Vancouver Noir

By (author): John Belshaw, Diane Purvey

‘Vancouver Noir’ looks at the period from the 1930s to the 1960s, an era in which there was intensified concern with order, conformity, structure, and restrictions. These are visions of the city, both of what it was and what some of its citizens hoped it would either become, or, conversely, cease to be. The photographs-most of which look like stills from period movies featuring detectives with chiselled features, tough women, and bullet-ridden cars-speak to the styles of the Noir era and tell us something special about the ways in which a city is made and unmade. The authors argue that Noir-era values and perspectives are to be found in the photographic record of the city in this era, specifically in police and newspaper pictures. these photographs document changing values by emphasizing behaviours and sites that were increasingly viewed as deviant by the community’s elite. They chart an age of rising moral panics. Public violence, smuggling rings, police corruption, crime waves, the sex trade, and the glamourization of sex in burlesques along and nearby Granville Street’s neon alley belonged to an array of public concerns about which the media and political campaigns were repeatedly launched.

“Purvey and Belshaw’s ‘Vancouver Noir’ resurrects, in eminently readable black and white, the stories, characters, landmarks, images, lexicon and lore of one of this city’s truly colourful eras.” – James C. Johnstone, Historian

“…If the thirties was a time of idealism, thepost-war world was one of cynicism. The insistence on social conformity and order provided a stark contrast to a seething underworld-if sometimes only in peoples’ imagination. Contradictions abound. As suburban living reflected decency and family values, public concern was expressed about juvenile delinquency. Public (and even private) discussion of sex was generally taboo but the sex trade prospered in brothels and neon signs along Granville Street lit up dens of burlesque, booze and gambling.Ladies and escorts began entering the regulated beer parlours in Vancouver through separate doors in 1927. Thirsty working men crowded these establishments after a hard day’s work and it was unseemly for a very long time, for women to mix freely among them. By 1954 cocktail bars were established so middle-class men and women could meet in an acceptable environment. Glamour arrived to the city in the form of supper clubs, emerging in the late 1930s and including big-name American acts like HarryBelafonte, Tony Bennett, Mitzi Gaynor, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. Still segregation, not integration was the cultural norm as visible minorities lived in separate neighborhoods such as Hogan’s Alley and Chinatown, ‘sin’ was confined to a square mile, and police attempted to the activities of drug pedlars and addicts. Attacking the poor and disenfranchised was common. Stanley Park rancheries, float houses under the Burrard Street bridge and other residential ‘blights’ to the city cameunder regular attack by civic authorities… ‘Vancouver Noir’ succeeds in exposing what lies beneath, delivering readers a fascinating glimpse of another side of the city.”- British Columbia History


John Belshaw

John Douglas Belshaw is a writer, consultant, online university professor, and an award-winning historian. He is the author and co-author of several books and articles, including Vancouver Noir: 1930-1960 and Becoming British Columbia: A Population History.


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224 Pages
9.38in * 7.49in * .53in


November 15, 2011



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