Victoria Unbuttoned

A Red-Light History of BC’s Capital City

Reviewed by Julia Richards

Posted December 1, 2021

Linda J. Eversole’s Victoria Unbuttoned offers a deep dive into the evolution of Victoria’s red-light district. Eversole’s background is as a historian, and much of her research involves court documents, government records, and newspapers.

The women’s narratives that Eversole has pieced together from historical evidence are one of the strengths of the book. The narratives form part of nearly every chapter, and each of them tells about a woman who either ran, worked in, or otherwise came into contact with the brothels of historic Victoria. This is admirable work, since women — especially those involved with sex work — are often omitted from the historical record.

As Eversole highlights in her book, many of these women used pseudonyms or got married and then changed their names, making it very difficult to track them across censuses. We see this, for example, in the story of Nettie Sager, who disappears from the historical record just after her involvement in a criminal trial.

Victoria Unbuttoned is an important contribution to Canadian history. It not only adds a dimension of women’s history to colonial Victoria but tells the stories of women who participated in sex work and were then tried as criminals — a topic that is commonly overlooked.

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This article originally appeared in the December 2021-January 2022 issue of Canada's History.

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