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Vancouver Confidential

By John Belshaw, editor

Review By Marcel Martel

January 15, 2015

BC Studies no. 188 Winter 2015-2016  | p. 132-34

John Belshaw undertook the task of publishing a series of fifteen essays on Vancouver written by artists, journalists, and writers. There is no specific thesis in this collection, and no attempt to convey a specific understanding of what Vancouver used to be. These book chapters focus mostly on the twentieth history and try to capture the diversity of the city. They deal with various issues, such as crime, corruption, the Great Depression, and poverty that reveal the complexity of the city’s historical past. Several of the essays also remind readers that Vancouver has always welcomed individuals from all over the country and the world.

In putting together this collection of book chapters, Belshaw did not target a specific period of time. Readers learn about alcohol production at the beginning of the twentieth century (Jason Vanderhill’s essay on Daniel Joseph Kennedy), about Japanese Canadians involved in gambling activities and the Black Dragon Society (Terry Watada’s essay), and seven essays concern the late 1920s and the Great Depression. Eve Lazarus deals with the Lennie Commission appointed in 1928 to investigate corruption within the Vancouver Police Force. Stevie Wilson looks at the development of shantytowns at the beginning of the Great Depression and the efforts to shut them down at the end of 1931 due to fears that diseases and other illnesses would flourish in Vancouver. Lani Russwurm considers the Vancouver Police, the RCMP, and their strategies to collect information on Communists; Rosanne Amosov Sia offers an overview of a crackdown on Chinese restaurant owners who employed white women; and John Belshaw writes on James Crookall and his Vancouver photographs during the 1930s. Two chapters deal with mayor Gerald (Gerry) Grattan McGeer, elected in 1934.

Anyone reading a book about Vancouver history in the twentieth century might expect to learn about the experiences of Japanese Canadians during the Second World War, and the book does not disappoint. In his chapter on Vancouver in the Second World War, Aaron Chapman considers Japanese Canadians and also the prevailing climate of fear: fears created by blackouts, rationing, and possible invasion by Japanese forces, as revealed by a Japanese submarine attack of June 1942 on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Also, he considers the general fear toward Japanese Canadians that led the federal government to order their internment. Chapman focusses on those who asked the state to implement such strong measures against this ethnic community.

Two chapters deal with murders and violence after the Second World War. Diane Purvey looks at Malcolm Woolridge, who shot his wife in 1947 but was not sent to jail for his crime, while Jesse Donaldson relates the story of two individuals who took it upon themselves to go after a group of men who preyed upon women in Stanley Park in 1949.

The book chapters do not seem to obey any particular order, but their length will be greatly appreciated by anyone who teaches courses on British Columbia or on Canadian cities. These essays are not too long and include a variety of pictures and photographs. Furthermore, they are written for a general audience. However, I wished that there had been an attempt to organize this collection of essays around themes. Despite this, this collection offers multiple new and valuable views on Vancouver.

Vancouver Confidential
John Belshaw, editor
Vancouver: Anvil Press, 2014. 240 pp. $20 paper