouver burlesque star who went on to appear in Hollywood films was Yvonne De Carlo, born Margaret Yvonne Middleton in 1922. She not only played scene-stealing bathing beauties and the wife of Moses in The Ten Commandments, opposite Charleston Heston, she became best known as Lily Munster in the hit series The Munsters.

But I won’t give away all the answers. It’s more fun to play reporter and uncover them on the tour.

In addition to headline-worthy stories, Forbidden Vancouver offers an interactive look at architectural and socio-political history, including race relations and womens’ suffrage. That’s probably why knowledgeable locals are as keen as tourists to participate. I’ve included some of the noteworthy Vancouver prohibition-era landmarks Forbidden Vancouver visits below.

Vancouver alleys offer the best preserved views of the city during prohibition and were home to blind pigs (illegal drinking dens). Photo credit: Lee Cafferata

The Sun Tower was commissioned by L. D. Taylor to house his newspaper, The Vancouver World. It was designed by architect W. T. Whiteway, who also designed the Woodward’s building nearby. When it was completed in 1912, it was called The World Building and was the tallest building in the British Empire at 82 m (269 ft), surpassing the previous record-holder, the Dominion Building located just around the corner. Photo credit: Lee Cafferata

Standing before the Guinness Record holding narrowest building in the world built by Vancouver businessman Sam Kee. Chinatown, Vancouver. Photo credit: Lee Cafferata

Forbidden Vancouver walking tours run Wednesday (6:30pm), Friday (6:30pm) and Saturday (5:00pm) from Cathedral Square. The duration is about 90 (gripping) minutes. Forbidden Vancouver tickets are $27 reduced to a summer sale price of $21.50 (+tax).

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