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“Alexander Street to Go Before New Year,” declares the Vancouver Sun, reporting on a meeting between Reverend A.M. Sanford (of the city’s “Moral Reform Association”), Acting Mayor Sanford Crowe, and prominent city officials. Its stated intention: to “wipe out” the Alexander Street “restricted area”, and the buildings being constructed there for “immoral purposes”.
“Acting Mayor Crowe refused today to discuss the conference,” the Sun explains, “but it has been stated on good authority that the police commissioners are now preparing to wipe out the restricted section.”
Moral outrage over the city’s red light district (which, began on Water and Abbott street, and after moving several times, has finally settled in the Alexander Street District) has been brewing for several years, and the Moral Reform Assocation’s recent publication of a pamphlet entitled “Social Vice in Vancouver”, which recommended the total eradication of the area, has done little to cool the fires.
“With the cessation of the vigorous criticisms from the Ministerial Association and Moral Reform Association,” the Sun continues, “it is understood that the police commissioners are now ready to take action which would mean the breaking-up of the district referred to and the deportation of a great number of the inmates.”
Thanks to a sustained economic boom, and the unwillingness of city officials to tackle the issue, local madams have been able to finance the construction of dozens of elegant brothels in the area (conveniently located near the British Seaman’s Mission), and sex-trade workers operate with such impunity that, in many cases, Madams have even spelled their names out in tiles on their front stoop.
However, within the year, owing to changes in the Criminal Code, arrests on Alexander Street will be stepped up considerably, and, by 1914, police will declare the area officially “closed”. Sex-trade workers will disperse to other parts of town, and, with a depression looming, and the outbreak of World War I, prostitution will again return to the fringes of public awareness.
IMAGE: Doorway to the brothel at 578 Alexander Street, inscribed with the name of madam Marie Gomez, circa 1950s. Image Courtesy of the Vancouver Archives.