Vancouver’s Dark Underbelly: The Sins of the City walking tour

Think Vancouver is all beautiful mountains and sparkling beaches.  Think again.  The city has seen its share of murder, deceit and mayhem over the years, all of which you’ll learn about on the Vancouver Police Museum’s unique Sins of the City walking tour.

The tour, which is definitely not recommended for young children, starts at the Police Museum downtown and wanders through the historic streets of Gastown and Chinatown.  Inside the museum, you’ll see newspaper archives documenting Vancouver’s efforts to battle crime and corruption – with mixed success – over the years.

Then, it’s out to Chinatown, where guides share stories about old opium dens, the early drug trade and the origin of Vancouver’s drug laws.  They also debunk myths about a supposed network of secret tunnels underneath Chinatown (Too bad!).   Here’s a great clip from YouTube showing bits of the tour:

Next, the tour winds its way into Gastown, passing the No 5 Orange gentlemen’s club (appropriately enough) on its way to the city’s former red light district.  No detail is spared about the evolution of Vancouver’s sex trade and its long history of brothels and streetwalkers.

The seamy history all dates back to the late 1800s when mill workers laboring along the Burrard Inlet needed a place to blow off steam after work.  The famous “Gassy Jack,” an entrepreneurial proprietor, opened a saloon in a rough-and-tumble area soon to be known as Gastown.  More saloons, brothels and other houses of vice soon moved in.

The tour also touches on Prohibition-era Vancouver, when bootleggers and gangsters battled for control of the city with the police, creating scenes of havoc like those in the movie The Untouchables.   And the tour doesn’t stop there.  It also delves into the waves of racial and labour tensions that have roiled Vancouver, as well as the city’s considerable gambling habit.

The Sins of the City walking tour is $15 for adults and $12 for students and seniors.  After a winter hiatus, the tour will have its inaugural run on April 20.  It officially begins in May and continues throughout the summer.  If you just can’t wait until then, groups of 10 or more people can also request a private tour.   For more information, visit the Police Museum website or call (604) 665-3346.

Has anyone done the Sins of the City tour?  What did you think of it?  Please share your feedback.

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