Saturday, December 1, 2018

Red Umbrella March Celebrates 6th Year with Historic Steam-Era Tour

By Andy Sorfleet

June 9, 2018 marked the sixth year of Vancouver's Red Umbrella March! This year's theme celebrated 130 years of resistance with a history tour through Gastown and the Red Light Districts from Vancouver's steam era, 1888-1915.

DeeJay and Chili Bean (holding SWUAV banner) and Triple-X's Kerry Porth (front left) and Andy Sorfleet (with bullhorn) lead the Red Umbrella March through Gastown. Vancouver, June 9, 2018.  Photo: Elaine Ayres.
 The march began at Victory Square, where organizers were met by the press as well as celebrities from Vancouver's sex industry — porn stars, companions, tantrikas, streetwalkers, dancers and activists — along with their friends and families. The first 50 people who showed up wearing red or with a red umbrella received a free copy of a special souvenir history booklet created for the event which featured archival photographs, a tour map, historic portraits of Vancouver’s Victorian era madams and ladies of evening. The booklet also recounts the origins of the "Red Umbrellas March" which began in Venice in 2001.

Vancouver's First Illuminated Sign!
A result of Vancouver's first liquor bylaw
requiring an light over the door.
The Stag & Pheasant, Water & Abbott St 1888.
City of Vancouver Archives


The first stop was at Cambie and Pender streets, once a "restricted district" called Dupont Street where houses of prostitution were allowed to operate. (Nothing official, of course.) That is until a planned railway station made it imperative that City Council have them moved by police.

The march then headed down to Water Street to the area close to where Birdie Stewart kept Vancouver's first brothel, according to court arrest records from 1886.

On the corner of Water and Abbott streets the steam-era Vancouver tour made note of the arrival of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) spurring City Council's first bylaw in 1886 to license and regulate liquor sales at saloons and hotels. Madams who ran houses nearby were the next target of the WCTU.

The parade of red umbrellas stopped near Chinatown to acknowledge Shanghai Alley and Canton Alley where many ladies were forced to move to after the crackdown on the Dupont restricted district. There were as many as 105 brothels in Chinatown in 1906 (usually single women operating out of a room).

Trilby Thorne
(Arrested April 27th, 1904.)
The re-enacted "Court Parade" then marched to Old City Hall and commemorated the ladies who defiantly marched to pay their house-of-prostitution fines and at the same time advertise their talents to attract that afternoon's customers.

The marchers congregated at Main and Hastings where they held up photos of some of the madams and ladies of the evening along with protest signs. The photographs — enlarged and printed  on placards — were discovered in old mugshot books at the Vancouver Police Museum. From there the marchers commemorated the city’s second "restricted district" on Harris Street, which was obliterated by the construction of the first Georgia Street viaduct in 1913.


Alice Bernard's Place
514 Alexander, built as a brothel
in 1912.
Down Main Street at Alexander Street the final "restricted district" (before it was closed at the start of the Great War in 1914) could be viewed, including two of Vancouver's original brothels — still standing today — Alice Bernard's place at 514 Alexander and Dolly Darlington's at 500 Alexander (now operated as supportive housing by Atira Women's Resource Society).

The last stop on the history tour was at the apex of the overpass into CRAB park. The area below the overpass was once called, "The Rancherie," where Indigenous workers for the Hastings Mill had their cedar dwellings. The Rancherie was condemned by the City health inspector, its residents displaced, and their homes and belongings burned down in the winter of 1894.

Once at CRAB park, the group gathered for the annual photo, enjoyed beverages,  feasted on watermelons and oranges, and celebrated with new friends.

At 6 p.m. some gathered again at the theatre at the Carnegie Centre for the Red Umbrella Movie Night, to watch the award-nominated documentary, No Human Involved, which draws attention to the death from torture and neglect of inmate Marcia Powell in an Arizona prison. Marcia was sent there for the misdemeanor of soliciting. A big thank you to Terence for helping organize the event as part of the UBC Humanities 101 program "Documentaries for Thinkers Series."

6th Annual Vancouver Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity
Saturday, June 9, 2018 at Create Real Accessible Beach (CRAB) beach at Portside Park, Downtown Eastside, Vancouver. Photo: Esther Shannon
The organizers wish to thank the private donors for making this event extra special, along with everyone who took time to celebrate the vibrant history that is sex workers' rights in Vancouver. The parade of solidarity got unprecedented coverage in the Vancouver Sun! (Read "Red Umbrella March celebrates history of Vancouver sex workers," by Harrison Mooney.)

Thank you volunteers for making the event run so smoothly. This year's march was the largest ever, with just over 200 participants at the peak. Thank you again this year to the courteous and professional escorts from Vancouver Police for keeping participants safe while on the road in traffic. Red Umbrella March partners in organizing: Triple-X Workers' Solidarity Association of B.C., Sex Workers United Against Violence, Pivot Legal Society, PACE Society, B.C. Coalition of Experiential Communities, FIRST (Feminists for Sex Work Decriminalization) and SWAN Society.

 Join us next year, Saturday June 8!

The 7th Annual Vancouver Red Umbrella March for Sex Work Solidarity plans to celebrate sex worker activists of the 1980s! Participants will reenact one of Canada's first modern-day prostitutes' protests and march down Davie Street just as the Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes did on June 8, 1984. Be immersed in the spirit and energy of the 1980s! Dress up! Dress down! Have fun! You never know, there might even be a party after. ;^) Want to volunteer and help make the day a big success? Follow us on Twitter @XXXWorkers for details.


Canada's 1st Modern-Day Protest: Alliance for the Safety of Prostitutes
Broadway Street Vancouver, April 20, 1983.

Protests followed a B.C. court injunction to move the sex workers out of Vancouver's West End.
Film still from Hookers on Davie (1984)


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