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Tuesday, May 14, 2013


Add to Technorati FavoritesDid you know that Vancouver is reputed to be the "prostitution capital of Canada"? For more than a century there's been debates about this. From 1975 - 1985 there was a vibrant, pimp-free, racially diverse community of sex-trade workers living and working in the city's West End.  These included not only females, but transsexuals and male sex workers. On and around the Davie Street area they built networks that enabled each other to keep safe. They also contributed to the neighbourhood's economic and cultural development.


 My friend Cheryl and I joined a walking tour of sex work history in Vancouver's West End put on by the Museum of Vancouver.  Our guides were Jamie-Lee Hamilton, a Canadian politician and advocate of aboriginal people who is often referred to as the Harvey Milk of Canadian politics. She was once one of the sex trade workers herself and is a member of the LGBT community.  The other guide, Becki Ross, is a professor cross-appointed in Sociology and the institutes for Gender, Race, Sexuality and Social Justice and is the author of a book "Burlesque West: Showgirls, Sex, and Sin in Postwar Vancouver"

What I didn't know is that back in 1984 a Supreme Court edit banned all sex workers from working and living in the West End, pushing them toward the Downtown East Side where 65 sex workers have been murdered since the mid - 1980's.  And until they were kicked out of the West End where they had been relatively safe, there were no pimps, few drugs and they had their own support-system to warn each other of shady characters and dangers.

Our afternoon walks began at the Little Sister's Bookstore on Davie Street, famous for creating controversy with sexual books often banned at the US border. We walked down Hustler Row, and up to the Speakeasy Bar formerly the Columbia Inn Restaurant and Bar, the undisputed home of "hookers on Davie" where the sex workers hung out in safety and security. 

An interesting thing to note was that while the sex-trade workers were being harassed and forced out of their neighbourhood, the local churches provided sanctuary for them. This church, where today people can walk the labyrinth, was one of them.

Then on to the Pumpjack Bar, formerly the Au Petit Boo and Benjamin's Cafe also an important hangout for girls and guys.  The Numbers Cabaret, popular today was the former Tropicana Night Club. Celebrities at 1033 Davie Street used to the the old Embassy Ballroom where my friends and I went dancing on Saturday nights.

Over on Hornby Street there's a vacant lot where once the Taurus Spa was located, Vancouver's biggest and most popular bathhouse.  From there we walked down toward False Creeks where we took the Aqua Bus across to the Maritime Museum port and then walked up the the Museum of Vancouver where the two guides continued their very interesting lecture about the life and times of the sex trade workers. 

We found it to be the most educational and interesting 'field trip'.  And at the Museum there is an excellent exhibit, Sex in the City, illustrating sex toys and anything else you ever wanted to know that goes on in people's bedrooms. 


Renuka said...

Interesting post.

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