Reading Up on Vancouver’s Page-Turning Past

The following article was contributed by Vancouver travel writer and Lonely Planet author John Lee (@johnleewriter)

For a city that only celebrated its 125th birthday last year, Vancouver has a surprisingly rich history. Which might explain why there are so many intriguing books dedicated to its multi-storied past.

For those visitors curious about the area’s sometimes eye-popping background, here’s a peek at a new book covering a lesser-known local story – along with some additional recommendations brimming with yesteryear yarns.

In stores this fall, the naughtily nostalgic Liquor, Lust, and the Law: The Story of Vancouver’s Legendary Penthouse Nightclub shines a spotlight on one of the city’s most infamous haunts. From its 1950s heyday – when stars like Errol Flynn watched acts like Nat King Cole here – to the exotic dancers that have kept regulars entertained since the 1970s, it illuminates an alternative side of Vancouver’s colourful past.

Penned by musician Aaron Chapman, the book pulls no punches in exploring the sometimes seamy side of city history, painting a picture of vice squads, con men and meddling politicians. Featuring period photographs and newly unearthed police documents plus many previously untold stories, it promises an entertaining read.

Equally entertaining – but somewhat less saucy – is the new title by artist and writer Michael Kluckner, a fully-updated retread of an important book he wrote in 1990.

In the city’s ceaseless rush to redevelop itself, it’s easy to forget that Vancouver has been populated with some great old buildings over the years – and many of them have disappeared without trace.

In Vanishing Vancouver: The Last 25 years, Kluckner brings to life some of these lost cityscapes – from grand structures to humble street corners – with personal stories, evocative watercolours and archive photos.

The granddaddy of Vancouver historians, Chuck Davis passed away in 2010 before completing his life’s work: a comprehensive book about the city from its inception.

Luckily, Davis’s publisher collaborated with the Vancouver Historic Society to complete the task and the 600-page The Chuck Davis History of Metropolitan Vancouver was released posthumously – just in time for the city’s 125th anniversary.

With a gift for storytelling, Davis’s book teems with period images, first-hand interviews and tales that only he knew – making this a must-have reference for anyone interested in the rich story of Vancouver’s development.




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One Response to Reading Up on Vancouver’s Page-Turning Past

  1. Speaking of the page-turning past of Vancouver’s seedy underbelly… join the Vancouver Historical Society on Thu Oct 25 at 7:30pm at the MOV to hear speakers John Belshaw and Diane Purvey talk about their new book Vancouver Noir