Liquor, Mobsters & Government Conspiracy – Prohibition City

I might be the person that once said, “I’m outdoorsy… I drink on patios.” I might be that person.

Not that I am a huge boozer, but I enjoy a carefully crafted cocktail and a glass of bubbly as much as the next person. As such, I can’t even imagine how everyday life for a city would change if prohibition were alive and well. Enter the walking tour, Prohibition City, Vancouver.

Forbidden Vancouver

As we met our tour guide outside the Holy Rosary Cathedral in downtown Vancouver, I knew this was going to be my kind of tour. For starters, the tour guides were totally in character and dressed up like 1920s reporters. I love me some cheese-factor. Giselle was our knowledgeable, sassy guide and she welcomed us ‘reporters’ into the fold, handing us each a notepad and a pencil to track our journey (this blogger is grateful!).

It’s hard to believe how much Vancouver transformed between the late 1800s and 1920s. The population grew substantially, thanks part to the gold rush, the railroad and the booming natural resources. You’ll see relics of the former Vancouver along the way, and Giselle came prepared with many photos to help us imagine how Vancouver once was. Some buildings remain more or less intact, other spots have evolved with the times, but it’s not hard to build a picture.

Forbidden Vancouver

Now, I don’t want to ruin the tour for those of you who might want to take it, so I’ll keep spoilers to a minimum. Let’s just say that the history of Vancouver is as salacious as an episode of Boardwalk Empire. Mobsters, saloon girls, a pinch of Hollywood, government conspiracy, activism and post-war politics kept my attention during the 90 minute tour. I can’t say that I was surprised at the amount of political corruption that went on – ahem, pretty sure that happens nowadays too – but it was fascinating, nonetheless. You’d like to imagine that the people who enter politics would have the best of intentions, but as Prohibition City Vancouver goes to show, politics is more often than not filled with the seedy sort, out for themselves and their wallet.

Forbidden Vancouver

It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re a man of the law, either, as many Vancouver policemen (or chiefs!) could be found in scandalous private men’s clubs sampling the local tipple, be it liquor or ladies.

We had a fascinating brainstorm as to why prohibition was so strongly supported at the outset and what political factors changed along the way to create such an uproar against it. Any guesses?

Forbidden Vancouver

Had I not been traveling with Forbidden Vancouver, I probably wouldn’t have seen these particular sights. My visit to Gastown had been limited to the main street and the steam clock. This tour led us through Victory Park, areas of Vancouver that I would have deemed slightly shady had I been on my own, but on a tour you feel very safe. We saw former department stores, alleyways that have stood still in time and the modern day version of prohibition – the pro-marijuana stores. I suppose that the fight to legalize pot is the modern day version of prohibition, but I’ll reserve my opinion on that one.

The tour will end in the heart of Gastown, so either opt for an early dinner, or save your hunger for after and enjoy the restaurants nearby. You could even hit up the Blacktail like we did, but make a reservation! Bring a sweater (even in the summer it can get chilly in the shade) and hit up the bathroom first – not that it helped this preggo-girl.

What was the best walking tour you’ve ever been on? Anyone else love their history with a bit of creative flair? 

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