Vancouver Vice

Crime and Spectacle in the City’s West End

Reviewed by Tanja Hütter

Posted March 9, 2023

In the introduction to Vancouver Vice, author Aaron Chapman mentions a memorial in the form of a vintage street lamp that was erected in Vancouver’s West End in 2016 to recognize the neighbourhood’s diverse community of sex workers, many of them residents, between the 1960s and 1984. It’s a quiet and modest nod to what was an era of social and cultural tumult.

Illicit activities related to gambling, drugs, and prostitution had long been tolerated by law enforcement in Vancouver’s West End — and, to be fair, they contributed to the area’s allure for many of its residents. By the 1970s and 1980s, however, the strain of excess, a perceived rise in crime, and burgeoning gay activism became an explosive combination that contributed to calls for change.

Vancouver Vice guides readers through the heady — and, at times, humorous — days of the vice squad’s attempts to rein in the chaos, mostly through trial and error. In addition to scrutinizing police case files and archival documents, Chapman conducted a large number of interviews that help him tell an engrossing tale of a small community brimming with colourful characters. The book also offers a thorough bibliography for further reading.

I was a resident of Vancouver’s West End in the 1990s, and walking around the neighbourhood while taking care of my mundane errands would have been far more interesting had this book been around.

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This article originally appeared in the April-May 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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